Japanese artist Hirabayashi Takahiro (not to be confused with Takahiro Hirabayashi) infuses his religion’s mythology with the experience of growing up in his oil paintings. Using “boundaries” as a central theme, his dreamy portraits examine borders between the sky, land and sea, man and nature, childhood and adulthood, and how we navigate them. His main subjects are young girls who serve as a guide or guardian for those in this inbetween state of being. Considering their young age, they share in this delicate state. They are emotional and gentle spirits, as implied by the way they attract butterflies, a traditional Buddhist symbol for delicacy.
In Hirabayashi’s hometown of Nagano, located in Japan’s countryside, one will find many stone statues of Jizo, a Bodhisattva. Jizo is seen as a protector of the vulnerable, including travelers, and statues of him are often placed at the intersection of roads. There is a custom of dressing statues of Jizo in red, a symbol that Hirabayashi borrows in the way he dresses his girls in red. We find them guiding animals out of containment into freedom, looking up at the sky and below at their reflections in water, or resting on lily pads at the surface. In spite of such specific cultural motifs, painting relatable images is very important to Hirabayashi. He says, “Initially, I was attracted to the special nature of my hometown’s Japanese belief systems, but Buddhism is such a primitive faith and does not only apply to Japan. It has themes that can be found in cultures worldwide, and I have been heading in a direction to make works that can appeal to anyone.”