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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Japanese Artist's Work to Be Displayed at Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries

By Amy Matzke-Fawcett

Halfway across the world from where it was created, Yuki Hiyama's work exudes "joy," "peace" and "encouragement."

Those are some of the words used during the recent dedication of six of the Japanese artist's works which are now part of the Old Dominion University's permanent collection. The show will be on display Aug. 24 to Oct. 20 in the Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries on Monarch Way.

The abstract pieces, using oil, acrylic, watercolor, gouache, pen, pencil, crayon, oil stick, pastel and sand on canvas, were donated by Akhiro Hiyama, Yuki's older brother. He received his master's degree and Doctor of Physical Therapy from ODU.

The donation helps carry out their late mother's wishes of sharing her daughter's artwork with the world. She died in October 2015 in Japan.

"My mom's wish was that everybody could feel at peace and get away from the busy world for a little while when they looked at Yuki's art," Akihiro Hiyama said.

Hiyama's abstract style employs gestural movements which allow viewers to connect with the artist, follow her process and interpret the work in a personal way, said Agnieszka Whelan, senior lecturer in art history in the Department of Art and a member of the collections committee for the University.

Some areas of canvas have thick dribbles of paint, while others feature watercolor and other textural elements like wax or sand. Hiyama creates the paintings by working flat and turning the canvases instead of propping them on an easel.

"You can see where Yuki is making artistic choices by placing the composition off center, by leaving parts of the canvas unpainted while other areas are densely layered with color," Whelan said. "Her engaging technique holds our interest and invites us to investigate the works further."

Some paintings are inspired by Japanese aesthetics, incorporating Hiragana- and Kanji-like characters, and at other times utilize shapes of bodies, faces and numbers.

Like many people, Yuki Hiyama started drawing to express herself - but not always in places her brother appreciated.

"She started painting and drawing on my textbooks," Hiyama remembered, laughing.

But their mother saw it as an outlet for Yuki, enlisting an art teacher for her daughter and traveling to expose her to art.

It also was a look into "Yuki's World," as her previous shows have been called, because painting is one of few ways Yuki Hiyama can communicate; due to an injury at her birth in 1977, she does not speak. She began having seizures at 3 months old, her brother said, and can only use one hand.

Hiyama has now been featured in galleries in Japan, New York, Washington, D.C., and Virginia Beach. She sells work online.

Although Hiyama's health is a factor in her painting, the decision to bring her works into the permanent collection is based on her ability as an artist, her particular style and what it can teach students and others about art, Whelan said.

"We took them because of the interest to others who study art outside of the normal academic training," Whelan said.

The artwork provides a look into Yuki's thoughts and feelings, Hiroyuki Hamada, professor emeritus of exercise science, physical education and recreation and former martial arts instructor at ODU, said at the dedication on Aug. 14.

"Every impact she is feeling, that moment is unique," said Hamada, a Hiyama family friend. "Her smiling face reminds us creative force is infinite and beautiful."

Admission to the gallery is free. For hours and information, including a list of upcoming shows, visit odu.edu/gordongalleries.

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