Of three metamorphoses of the spirit I have told you: how the spirit became a camel; and the camel, a lion; and the lion, -finally, a child.-
Thus spoke Zarathustra. And at that time he sojourned in the town that is called: The Motley Cow.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Untitled, 1983/84 Charcoal and pastel on paper Dimensions: 92 1/8 x 73 1/4 inches (234 x 186 cm)

What is human about the human being? What really are human beings? The search for the answer to these questions is one of the main concerns of the paintings of Leiko Ikemura. In her works, knowledge of the inner person occupies a prominent position: the human being, constantly in transit between animal origins and the distant human future, is the primary substance of the pictures.

Each person defines the search for knowledge of human existence differently, depending on one’s point of view and the method one applies. When the emphasis is on ideas of classical antiquity, for example, one speaks of humanism. When the hu­ man realities leading to the formation of mores are studied and depicted in an artistic form, irrespective of metaphysical and political objectives, one speaks – according to the French example-of ethics, moral philosophy. Ethics in this sense has little in common with the proverbial golden rules of moral conduct. On the contrary, it dis­ sociates itself from moral principles through a feeling of openness and freedom from their systematic order and logic.

Ethics is an objective and esthetic approach, attempting neither to educate, change, classify nor schematize the human being, but preferring to observe, analyse and depict him as he really and truly is. This approach borders unconsciously on the Asiatic ideal which, in a word, proclaims the departure from established ethics and morals of every kind in favor of universal acknowledgment, understanding and acceptance. It is an amoral way of thinking and perceiving, the capacity to recognize the necessity of the worst evil and even to develop respect for it.

It is the belief that the truth about human existence can only be learned through its paradoxes. Immersions into this mode of visual perception and thought are found everywhere in Leiko Ikemura’s oeuvre. The works are full of the fruitful clash of the eternal paradoxes of existence, the pictorial depiction of truths experienced.

But what are human beings really like? What is implicit in the diversity among human beings? Such is the task Leiko Ikemura sees herself faced with, to whose solu­tion she sets out to contribute, encouraging the viewers of her paintings to join in the search. Every formative influence on the human being-every culture, every civiliza­tion, every system – is founded on stratifications and mutually contrasting elements, all running contrary to natural succession. In her artistic work, Leiko Ikemura is not so much concerned with compensating existential paradoxes by producing a concil­iatory whole, however, but with the comprehensive recognition of the necessity of all paradoxes. The ideal human being, uniting the internal and the external, the good and the evil, the divine and the diabolical, would embody the perfect harmony of par­ adoxes in a single entity. This human being, transcending all contrasts, would be both nothingness and the universe. But there is no getting at this human being; he remains unrecognizable to us, for we are capable of recognizing only in terms of contrasts; we are bound to day and night, up and down, warm and cold.

Everything in the world can be judged positively as well as negatively; the end of the world is regarded by some as its destruction and by others as the beginning of new hope. For some it is an irrevocable, eternal, fixed state, for others a process of becoming, change and variation. Every vision, every dream, every idea and thought can be interpreted in a thousand different ways as it crosses from the subconscious into the conscious mind, and every one of those interpretations can be right. Drawing from the paradoxes of life, Leiko Ikemura creates her pictures in the way that each person constructs images in his dreams of the instincts and forces struggling and counterbalancing themselves within him. In her pictures the contrasts embraced by our existence are newly composed and explained; they undergo reinterpretation and re-evaluation. The paradoxes are astir in these pictures; they cast doubt on every­thing everywhere; they make every law rock to its foundations.