April 04, 2012

Artist Makoto Fujimura, Class of 1983, and Bucknell University President John Bravman interviewed each other at the Bucknell Forum.

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By Heather Johns

Lewisburg, Pa. — Bucknell alumnus and artist Makoto Fujimura and University President and engineer John Bravman sat facing each other on stage. A single painting brought the two men together: Fujimura's "Golden Sea," which shared the stage with them, leaning almost casually on the wall just a few feet back.

The painting — a thoughtful composition of blue and gold and black — shimmered, as if illuminated from within itself. The canvas was gilded with layer upon layer of delicate Japanese gold leaf so thin, said Fujimura, "if you put it against glass it is transparent."

"For gold to be that thin, it's not too far removed from atomic dimensions," noted Bravman. And that is how the conversation between the artist and the engineer began.

Bravman and Fujimura spent the evening exploring how technology and the arts intertwine in the Bucknell Forum event, "Creative Engagement: The Questions Science and Art Ask of Each Other." Their probing questions revealed a common experiential thread between two disciplines that can, on the surface, seem quite far apart.

The event opened with music — "Delicacy," composed by Fujimura's son, C.J., a junior at Bucknell — while senior Christina Cody read aloud Richard Wilbur's poem "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World."

"Golden Sea"
Although the audience was seeing "Golden Sea" for the first time, Bravman and Fujimura, Class of 1983, had discussed the painting in the artist's New York City studio last April. "As a materials scientist, I was captivated by the fact that Mako makes his own paints," said Bravman. "And then I noticed the brick of gold leaf. We talked about Mako's work for two hours. It was a conversation that I will remember as one of the five or 10 most important in my life."

Fujimura was not yet finished with "Golden Sea" when Bravman first saw it. In the end, it took the artist two-and-a-half years to complete this seminal work. Fujimura applied the gold leaf using an ancient Japanese technique that emphasizes the lines between each layer to create its own space. He waited six months between each application. "Each layer must be completely dry and settle to become what it is going to become," explained Fujimura. "Layer by layer, I wanted the painting to speak to me, rather than dictating."

The connection the two men had forged over this vibrant, joyful painting was so evident it seemed that the work had a voice all its own.

"Golden View"
Throughout their shared conversation, Bravman and Fujimura found common ground on many topics, including the importance of failure, the frustrations and freedoms of limitations, and their shared innate, driving desire to create.

At evening's end, Fujimura expressed his feelings toward his alma mater with a special gift. "I have a surprise for you," he said, smiling. "I painted this to honor the people I learned from at Bucknell. I am donating it to the University."

C.J. carried out "Golden View" (pictured right), a painting Fujimura created using the same technique as "Golden Sea." Bravman put his hand to his mouth, speechless with the same emotion that pulled the audience to its feet. The applause gave the president a brief, necessary moment to compose himself before offering his thanks on behalf of the University, and himself.

The painting's gold glinted in the spotlight and will continue to do so in the Samek Art Gallery, where it will be on exhibit until the end of the spring 2012 semester before taking its place in the permanent collection.

As he had done all evening, Fujimura smiled. His final words seemed to describe both his artistic journey and his time at Bucknell: "Once you have a mastery of the material, you gain access to a realm of the miraculous."

The Bucknell Forum
Bravman and Fujimura's discussion marked the final event in the Bucknell Forum series "Creativity: Beyond the Box," which began in fall 2010. The program will be broadcast on WVIA-TV on May 7 at 7 p.m. Additional airdates are May 10 at 8 p.m., May 12 at 10 p.m., May 18 at 8 p.m., May 20 at 7 p.m. and May 31 at 9 p.m. || Previous series events

The upcoming Bucknell Forum series, "tech/no," embraces the perils and promises of technology. The series, which starts in fall 2012 and will run through four semesters, aims to stir discussion about the pros and cons of technology, its benefits and damages, and its capacity to satisfy human need and desire even as it can bring risk and danger.

Since 2007, the Bucknell Forum speakers series has featured nationally renowned leaders, scholars and commentators who have examined various issues from multidisciplinary perspectives and a diversity of viewpoints.

Contact: Division of Communications