Mississippi Exhibits: Sadako Lewis’ ‘Honninmyo’ shares path to enlightenment through art making

Sun Herald
CECILY CUMMINGS
March 10, 2014

When Long Beach artist Sadako Lewis stands before a canvas, she said she takes inspiration from Buddhist scripture by drawing on the artistic experiences of her past but also challenges herself to experiment with something new.

She refers to that practice as “Honninmyo,” a Buddhist term meaning “true cause,” and her journey in art-making is now on display at the fine art gallery at the Jefferson Davis campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, 2226 Switzer Rd., Gulfport.

Born in Japan as the daughter of a painter, Lewis said she has fond childhood memories of her father taking her to art museums, galleries and on sketch trips while traveling on the back of his motorcycle.

Since her father favored Impressionism, she didn’t want to compete with his style, so she chose to work in an expressionistic manner.

Her artistic journey began as a wish to carry on his legacy, and this journey combined her father’s creative passion with her own goals in art.

In 2010, Lewis’ focus changed from pure Expressionism to Abstract Expressionism, a style she said was brought about by two incidents that deeply influenced her.

She was chosen to participate in a three-month workshop for the Artworks Program, sponsored by the Mississippi Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. The program was led by Abstract artist Evert Witte.

“I have always been interested in Abstract, yet I haven’t known any abstract painter locally to seek, so I enjoyed doing the workshop very much,” she said in an interview via e-mail.

Her second source of inspiration was viewing the exhibit of Joan Mitchell’s paintings in New Orleans.

“It was absolutely a ‘wow’ moment in my artistic life,” she said. “I felt an instant connection with her. I knew abstract was me.”

Lewis named her latest exhibit “Honninmyo,” after a Buddhist term literally meaning “true cause.”

“True Cause and True Effect are one of 10 principals of the essential teaching of the Buddhist highest teaching, Lotus Sutra,” Lewis said.

It refers to the practice used to attain enlightenment, which contrasts with true effect of illumination.

“For me, every time I stand in front of a blank canvas, it is ‘honninmyo’ (true cause) because I’m determined to create something great from a blank canvas,” Lewis said. “My past experiences in art-making (true effect) are not wasted, but they all enhance to create even better work and therefore it is illuminated only if I challenge myself to do a great work.”

When Lewis begins a painting, she said her color choice and approach is often accidental or intuitive. She starts with no preconceived ideas.

For a few of the paintings in the show, she experimented with using only oil sticks.

“My canvases are large, so it is crazy to use oil sticks for that size, but I have liked the result. Here is the ‘honninmyo’ — that I have challenged the uncommon practice of using only oil sticks to paint a large canvas,” she said.

“Honninmyo” is the motto of my life. Whenever I make a mistake, instead of taking time regretting or thinking, What have I done? I start with a fresh determination.”

The show will be on display at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Jefferson Davis Campus, through March 31.

A traveling Honninmyo show at Negrotto’s Gallery in Biloxi is scheduled with an opening reception on Thursday, April 3.

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