Childhood memories of events and people in Nagano, Japan, inspire 26-year-old Mieko Ono's colorful, abstract acrylic paintings.
Ono, who has studied art at Kansas University since 1999, came to the United States from Japan in 1994 so she could attend college. Ono has not been home for four years, and her homesickness triggers ideas for much of her artwork.
"I miss everything about home," she said.
One of Ono's paintings, "Kanko," depicts images Ono recalls from her parents' clothing store in Nagano. The painting was created with many different browns, representing boxes Ono remembers being everywhere in the store.
"I felt like I was buried there," she said. "I'd do everything in a sea of boxes."
The painting also includes black cross-hatching, which represents metal grids that covered streams so people did not fall into the water.
"I used to be afraid of those things," Ono said. "The squares were so small, but I thought I'd fall through."
On the left side of the painting is an outline of a dog, which Ono said is her personal symbol for obedience. The title of the painting, "Kanko," is the name of a brand of school uniforms the store sold.
"I didn't think (the Kanko brand) was cool," she said. "I didn't like it. Now I miss it so much, because it reminds me of home."
Ono said the painting is a representation of emotions she feels when she thinks about home, including sadness and fear.
Another painting derived from Ono's memories of Japan is called "Grandpa." Ono's grandfather died of lung cancer more than 10 years ago, and the painting depicts a scattering of objects Ono associates with him.
"I was told a lot of Japanese men his age die of lung cancer, because they were at war and they were exposed to the bombs," Ono said, referring to World War II and the atomic bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "I'm sure his was mostly caused by smoking, but that's what his doctor told me. ... Now every time I hear about a bomb, I wonder if he was exposed to it."
Ono not only draws inspiration from her memories, but she also paints about feelings and situations she is dealing with now.
One of Ono's paintings, titled "Dead Bird," was completed shortly after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. The painting, which is chaotically filled with pink and yellow, was selected for the Kansas City Artist Coalition's Seventh Annual Undergraduate College Art Exhibit in April.
"After Sept. 11, I finished the painting in one day," Ono said. "It has an American indication, because Americans use eagles to represent themselves."
In a painting called "Religious Harmony Within," Ono paints about her confusion concerning practicing the Christian faith when she grew up around Buddhist and Shinto beliefs.
"It's a unique situation for me because I grew up in those cultures, and the way I think is in a Buddhist or Shinto way, not a Christian way," she said. "I'm trying to find the balance."
The painting is a mix of yellow and green, with a red outline derived from her understanding of ikebana, the Japanese art of flower making. She said ikebana is based on Zen Buddhism.
Ono said she was not happy with the painting.
"There is so much more I could have done with it, but this is not the last one I'm going to paint in the same theme," Ono said. "I will deal with this the rest of my life."
Like "Religious Harmony Within," many of Ono's paintings are not cluttered with objects and center around colorful backgrounds.
"To (Japanese people), less is not more," Ono said. "I have a lot of space in my paintings."
These paintings and several more are on display at Fields Gallery, 712 Mass. St. Ono will be at Fields Gallery from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. July 5 to talk to viewers as part of the First Friday Gallery Walk.
Sheila Wilkins, who works at Fields Gallery, said she appreciates the thought Ono puts into her paintings.
"She has a real strong vision," Wilkins said. "She spends a lot of time creating those visions."
Ono said she enjoys every minute she is painting.
"It's the only thing I'm good at that I like to do," she said.
Wilkins said there is no doubt Ono is a talented artist.
"I look at a lot of paintings, and she is an excellent painter," Wilkins said.