Hearing Rivers, Feeling MountainsNigel Peake in Kyoto

Nigel basking in the sun outside of YAMADA MPD ART CLUB, an art and antique shop on Teramachi Street in Kyoto. He wears two different socks most every day, today’s choice being yellow and orange. His corduroy pants are an old favorite from UNIQLO. He likes to wear them back home in his garden. Nigel’s colorful taste in clothes resonates with the vibrancy of his artwork.

Using pens of various colors, he draws line after precise line, infused with passion.

Nigel Peake

Artist

Born in 1981 in Northern Ireland. An avid cricket player through his teens, Nigel studied architecture at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Based in Northern Ireland he has exhibited his drawings and lithographs globally, with over sixty bound collections to his name. The cover for this issue features Nigel’s perspective on Kyoto.

How does Nigel turn the everyday into art?

Drawing is seeing. Rather than draw, some people capture things in photographs, while others put them into writing. Another way of grasping something is to hold it in your hands or stand beside it, watching closely. What we call “seeing” is a way of getting closer to the essence of a subject. It comes in many forms. Northern Irish artist Nigel Peake, who spent two weeks exploring Kyoto, uses drawing as a means for gleaning art from our everyday surroundings, capturing their essence.

“Art is a big word. For me…the artless art is beautiful. It can be something as simple as slicing an apple. It is a modest act, something that we all do, but probably we all slice in a different way depending upon the hand, knife and apple. Anything can be possibly called art, though not everything will qualify as art to everyone. It is the act of appreciating and perceiving something, and the decisions made in the process that are of interest to me. When I see particular things, I am drawn in and I take time to look with care and sometimes take a picture or make a simple drawing. I have a wish to try and capture the moment. They can be very normal things.

The other day, I saw an old sign for an electronics company on a shutter. Not wanting to let it pass, I took a photo. It was raining, I was carrying my suitcase and had no umbrella but still I stopped. I’m not sure what causes me to stop. But I feel something, and so I listen. I don’t think it’s necessary to figure out the reason. On a trip up to Kamakura, I was watching some surfers ride the waves and felt like I was being hypnotized. Sometimes I can be just fascinated by the way things move. I have spent the past three years walking up and down the same country roads, without visiting a bookstore, record shop, or museum, and yet every day I noticed something new. It could be the shape of a field or a tree. One shadow got me thinking about Ellsworth Kelly. The shape of it and its color made me think of how he translated his world into his work.”

The Tenjin Antique Market is held on the 25th each month at Kitano Tenmangu shrine. Nigel rummaged for old fabrics, vessels, and objects. He bought a small porcelain cup from Kobutsu Itaru, a shop based in Shiga.

YAMADA MPD ART CLUB

Smitten with the pottery of Kyoto potter Kanjiro Kawai and influenced by the ideas of the Folk Craft Movement, as espoused by Soetsu Yanagi, young couple Naoto and Chiaki Yamada opened their shop in 2021. The shelves are lined with dignified and striking works from the likes of Kanjiro Kawai, Shoji Hamada, Tatsuzo Shimaoka, and Kenji Funaki.

22 Fujiki-cho, Teramachidori Takeyamachi Agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan OPEN Thursday-Monday 11:30-18:00

yamadampdartclub.com

Ranging from rural landscapes of his native Northern Ireland to the awesome artifice of metropolises like New York, Nigel’s art honors the interplay of nature and the city. He says he enjoys Kyoto for its close proximity to nature and how the city blends organically into the mountains.

“I have really enjoyed watching the mountains that surround Kyoto. I really like to pass the streets that end with a view of the mountains. How the rows of buildings turn into a landscape. I prefer to walk to go somewhere. Sometimes you get lost along the way and find something new. Or find something familiar from a different direction. I also enjoy to cycle. You are fractionally taller and so there is a shift in the way you see things. With walking and cycling you can stop anytime you want. If you tried stopping a taxi every time you noticed something interesting, the driver would get tired of it really quickly!

Hanamachi in Kyoto. As beautiful as the trees and greenery may be, Nigel stopped to snap a picture of a manhole cover. His sketchbook is a portal leading to a world of his own making.

I have been making drawings from as early as I can remember. Looking back, I realize I’ve been drawing quiet places or things in one form or another all this time.

Along with drawing, I also like to write. I find it beautiful that the Japanese words for “draw” and “write” are pronounced the same—kaku. It can lead to nice misunderstandings, a free feeling of how to explore something. I write the tree. I draw the sound. One informs the other, making gaps and spaces for the other to move in.

Sometimes I wonder if I make drawings just so that I can hold onto a memory. Like the cover of this issue, for example. It captures my feeling of Kyoto at this time. But people change and as time goes by. Later on, I might cut or tape over a portion of the work. To remove is beautiful. There is a composer I like who as he works cuts out notes from sections of the sheet music and patches them up with blank paper. To make a void to let things happen in. Leaving blank space is an art, as Japanese gardens demonstrate so beautifully.”

