Re-create: The Concept

What is “re-create”? It is not the replication or the imitation of an artwork, nor the process of cleaning or restoration. It is not a contemporary representation of the artwork, nor a re-interpretation inspired by the artwork.

“Re” means both “once more, anew” and to “return to a previous state”; the “re-create” process achieves both. “Re-create” is the process of creating artwork again, with the new artwork appearing just as the original would have done when it was first painted or printed. The colour and detail that has been lost in the passing of time is restored, thanks to cutting-edge digital imaging technology, (re-)creating a “new” work that links the artist of the past to the audience of the present.


Dr. Shin-Ichi Fukuoka

“Re-create” is the brainchild of molecular biologist Dr. Shin-Ichi Fukuoka, a professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, award-winning journalist, author, and translator. It was inspired by his love for the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer; Dr. Fukuoka spent four years photographing, in painstaking detail, the only 37 works confirmed as genuine Vermeers that exist today. Each Vermeer work has degraded over the course of the several hundred years that have passed since its creation, and as such detail may well have been lost from the paintings; there is no way to restore the paintings to their original state. In Dr. Fukuoka’s view, however, it was perhaps this very detail that captured the true spirit of Vermeer as an artist—and it is perhaps this very detail that holds the secret to the message that Vermeer wanted to express.

With this in mind, Dr. Fukuoka combined his love for art with his talent for science, developing state-of-the-art digital mastering and printing techniques in order to re-create the works not as they exist today, but as a translation of their original state. The Vermeer re-creations can be thought of as translations of their originals, created according to a careful interpretation, based on digital data, of the colours and the contrast, the detail and the use of light lost from the original.


A section from the “re-created” version of The Art of Painting
Left: original, right: “re-created” version (c) Vermeer Center Ginza

“The real artwork, as it exists today, cannot ever return to its original state. “Re-create” is an attempt to examine the paradox that the translation may become more of an original, or closer to the original, than the real thing”, explains Dr. Fukuoka. “However much you study the real artwork, there are parts which have been lost, which are just gone. “Re-create” can bring these back. These re-creations should be seen as creative translations of the ideas of the artist. I see them also as a means of getting closer to the artist of the past from here in the present”.

The success of the Vermeer re-creations prompted Dr. Fukuoka and his team to repeat the process on works by Katsushika Hokusai, one of Japan’s most renowned artists.  The resulting re-creations were exhibited in Tokyo in spring 2013 and are now being brought to London for the first international “re-create” showcase.

There is another benefit to Dr. Fukuoka’s “re-create”: works by Vermeer and Hokusai are scattered all over the world, the process of re-creation allows the audience to be surrounded by complete collections, without the standard barrier of glass inevitably installed to protect treasured artworks. At a “re-create” exhibition, the audience can immerse themselves in the world of the artist, at a level of intimacy and intensity impossible with original artworks. As such, “re-create” exhibitions raise thought-provoking questions about the nature of art viewing, the value of originality, and the role of modern-day technology in the interpretation and re-creation of artwork created in the past by human hand.


Mpata Great Africa is Japan’s third re-create exhibition

The first exhibition of re-created artworks, “Vermeer: Kingdom of Light”, was held in 2012 at the Vermeer Center Ginza, in Tokyo, and has since toured the country. This was followed by an exhibition of re-created Hokusai prints, Brilliant Hokusai! ‘Realm of Light‘, which ran from January through May 2013, also at the Vermeer Center Ginza. The third exhibition of re-created artwork, Mpata Great Africa, runs from September 18 through October 7 at the Shibuya Seibu Department Store, and featured over 80 re-created artworks by the Tanzanian artist Simon George Mpata and other African artists.  Hokusai Exposed at The Old Truman Brewery is the first overseas exhibition of artwork generated by the “re-create” process.

Re-create: The Process

The “re-create” process is reliant both on state-of-the-art technology and the fearless interpretation of data by the “re-create” technicians.

Most of the world’s most treasured artworks will have undergone repeated restorations, painstakingly conducted by skilled conservationists, in a process that is often focused on preservation rather than a return to a “more” original state. “Re-create” is not a type of restoration or of preservation of the original work of art, nor it is a process of replication or imitation. Instead, “re-create” technicians carefully build up a picture of the (imagined) original using RGB histograms, then use digital mastering techniques to “re-create” the work of art to how it might have looked when it was first painted or printed—something impossible to achieve through conventional restoration. One of the greatest benefits of this process is that the vibrant colours lost from the work of art over the course of time may be re-created, giving the viewer the opportunity to enjoy the work of art as it may have appeared when first completed.

The re-created images are then UV printed onto canvas, making use of the diffuse reflectance of the material.