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In Conversation: Finding Zen in the City with Satsuki Shibuya


Not only is Satsuki Shibuya a skillful watercolor painter, she is also our go-to girl for the secrets of inner serenity. We spoke with her to hear how Satsuki, a native Angelino, finds zen in the midst of chaotic city dwelling and how her search for peace continually leads her back to painting.


You have stressed the importance of the internal factor in your creations – peace and serenity. Not easy to come by in Los Angeles! What are some of the places you like to go in Los Angeles to maintain your sense of inner calm?

To connect with a sense of inner calm, I tend to lean towards places where I can be alone with nature. In particular, I feel connected to the ocean. Thankfully, my studio is located in one of my favorite spots in Los Angeles, the Palos Verdes Penninsula, where miles of coastline are elevated and one can enjoy the view of the ocean from a bird’s eye perspective. It is quite spectacular when viewing the sun’s rays glistening over the ripples of the ocean or seeing a flock of seagulls freely surfing the winds.

Have any of these locations inspired a work of yours especially?

Not directly, but I am strongly influenced by where I work. Smelling the salty ocean air, feeling the crisp breeze that floats through my studio windows, hearing neighborhood wildlife happily chattering away in the morning, all connect my soul to a rhythm beyond my own existence.

What about Los Angeles has made you choose it as a home?

To be honest, although being born and raised in Los Angeles, I felt displaced and desperately wanted to leave. Growing up, I remember always feeling like a foreigner, never quite having a sense of belonging here. Only recently, have I begun to understand why I am in Los Angeles, as I believe there are no such things as coincidences, and my love for the city, exponentially growing. It is an unique city, cities within cities, communities within those cities and the people who occupy these micro-communities being even more unique. It is as if one can experience multiple countries within one city. Quite amazing, actually.

For now, I feel that my practice, where I live, and the type of work that is being produced, all flows seamlessly together and know that it is because my home is in Los Angeles.

When your rhythm is disrupted, what do you do to get back into it? What sort of disciplines do you have to help maintain your focus?

I get distracted quite easily due to my high sensitivity, hence needing a studio in a quiet location preferably near nature, but when I find myself being disrupted, I take it as an omen to do something else for that time being. An intermission, of sorts. Once the disruption is satisfied, I gather myself and go back to finishing what was being worked on.

Before all of this, though, I found that meditation truly helped with my ability to focus. Once it became a part of a morning ritual, not only did it keep me in each moment longer, but quieted the mind and grounded energies, which allowed for things to flow more seamlessly.

How do you engage with the image appearing as you create it?

By trying to stay in the moment and being conscious of what is happening. Watercolor, for myself, is more of a voyeuristic experience than playing an active role in the creation of a piece and the act of not having control continues to draw the curious side of myself deeper into the practice. It is as if a discovery of the unknown is being made and I am there witnessing it firsthand.

How has creating with watercolors brought you healing since 2011?

Prior to watercolors, my creative journey had been trying to find the balance between what I wanted to do, what I thought I had to do, and feeling lost while trying to find what I am meant to do.

After becoming ill and reconnecting with a part of myself that I had lost since childhood, it opened up new ways of communicating with the Universe and through this, led me to painting with watercolors. Watercolors, for myself, is more than just creating with a beautiful medium, but is a way to express myself that words would not allow, to let go of the need to worry about what to do next, but to follow the soul. It opens up channels to speak about and share aspects of myself that otherwise may be taboo subjects in our everyday society such as unknown dimensions, psychic energies, Universal truths and the cosmic unknown. When painting, all of this is within reach and beyond, which is a critical part of my existence and by being able to freely share it with others, allows for the heart, which has been bleeding for years, to finally heal. I am finally able to be who I was meant to be.

What is your favorite part of having an art show like FLOW?

FLOW was birthed from the idea of letting go, being comfortable with the unknown and allowing each painting to share with me where the next step is. As with all things that flow, I did not plan for a direction nor a particular aesthetic. The only parameters were to work on a painting at a time and to allow that one painting to take me on the journey to the next. Each painting represents its own cosmos, like the milky way being its own existence, but together, forms the Universe. Similarly, there are pieces which may have similar nuances as another, but all painted as individual creations. It was wonderful being able to let go and trust that each piece would lead me to the next journey.

What are some of your hopes in recreating your art in the form of a calendar?

I was completely ecstatic when Poketo shared with me the idea of making a calendar for the upcoming show. As much as I am honored if/when individuals decide to claim an original as their own, to connect directly with the raw energies infused into each piece, I also know that, for some, an original may not be something that is feasible at the time, but may still be interested in finding a way to connect. With the calendar, it is a slice of the pie that someone may be able to connect to or an opportunity for someone to become familiar with my work. Not to mention, it’s utilitarian!


Interview by Nathan Fan
Images by Sisilia Piring

Tagged with: Miscellaneous

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