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"A Leaf by Niggle" (50 x 36 inches, Mineral Pigments and Gold and Sumi on Kumohada, ©2002 Makoto Fujimura, Private Collection)

This painting is based on J.R.R. Tolkien's short story that the late Dr. Tim Keller gifted me with.  It is part of C3 Museum Exhibit in Shanghai, pairing my works with their imperial Chinese porcelain collection.

This painting was painted in 2002, in the wake of 9/11/01 - a day that I became a “survivor”. I was trapped in a subway as the towers collapsed on top of us. It’s a miracle that I am still living. 

That means that this painting is one of the few paintings I painted during the ensuing months. Tim spoke to me about Niggle several times, during those days of darkness and uncertainty. 

I remember Tim telling me that Tolkien had a writer’s block when he wrote of “a little man named Niggle who had a long journey to make.” And after writing this little story, Tolkien was able to finish the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, five years later. 

Niggle could only finish one leaf. Tim told me of this story perhaps knowing the trauma that can take away one’s hope to complete a simple painting, let alone do an exhibit. 

I, like Niggle, was concerned about the practicality of survival, of feeding my family living in Ground Zero. I could not possibly paint, at least in the same way, seeing Ground Zero every day. 

But I did paint this work, with feeble strokes of watermarks that painted the invisible tree. As far as I know, this was a painting that I never really “finished” as I felt I needed to let it go, incomplete. 

When I arrived at C3 Museum In Shanghai, I was startled to find, after 22 years later, that it IS complete whole now, because of the watermarks revealing themselves more and more. The tree had generatively become whole. But it took 22 years to do so. 

In the dark days after 9/11, Tim had given me a gift. It was not a sermon or a rational path to handle my journey. It was a gift of hope given through a single leaf. It was a pastoral gift to an artist who could not finish anything in those days. 

Thank you Tim. May you see now a gate with your name, and say with Niggle “There really is a tree”!

The print (unsigned) is available through Saatchi Art (portion to benefit City to City which Tim founded)

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