Bunmei Okabe is an person of great character, as well as being an artist of considerable note. I first came across him in 1967 when I was the Captain of the New Zealand Universities (NZU) Rugby Team that toured Japan. Our manager was advised that there was a young man in hospital who had suffered a serious rugby injury that had left him disabled, and the team was asked if some of them would be able to visit him. A number said that they would like to do that and four made the visit to the hospital. The occasion proved to be significant for them all.
For the players they were moved by the tragedy of his circumstances, but also by the passion he had for rugby and for his humility in the face of his condition. Little did any of us know, however, but the visit proved to be particularly significant for Bunmei himself. He had been struggling to come to grips with his situation, but the connection made with these four young rugby players proved to be an inspiration for his future progress and development. The personal meaning of this visit became a backdrop to his future years, such that it is something that he continues to hold very dear. It has also been connected to his creativity as an artist and his artistic theme of expressing meaning and sentiment through his painting of clowns.
At the time of the RWC in NZ in 2011, Bunmei was able to meet up with two of the players who visited him 44 years previously, as well as with members of the family of the two players who had since passed on. He also presented a painting to the NZ Rugby Union that had within it a motif of the four players and the NZU team overall. In that year, I was also able to meet him in person, and his wife Noriko, through my previous position as the captain of the 1967 NZU team. Since that time we have maintained regular contact and I regard him as a close international friend.
His painting works are typically vibrant and expressive and there is considerable detail and subtlety in all of his canvases. It is as if there is an energy that flows through him into his works and the delicate balance of amusement with a tinge of sadness is conveyed both through his choice of theme and in his manner of expression. As an artist and as a person he displays considerable depth, courage and determination, and he has made a mark as an artist and as a person of integrity and deep sincerity. His links to New Zealand and to rugby are profound and it is a privilege to have that connection and to regard him as a friend.
I am sure his 2019 Exhibition will once again be a demonstration of his immense artistic creativity combined intimately with his personal qualities of resilience, positivity and humility.
Dr. Gary Hermansson
Emeritus Professor, Massey University, NZ
Officer of the NZ Order of Merit (ONZM)
NZ Olympic Order Holder (NZOOH)
Manawatu Legend of Sport (MLS)