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Sunday, Dec. 5, 1999

Fantasy, drama: visions of a blind artist

Staff writer

When Carter's, the biggest children's clothes maker in the U.S., chose to use blind artist Emu Namae's pastel drawings on their children's line, new doors opened in Namae's life.

Working outside of Japan has been the artist's longtime dream. "I have a borderless sense of value and my artwork is borderless too, in the way that the colors go over the lines and the themes cross over all nationalities. I've always felt that I fit better into the international arena than the Japanese one," says the artist.

The company has always used their own designers, with the exception of John Lennon, who became their first outside artist. Namae is now the second. This opportunity means a great deal to Namae, who admires Lennon tremendously, and says that ever since Lennon's death in 1980, he has made a vow to himself to contribute something to the world, even though it might only be a small fraction of what Lennon achieved.

When the head of design at Carter's happened to stop by Namae's exhibition in New York in 1998, he immediately became interested in his work. According to Namae, the company told him that there's something in his works that "arouses spiritual inspiration in people," and they decided to use Namae's animal sketches, which are full of warm, bright colors.

The Emu Namae collection, which includes more than 100 items, from T-shirts to pajamas, stuffed animals and curtains, is scheduled for release in North America in fall 2000.

He says that in the same way that his works show a world of fantasy (the cosmos and everyday life merging in one picture), he also wants his life to be seen as a fantasy: a drama that, in itself, gives encouragement to people, especially people who are suffering from the same illness as he.

Namae, 51, who debuted as an illustrator in 1970 while still a student at Keio University, lost his eyesight completely in 1986 due to diabetes. Since then he has been under dialysis. For a while, he thought that he would have to give up his career as an artist. He says that this experience caused him to really think about the meaning and origin of life.

"My theme then was how to live on with such a handicap, such a huge restriction: not being able to see. But actually, when I began to think of what I could do in such a life, life itself became an interesting challenge to me," he says.

In 1986, he restarted his life with a career as a writer and received an award for one of his novels. When he realized that he could write words that he is unable to read, it dawned on him that he might be able to draw pictures that he can't see.

This was when he met his wife, who was a nurse then and gave him feedback for his work. With her encouragement, he became motivated to draw again, and revived his career as an artist in 1990. When he draws, his wife is always at his side, handing him the paint he specifies, holding his hand and guiding him when he paints.

As an artist, he says that after he lost his eyesight the meaning of his work changed. Art became life itself and therefore, became everything to him.

"I'm lucky to have been able to live two lives [as an artist], one handicapped and one non-handicapped. Now, I'm realizing one dream at a time, dreams which I couldn't fulfill when I was healthy. So, in a way, it might have been good for me to have lost my eyesight. To me, it was a gift given by God," he says with a calm smile.

Referring to one of his favorite drawings, "On the Boat," he says that when you row a boat, you can't see where you're going, which he likens to life itself. "The next moment might be darkness or it might be light."

It's for you to row into the vast ocean and find out.

Recent works by Emu Namae, "Colorful Mystery Tour 2000," including works for the Year 2000 calendar and his new picture book to be published next year, at Gallery Emu in Shinjuku Dec. 3-8. For more information., call (03) 3350-4870.

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