Nigel has three brothers and one sister. He is the second youngest of his siblings and the only one who draws. His father likes books, and his mother likes flowers. Both of his parents love the garden; when Nigel calls home, one of them is usually out there working. Nigel has a small garden too.

“I started to make a garden fairly recently by the sea. It is a lot like drawing, actually. Arranging plants or flowers in a row is similar to drawing lines on paper. It is a division of space. A garden causes one to see time in a different way; there is a slowness and also a sense of distance involved in it that is very appealing. Music is another of my favorite things. I’m very interested in Japanese ambient music from the 1980s. I often listen to it when I am working. Along with soundtracks or jazz or electronic music from different places. Hearing a piece of music is like being in a landscape. I hesitate to say I play guitar (because I do not play well) but sometimes I like watching a movie on mute, with just the subtitles, and making some sounds on the guitar.

I often use Mitsubishi pencils and Pilot pens alongside pencils from Switzerland. My pencil case can be like an atlas of places I have been. They are my tools. If I do not draw the things I see, I can not hope to understand them. I draw things that escape my understanding. It is only by stopping, listening and drawing that I can begin to understand. I’m found of things that I can’t understand. That’s why I draw. Finding out what you like and what you do not like is part of a process of discovering what days are all about but I realize now it will all just remain a mystery.”

I have a piece of art from Nigel hanging in my living room, prominently displayed. A daily reminder of the joy of life. Art does different things for different people, but if it makes your day a little easier, that’s plenty. Now, if something stops me in my tracks, I feel an urge to take it with me too. Nigel’s work reminds us that small, everyday details combine to form majestic landscapes.

Nigel begins each drawing with a black and white outline. As he adds color, he tears away sections he no longer likes and pastes over them with a new piece of paper. In the fourth step, he adds the finishing touches, for a result much like the cover of this issue. The colors begin coming to him in the first black and white step.

Rokuyosha Basement Store

This cafe is a breath of fresh air. Osamu Okuno, who owns the shop, has been roasting beans since 1985. He offers two blends as well as guest coffees from all over the world. Nigel enjoys one of the blends with a house-baked donut.

40 Daikoku-cho, Kawaramachi Sanjo Kudaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan OPEN Thursday-Tuesday 12:00-23:00

rokuyosha-coffee.com

Drawing is seeing. Rather than draw, some people capture things in photographs, while others put them into writing. Another way of grasping something is to hold it in your hands or stand beside it, watching closely. What we call “seeing” is a way of getting closer to the essence of a subject. It comes in many forms. Northern Irish artist Nigel Peake, who spent two weeks exploring Kyoto, uses drawing as a means for gleaning art from our everyday surroundings, capturing their essence.

“Art is a big word. For me…the artless art is beautiful. It can be something as simple as slicing an apple. It is a modest act, something that we all do, but probably we all slice in a different way depending upon the hand, knife and apple. Anything can be possibly called art, though not everything will qualify as art to everyone. It is the act of appreciating and perceiving something, and the decisions made in the process that are of interest to me. When I see particular things, I am drawn in and I take time to look with care and sometimes take a picture or make a simple drawing. I have a wish to try and capture the moment.

They can be very normal things. The other day, I saw an old sign for an electronics company on a shutter. Not wanting to let it pass, I took a photo. It was raining, I was carrying my suitcase and had no umbrella but still I stopped. I’m not sure what causes me to stop. But I feel something, and so I listen. I don’t think it’s necessary to figure out the reason. On a trip up to Kamakura, I was watching some surfers ride the waves and felt like I was being hypnotized. Sometimes I can be just fascinated by the way things move. I have spent the past three years walking up and down the same country roads, without visiting a bookstore, record shop, or museum, and yet every day I noticed something new. It could be the shape of a field or a tree. One shadow got me thinking about Ellsworth Kelly. The shape of it and its color made me think of how he translated his world into his work.”

The Tenjin Antique Market is held on the 25th each month at Kitano Tenmangu shrine. Nigel rummaged for old fabrics, vessels, and objects. He bought a small porcelain cup from Kobutsu Itaru, a shop based in Shiga.

YAMADA MPD ART CLUB

Smitten with the pottery of Kyoto potter Kanjiro Kawai and influenced by the ideas of the Folk Craft Movement, as espoused by Soetsu Yanagi, young couple Naoto and Chiaki Yamada opened their shop in 2021. The shelves are lined with dignified and striking works from the likes of Kanjiro Kawai, Shoji Hamada, Tatsuzo Shimaoka, and Kenji Funaki.

22 Fujiki-cho, Teramachidori Takeyamachi Agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan OPEN Thursday-Monday 11:30-18:00

yamadampdartclub.com

Hanamachi in Kyoto. As beautiful as the trees and greenery may be, Nigel stopped to snap a picture of a manhole cover. His sketchbook is a portal leading to a world of his own making.

