Kiyomi Baird | Straddling the Cultures of East and West

© Gabriella Marks Photography

The sensibility of an artist like Kiyomi Baird, who straddles the cultures of East and West, is fascinating.  The genesis of an artist’s discernment is always intriguing and complex.  While we long to uncover the story behind the work, we also yearn for—and treasure—the mystery.  It is in our unknowing that we surrender to the magic and the journey.  Moving with a well-honed facility between painting, printmaking, and digital media, Kiyomi invites us into a place of physical and spiritual freedom.

It’s possible to string together a number of seminal moments in the life of this Japanese-American visual artist.  From the box of artist materials given to Kiyomi at a young age by her father in California, to the years spent in Tokyo, events have shaped an aesthetic that harmoniously balances the corporal and the spiritual, the East and the West, the visible and the hidden.



Red, Triptych (Detail), Oil & gesso on canvas, 40 x 90 inches, 2015



When Kiyomi was a young student at the University of California, Berkeley, she worked in the Metallurgy department.  This initiation to the electron microscope triggered a new visual awareness.  The world that she entered through the microscope was layered and richly textured. This love of pattern and texture would lead Kiyomi to use materials such as gesso and sand in her work (Example: Detail of Red).  Later in her career, the consistent use of pochoir would bring to mind the many patterns that were uncovered through the lens of the microscope.   






Traveling East, Oil and gesso on canvas, 36 x 48 inches, 2018


The existence of worlds within worlds, and perhaps more essentially, the exploration of these worlds, would become more important to her with time.  The move to Europe was critical to her development.  Painting in Berlin at the age of 20, she experienced a shift of consciousness that would change her life and affect her work to this day. Throughout her work, we find a recurring symbol: the circle.  Identified by a variety of terms–the circle, the moon, the world, eternity, no beginning and no end—this symbol is a consistent theme. The perfect unity of this symbol represents both the physical and the spiritual.






Autumn Eclipse, Oil on mulberry mount board (Nihonga), 34 x 24 3/8 inches, 2015




Kiyomi’s move to Tokyo as an adult was the catalyst for a realization that would prove to be both a source of resolution and dynamic tension.  Not speaking the language, Kiyomi was embraced by a small group of Japanese women.  Immersion into a culture that was at once foreign and familiar sparked the recognition in Kiyomi of her inherent Japanese sensibility.  Her time in Japan, where she learned traditional Nihonga painting, spurred her to integrate the Eastern and Western parts of her being.  While Nihonga painting aligns with traditional Japanese forms of illustration in its essential flatness, Kiyomi infuses Nihonga with her ability to draw the viewer into the work.  She brilliantly entices us to enter a world of physical sensation, spiritual exploration, and emotional liberation.


Transport us, we cry.  Kiyomi Baird does just that.












Kiyomi Baird is featured in the exhibition, Beginnings II, alongside the sculptures of Robert Koch. Beginnings II is up through August 10, 2018.