Established for a few years in Japan, Phil Couture, a talented painter, fell in love with traditional Japanese culture. The Maiko and Geiko who wander in Kyoto, one of the major symbols of the country, have become his favorite subject. The style that is both refined and very realistic in his paintings is a reflection of the serenity that seizes us in the eyes of these white-faced women. In an exclusive interview, the artist shares with us his admiration for the land of the Rising Sun.

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Phil Couture – Meiko Katsuna

Phil Couture was born in 1984 in Drumondville, Canada. Like many creative people, his career as an artist was not outlined in advance. Enrolled at the age of 16 in an art school, he tells us that at the time he was discouraged by the style that was given there, too abstract: the art taught at school was too abstract, which got bored and eventually prompted me to quit training “.

It was only a few years later that he returned to the desire to paint and draw the world: overnight, he got into the habit of going to a veterinary clinic where he spent several hours a day in reproduce animals. Disillusioned by his school experience, he considers ” have learned more by visiting museums around the world than in class “. He explains to us that it is mainly through observation that he acquired his knowledge. Today he resides in Kyoto, Japan. ” If there’s one thing I’ve come to appreciate since I’ve been here, it is Japanese aesthetics and simplicity, as well as imperfection and modesty »He hastens to indicate.

It is with palpable wonder that he tells us about our country. According to him, Japan is ” one of the safest, cleanest and most interesting countries »Which he never had the opportunity to visit. On several occasions, he underlines the cultural richness of the archipelago; but it is in particular the city of Kyoto, where he left his suitcases, that is close to his heart. Especially since in this region, known by tourists for its proximity to nature and traditions, many Japanese arts were born. Phil naturally fell in love with Geiko (and Maiko, their apprentices) who circulate in town to the point of making them his last favorite subject. Reproduced with striking realism, they become through oil the testimonies of a unique culture.

Phil Couture
Phil Couture – Katsune (left)

The Geisha, sources of mysteries and fascination

It is no coincidence that Phil Couture specialized in painting Geisha. Kyoto is the traditional city of the Geisha (specifically named “Geiko” in Kyoto) and it is here that they are most numerous. They live in hanamashi (花 町), literally, cities of flowers. The best known of these, due to its many preserved Matchiya, is that of Gion. The unique profession of Geisha in the world was born at the beginning of the 18th century, relatively recently in the long history of Japan. Many in the past, they have practically disappeared today. In 1980 they numbered more than 17,000 but their number quickly reduced to around 200 under the weight of modernity. During their initiation period, usually between the 15th and the 20th year of life, they are called Maiko (舞 妓). Particularity, until the beginning of the 19th century, the trade was also practiced by men.

Literally, Geisha (芸 者) means “Person who practices the arts” ! These ladies of the company offer their artistic services to wealthy clients, for whom they dance, play music and offer games. The role of the Geisha does not stop there: they must also have a good general culture in order to be able to participate in all types of conversation. Too often, the profession of Geisha is associated with that of prostitute in the Western imagination. Contrary to a popular cliché, the Geisha have never officially practiced prostitution. As for any individual, the sexual act is not excluded with a Geisha, but in a private capacity, without obligation or exchange of money. However, some continue to spread the rumor that these are luxury “escort-girls”.

Phil Couture
Phil Couture

It is not possible to miss a Maiko in the street. The gaze is inevitably caught. They are dressed in a luxurious kimono, usually in bright colors, and their hair is very well groomed. Despite the high price of this garment, they still have several, carefully kept. It is by the way in which their belt is tied that we can distinguish a Geisha from a Maiko., as well as the color of their lips. Their hairstyles are also impressive: Geisha wear the traditional Japanese updos. These unique hairstyles are performed by a specialist every week. In order not to damage it, the dancers put a rest under their neck during the night. As for their characteristic white make-up, it is made from natural rice powder.

I try to include the name of each woman I paint (…). It is a difficult odyssey to become a geisha and I want to honor every maiko I paint. – P. Couture

As with other visitors, Phil Couture’s stay in Japan is not without impact on his way of seeing the world and working on his art. Phil, whose original works are available on Etsy, points out in particular thathe has learned to appreciate the details of everyday life better since he came to Japan. According to him, this way of seeing the world is specific to the inhabitants of the country. And, indeed, the Japanese are known for their concern for the little things that make a big difference. He adds that the beauty of the details is an invitation to “ slow down and appreciate the little things of everyday life “. A call for voluntary simplicity?

Phil Couture – Maiko Ayaha
Phil Couture
Phil Couture
Phil Couture

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