We previously shared a story about sumi-e brush painter Koho Yamamoto, a brilliant artist and inspirational teacher based in NYC. Charles Flickinger, who is a longtime student, intended to celebrate Koho’s 98th birthday with her in April. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the party had to be cancelled. Like everyone else, she has been living under quarantine for the past few months.
Sumi-e is a 2,000 year old art form in which ink is applied by brush to rice paper using deliberate, contemplative strokes. Koho has dedicated her life to teaching this ancient painting technique. She founded the Koho School of Sumi-E in 1973 in Soho, providing instruction to thousands of students until she was forced to close in 2010 due to a substantial rent increase as reported by this
. Since then, she continues to teach from her West Village apartment. Flickinger says her instructions convey wisdom to live by: “Make mistakes. Make many, many mistakes,” she often tells him.
Koho first learned her artistry when she and her family were detained at the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah, an American concentration camp which housed thousands of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. The U.S. government eventually paid the internees a token settlement for their pain and suffering. Koho, however, made the most of her quarantine there, studying poetry and sumi-e painting under master artist and teacher, Chiura Obata, also interned there.
"My experience during WWII and my life in internment taught me to have courage during uncertain times. Despite the camp experience being a severe hardship for most, I was liberated, and I had a lot of time to create. Under my teacher’s mentorship, I developed my free spirit and love of art, and I was influenced to spend my life working as an artist. I firmly believe that creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties." - Koho Yamamoto