The title of Harumi Abe's new exhibit, "134 Days and 21 Hours," refers to the "walking" distance (thanks to Google Maps) between her home in Hollywood, shared with her husband and two dogs, and her childhood home in Saitama Prefecture, Japan.
If the two oceans and gulf separating her past from present sound long and cumbersome, Abe, who relocated from Japan to Hollywood 12 years ago, believes distance is "very personal, relative and basically meaningless."
"Japan is not my home, anymore. This is my home," says the 31-year-old painter, whose depictions of home and the warmth of everyday life can be found on display at the Lee Wagener Gallery at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
And in Abe's deeply personal notions about home, she collides the subtropical landscape of South Florida with that of Japan. The highway overpasses of her painting "595," referencing a certain interstate in Broward, are deluged with tidal waves and foamy ocean spray, partly a reference to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
"From the Internet, I could see livestreams of the tsunami in Japan. It was traumatic. Mother Nature is such a strong force," recalls Abe, an adjunct professor at FIU and the gallery director of the Rosemary Duffy Larson Gallery at Broward College. "But I wasn't interested in showing a narrative here, a beginning-and-end story. I'm more interested in the idea of home as opposed to an actual place. The landscapes I create are re-creations of my old country, like a hybrid."
She says the paintings are partly inspired by the works of Albert Bierstadt, a 19th century German-American painter who captured the American West in majestic oils, and his belief that the landscapes recalled mountains in Germany. Abe's "Homage to Bierstadt" depicts a rocky shore in the foreground, choked with surf, and the sloping peak of Mt. Fuji in the distance.
But Abe is also keen on depicting homes both literal and figurative. "Clouds" shows a panoramic view of Hollywood's quiet neighborhoods in the hazy purple of sunset, but the scene on the ground is dwarfed by outsize red-orange clouds that resemble explosions, which she claims are subconscious references to the near-meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Meanwhile, her series on islands ("Dragon's Island," "Island II") offers luminous, almost romantic, representations of the home as dwellings of comfort.
"It's about different formations of home," she says. "You hope that water surrounds you, and you're isolated, but it's sort of glib. Because we have turf wars where we live, and get annoyed when a neighbor's tree goes over your white picket fence, right? Or sometimes, you think the perfect American home has the perfect family, but there is turmoil inside. And the next thing you know, people are getting a divorce."
134 Days and 21 Hours
When: Through Sept. 30
Where: Lee Wagener Art Gallery at Terminal 2 of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, 100 Aviation Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
Contact: 954-357-8542 or search "Lee Wagener Art Gallery" on Broward.org