By Allison Malafronte
Michiyo Fukushima (b. 1972) often walks the busy streets of New York at an unhurried pace, taking time to contemplate the interesting ways that light, architecture, and people combine in visually stimulating vignettes. Raised in Japan and based in Manhattan for the last 24 years, the watercolorist was originally a photographer, so it’s no surprise that an eye for composition now informs her fine art.
“I was fascinated by how light and shadow create beauty,” Fukushima says of her time as a magazine photographer in Japan. “While I enjoyed creating beauty by controlling light, the art form didn’t fulfill my desire to express myself. That quest brought me to the U.S., where I began gathering the life experience and perspective I needed to enrich my artistic expression.”
While embracing the excitement, positive energy, and diversity of all the other dream chasers around her in New York City, Fukushima enrolled in a watercolor class at the National Academy School of Fine Arts to begin her journey. “It was the only class with a spot left in it,” she recalls. “Going in, I knew nothing about watercolor, but I immediately fell in love with the medium. I love how challenging it is and how the time and patience you put in yield delicate, subtle colors, and wonderful translucency. I also love the organic process. You can’t force it; you have to learn how to work with water and let go of the urge to control.”
Fukushima’s watercolor “927 Fifth Avenue” is based, not surprisingly, on a sight that caught her eye while strolling through Manhattan. “When I walked by this apartment building, I saw a beautiful reflective light warming up the shadows, as if the carved face was glowing,” the artist remembers. “I took a quick snapshot so I could work in the studio later, but that glow, that almost divine energy, was engraved in my memory so that it became the focus.”
This large work is now in the collection of the New-York Historical Society, quite an accomplishment for someone who left her country to pursue artistic dreams in America. When asked how this acquisition came about, Fukushima explains, “I sent an e-mail to the curator introducing myself, and I had several images attached for donation. The curator loved ‘927 Fifth Avenue’. She pitched it at a meeting, and everyone agreed to accept it for the collection.”
These kinds of fortuitous experiences often happen to Fukushima, someone who puts a lot out into the world through both her art and her attitude. “Sometimes we forget a simple but important aspect of life: to have love in your heart for yourself and everyone around you, and to appreciate all the little things,” she writes. “Art has a powerful way of reminding us how precious our lives are. A little thing can make a great difference. That’s my principle.”