TOKYO — 1945

baptiste tavernier

March 10th 2020 will mark the 75th anniversary of the tragic Tokyo air raid by US B-29s. CNN has published for the occasion an article titled History's deadliest air raid happened in Tokyo during World War II and you've probably never heard of it, available HERE. As the article reminds us : "As many as 100,000 Japanese people were killed and another million injured, most of them civilians, when more than 300 American B-29 bombers dropped 1,500 tons of firebombs on the Japanese capital that night."

5 years ago, I was approached by some members of the FCCJ (Foreign Correspondants Club of Japan) and asked if I could donate a painting that would commemorate the 70th anniversary of the same raid.

Here is the a copy of the statement that was attached to the painting :

  • One of my recent projects took me back to Tokyo... Although most of my works are not set in a specific time, I thought that this new project demanded a different approach. This year is the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War, so I decided, after digging through archives searching for old maps, to set this work in 1945. I also draw at the same time Armistice, a smaller version of Tokyo—1945. In this work I chose to go back to my usual ways and draw the maze rather than embossing it into the washi (traditional Japanese paper)...

  • We cannot forget what Tokyo was in 1945. And this piece evokes the desolation of that time and place—sterile wastelands, soiled waters and devastated residential quarters where collapsed buildings formed a maze that prevented people from escaping the bombing. Looking at this work from afar, what you notice is a black flower emerging from the ashes. But a closer look reveals an intricate maze, a metaphor for the hardships endured by Tokyo residents in 1945. To convey this, instead of drawing the maze as I usually do, I embossed it in the paper with a representation of the ashes of Tokyo. For Tokyo, however, 1945 was not simply an ending, it was the beginning of a new and more hopeful era... 

baptiste tavernier. Tokyo 1945
Tokyo — 1945. Ink, watercolour on washi. 82 x 114 cm.
baptiste tavernier - Armistice
Armistice. Ink, watercolour on washi. 64 x 81 cm.

It was nicely reviewed by a Japanese artist:

  • The first time I saw this work, I felt uneasy because of the contrast between the red paint, which seemed as though it was blood pouring from a wound, and the black ink with its uncertain energy. Tokyo—1945 is a very minimal piece that harmonises a white background and a gradation of red and black media. Its composition is quite simple and radiates a touch of tranquillity.

  • The elements of the composition are based on archives from 1945. The red depicts the waters of Tokyo Bay and its surrounding rivers, but they could also be interpreted as a stream of blood from the people who died in the war, staining the burnt earth of the city. Yet it is also possible to read this work as a depiction of the new lives of the citizens blooming into a red heart that swallows the dark memories of war...

  • The work comprises condensed chaos under a tranquil surface. This duality is very Japanese in nature. The artist uses an intense contrast of red and black, but the tranquillity of the composition’s surface stems from its usage of void. The brilliant balance between the colours near the centre and the white background borrows from the aesthetic sense of Japanese culture, which focuses on the use of what is called negative space, blank space, or void.

  • Baptiste Tavernier is a French artist who has lived for more than 10 years in Japan. He first came in 2006, and studied Japanese culture, martial arts (he published several essays on that topic) and traditional crafts. He has a deep knowledge of Japanese fine arts, especially the Rimpa school of painting. “Missing Fan” (2015) can be said to be an homage to the Rimpa style. He also created a diptych called “Empty Mind” (2013), in which he borrows the concept of the Jū-gyū-zu (Ten Ox Herding Pictures), a story of Zen enlightenment, in association with a complex maze.

  • Tavernier focuses on a very unique idea: the maze or labyrinth. In works like Tokyo—1945, he bases his compositions on real maps and draws imaginary mazes over urban geographies from all over the world, creating mysterious atmospheres around familiar city settings. The result is a redefinition of time and space through parallel worlds.

  • In Tokyo—1945, the artist’s maze is not drawn but embossed within the black area. Where does this dark maze lead? Can people find an exit from their despair? This chaos, which intermingles life and death, is observed and contained by the white peaceful plane. The title of the work, Tokyo—1945, may seem time-specific, but in fact it is a universal piece that has pertinence to any era, any city and to the mind of any viewer.