TOM NAKASHIMA: This painting, the whole sanctuary, is a series that I did that started, I think, around 1984 or ‘85. I'm Tom Nakashima. I'm sitting in front of my painting, “Sanctuary at Western Sunset.”
I wanted to use the image of the Giotto sanctuary. So I had the image from art history and then I thought what can I put in that? What's interesting? And I went down to Eastern Market, which was about three blocks from my studio at the time, purchased a mackerel, brought it back, and built a little cardboard sanctuary, and put ropes on it and kind of hung it up entering into the sanctuary. So that's how the image began. The fish indeed was a self-portrait of sorts.
I'm Japanese-American. The fish, of course, is very Japanese. All of my work has both the Western side and the Eastern side. And when I first went out to, I guess I was maybe five or six, when we went out to Seattle or someplace along the Pacific, and I remember looking at the ocean, and the first thing I thought is, "If I could swim well enough, I could go to Japan." There was nothing between me and Japan but this ocean.
I tended to make large paintings. This one here, I think, is eight feet. I had this feeling, that a painting should be bigger than a human being, that paintings were more important. Paintings were things of a high aesthetic order, and power, and because of that, they should be made big, that painting in general should be given this special status.
Artist Tom Nakashima discusses the significance of the fish in this work, his relationship to Eastern and Western art, and his belief in the monumental importance of paintings.