Schnitzer museum brings world-renowned artist Keiko Hara to WSU

Keiko Hara, Space · Sky and Field, 2020

In 2004, Ryan Hardesty found himself walking through a house mounted with washi paper that had four rooms bathed in color and light to mimic the different seasons. 

It was the first time the now director of the Washington State University Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art had experienced work created by Japanese artist Keiko Hara, a former Whitman College professor who moved to Walla Walla nearly four decades ago.  Since then, Hara has developed her abstract painting and mokuhanga style printmaking, a Japanese woodblock technique using watercolors, into a blend that is unique to the Inland Northwest. 

“I was swept up in her energy and creative spirit right away and ever since then I’ve wanted to work with Hara again,” Hardesty said. “She believes we all universally hold places of personal meaning close to our hearts and expresses this in her artwork. I think it is a message many visitors to the museum will be able to relate to.” 

An exhibit of Hara’s work, “Keiko Hara: Four Decades of Paintings and Prints” is currently on display at the museum through March 4, 2023. It explores Hara’s relationship to her surrounding environment formulated through her ongoing series titled, “Topophilia,” meaning a strong love of place. 

On Nov. 16 from 4-6 p.m., the artist will be visiting WSU Pullman for a reception to celebrate the release of a new museum publication, made possible by a collaboration between WSU Press and the Schnitzer museum. Visitors can purchase the books of Hara’s work and the artist will be available to sign them and answer questions

Born in North Korea of Japanese parents, Hara grew up in Japan before coming to the United States and settling in Walla Walla where she taught at Whitman College for more than 20 years and continues to make art.

Visitors to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art look at Keiko Hara’s piece “Topophilia Ma and Ki in Memory.”

She often uses repeating shapes, circles are one of her favorites, to fill space across a canvas and delineate the surface of her paintings from the background. 

One of her works, “Topophilia Ma and Ki in Memory,” presents four distinct environments, each a world of its own. Yet when taken together, the disparate colors and repeating patterns on the massive canvas seem to evoke the changing of the seasons or perhaps the fleeting nature of a dream. 

“I try to make my work more than just a surface,” Hara said. “I like my viewers to go inside of the piece and experience more than just the shape and colors. I want them to find or discover something about themselves in their own individual way in my paintings and prints.”

In many ways, Hara is emblematic of the artists Hardesty works to bring to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art WSU.

“As a Japanese artist working in Walla Walla, Hara provides multiple points of connection for our visitors, faculty, staff, and students who hail from nearly one hundred countries,” Hardesty said. “Her journey from Korea to Japan to the United States will be relatable for many who have also traveled long distances for education, or otherwise experienced the excitement of the new while perhaps longing for the past. On a simple level, I hope this exhibition may serve as a respite, an opportunity to surround oneself with undeniable beauty as we could all use a break to recharge in the physical and sensory world.” 

A collection of printmaking tools from the exhibition, Keiko Hara: Four Decades of Paintings and Prints (photo by Bob Hubner, WSU Photo Services).

Hara’s work offered just such a respite for Boaz Glassberg, a computer science honors student taking a 280 contextual understanding in the arts and humanities course this fall. Hara’s piece, “Space, Sky and Field,” immediately caught his attention upon arriving in the Schnitzer Museum’s main gallery space with its mesmerizing composition and blend of textures, shapes, and color.

“I am a person who works in a very logistically oriented field. Computer science is not really about art but rather about logic and cold numbers and formulas. So, I feel like after a long day of class, crunching all these numbers and formulas, my brain is worn out and being able to exercise it in this open-ended, more introspective way is really refreshing.”

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