Ranging from rural landscapes of his native Northern Ireland to the awesome artifice of metropolises like New York, Nigel’s art honors the interplay of nature and the city. He says he enjoys Kyoto for its close proximity to nature and how the city blends organically into the mountains.

“I have really enjoyed watching the mountains that surround Kyoto. I really like to pass the streets that end with a view of the mountains. How the rows of buildings turn into a landscape. I prefer to walk to go somewhere. Sometimes you get lost along the way and find something new. Or find something familiar from a different direction. I also enjoy to cycle. You are fractionally taller and so there is a shift in the way you see things. With walking and cycling you can stop anytime you want. If you tried stopping a taxi every time you noticed something interesting, the driver would get tired of it really quickly!

I have been making drawings from as early as I can remember. Looking back, I realize I’ve been drawing quiet places or things in one form or another all this time. Along with drawing, I also like to write. I find it beautiful that the Japanese words for “draw” and “write” are pronounced the same—kaku. It can lead to nice misunderstandings, a free feeling of how to explore something. I write the tree. I draw the sound. One informs the other, making gaps and spaces for the other to move in.

Sometimes I wonder if I make drawings just so that I can hold onto a memory. Like the cover of this issue, for example. It captures my feeling of Kyoto at this time. But people change and as time goes by. Later on, I might cut or tape over a portion of the work. To remove is beautiful. There is a composer I like who as he works cuts out notes from sections of the sheet music and patches them up with blank paper. To make a void to let things happen in. Leaving blank space is an art, as Japanese gardens demonstrate so beautifully.”

“I started to make a garden fairly recently by the sea. It is a lot like drawing, actually. Arranging plants or flowers in a row is similar to drawing lines on paper. It is a division of space. A garden causes one to see time in a different way; there is a slowness and also a sense of distance involved in it that is very appealing. Music is another of my favorite things. I’m very interested in Japanese ambient music from the 1980s. I often listen to it when I am working. Along with soundtracks or jazz or electronic music from different places. Hearing a piece of music is like being in a landscape. I hesitate to say I play guitar (because I do not play well) but sometimes I like watching a movie on mute, with just the subtitles, and making some sounds on the guitar. I often use Mitsubishi pencils and Pilot pens alongside pencils from Switzerland. My pencil case can be like an atlas of places I have been. They are my tools. If I do not draw the things I see, I can not hope to understand them.

I draw things that escape my understanding. It is only by stopping, listening and drawing that I can begin to understand. I’m found of things that I can’t understand. That’s why I draw. Finding out what you like and what you do not like is part of a process of discovering what days are all about but I realize now it will all just remain a mystery.”

I have a piece of art from Nigel hanging in my living room, prominently displayed. A daily reminder of the joy of life. Art does different things for different people, but if it makes your day a little easier, that’s plenty. Now, if something stops me in my tracks, I feel an urge to take it with me too. Nigel’s work reminds us that small, everyday details combine to form majestic landscapes.

Nigel begins each drawing with a black and white outline. As he adds color, he tears away sections he no longer likes and pastes over them with a new piece of paper. In the fourth step, he adds the finishing touches, for a result much like the cover of this issue. The colors begin coming to him in the first black and white step.

Rokuyosha Basement Store

This cafe is a breath of fresh air. Osamu Okuno, who owns the shop, has been roasting beans since 1985. He offers two blends as well as guest coffees from all over the world. Nigel enjoys one of the blends with a house-baked donut.

40 Daikoku-cho, Kawaramachi Sanjo Kudaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan OPEN Thursday-Tuesday 12:00-23:00

rokuyosha-coffee.com

『IN THE CITY』

Playing off IN THE WILDS , in which Nigel draws the landscapes of his native Northern Ireland, this book captures his experience of wonderment in the big city. By drawing, he converts the landscape into memory.

『blinking』

His most recent work, blinking , pairs drawings of five gardens in Kyoto with descriptions of their sounds. His sketches pay homage to the blank space of traditional landscape gardens.

1981
Born in County Down, Northern Ireland.
1996
First formative experience with music.
2005
Graduated from architecture school in Edinburgh, Scotland.
2005
First project produced artwork for the Coldcut album Sound Mirror
2007
First book SHEDS published by Analogue Books.
2011
IN THE WILDS, an observational illustration of rural life, published by Princeton Architectural Press.
2012
Moved to Switzerland to teach architecture at the EPLF, Lausanne.
2013
Solo exhibition In the Dark at Colette, Paris.
2014
IN THE CITY, a colorful depiction of urban landscapes, published by Princeton Architectural Press.
2017
The exhibition RETURN is held in Tokyo to celebrate the release of the lithographs.
2020
Moved base of operations to Northern Ireland. Set up a studio by the sea and began a life of growing plants in the garden.
2022
Released blinking a collection of drawings of five gardens in Kyoto.

Photography by Kazufumi Shimoyashiki Editing & Text by Tamio Ogasawara Coordination by Akemi Koyama Translation by Matt Schultz

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