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.
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.