My favorite love stories between artists have never been the easy happy ones, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Georgia O’keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock, Yoko Ono and John Lennon, each filled with love and struggle and great works of art. Now adding to the list is the story of Noriko and Ushio Shinohara, two Japanese artists living and working in Brooklyn, New York.
This story is recently brought to light by Zachary Heinzerling’s documentary Cutie and the Boxer, Cutie being the beautiful 60-year old Noriko, who created her graphic memoir Cutie and Bullie, and the Boxer being the ultra spirited 80-year old Ushio, who gained his fame for the Boxing Painting technique/performance during the 60s. Cutie met the Boxer when she was 19 and just arrived in New York to study art. Since then, they have been married for 40 years, during which Ushio kept trying to make new arts but failed to sell while Noriko experienced the journey of getting lost and rediscovering her inner self as a woman, a wife and mother, and finally, an artist.
I loved this movie for it’s brilliant honesty. To Noriko, “happy ending is a lie”. Art is struggle and love is endurance. Happiness is not the joy of every moment, but the smile at the person next to you when you look back at all the hardship you have been through together, feeling glad that he or she is still there. And Ushio, when asked if this movie had changed their relationship, he confessed that he agreed to make this documentary only because he thought it was going to be about him and his art, but afterwards he realized it was about Noriko, whom he found as a cute girl, took as a good wife, used as a free cook and assistant, and now finally sees as an artist, as his equal and a life-time partner who he can not live without.
Oddly enough, the Shinoharas work and live just a block away from where I used to work, on my way from subway to office. So I must have passed the door of their studio at least twice a day, five days a week for a whole year, and most likely shopped at the same grocery store, walked in the same park, and maybe even petted the same dog as they did, only without knowing who they are and how beautiful and inspiring their world is…So after seeing the movie, Erin and I decided to pay a visit to the artists and tell them how much we loved it. We went with flowers. Noriko was as cool and witty as she was in the movie, and Ushio so passionate that he drew both of us in less than one minute.
Angry Erin and sad Meng by Ushio Shinohara. We were actually smiling…