Teruko Yokoi – Art in the Making

“Teruko Yokoi – Art in the Making” by Kuniko Satonobu Spirig


Switzerland – 2024 ​- Color – 50 minutes – O.V. English – subtitle: English, French, German, Japanese

スイス / 2024年制作 / カラー/ 50分 / 言語・英語 / 字幕・英語、仏語、独語、日本語


Teruko Yokoi (1924 – 2020) was a Swiss-Japanese artist who lived in Bern. At the age of 95, Kunstmuseum Bern held her first retrospective which was a long-held dream of hers. She died a few weeks after its closure. This film is the portrait of a determined woman artist who persevered despite the difficulties of being a foreigner, a single mother, and an artist in the shadow of her famous ex-husband. In parallel, the film shows the fascinating methods of her abstract painting. Inspired by memories of her youth in Japan, Yokoi applied Japanese techniques (like calligraphy or empty space) to the genre of abstract expressionism.


横井照子 (1924 – 2020) は、抽象絵画を学ぶためアメリカに渡り、その後パリを経て最終の仕事場をスイス・ベルンに定めたスイス・日本人画家。2020年1月、横井が長年夢見た回顧展がベルン美術館で開催された。95歳の時である。そして、この展覧会が幕を閉じた数週間後、永遠の眠りにつく。この映画は、外国人でシングルマザー、有名な画家の夫(サム・フランシス)の影に隠れがちといった様々な困難にもめげず、「画家として生きる」という意志を貫いた1人の女性画家の一生を見つめ、同時に「余白」や書の導入といった日本絵画の技法とアメリカ抽象表現主義が合わさった表現を見せながら、横井の魅力あふれる作品世界に誘う。




Director & Producer: Kuniko Satonobu Spirig



Kuniko Satonobu Spirig

Kuniko Satonobu Spirig is a Swiss-Japanese art historian, filmmaker and journalist, living in Switzerland. She made this documentary as her second film after having worked as co-director for the documentary film about the Prix de Lausanne (International ballet competition) for NHK.

スイス・日本の美術史家、映像作家、ジャーナリストとしてスイスで活躍。横井照子のドキュメンタリーは、彼女の2作目の作品。1作目は、NHKの共同監督としてローザンヌ国際バレエコンクールについてのドキュメンタリー「ローザンヌでつかんだ未来 – バレエダンサー須弥奈と美桜 –」を制作した。

Camera & Editing: Matthias Günter



Matthias Günter

Matthias Günter is a Swiss filmmaker who produced, wrote and directed several short films. In 2015, he co-produced, co-directed and co-wrote the feature film “Wintergast”, which was nominated at the Locarno Film Festival.

スイスの映像作家。プロデューサー・監督として数本の短編映画を制作。2015年、共同プロデューサー、共同監督、共同シナリオライターとして秀作の長編映画『Wintergast /冬の客』を制作した。同作品はロカルノ国際映画祭にノミネートされた。

Niklaus Erismann

Niklaus Erismann is a Swiss guitarist and composer who focuses on contemporary music. He composed the theme song “Hommage à T.Y.” for this film. He teaches guitar at the Bremgarten/Zollikofen Music School in Switzerland.




“Teruko Yokoi – Art in the Making” – Excerpt from the Documentary (About Empty Space)


“Teruko Yokoi – Art in the Making” – Excerpt from the Documentary (about Black)


Teruko Yokoi « Untitled », 1958

Teruko Yokoi « April», 1964

Teruko Yokoi « Autumn Poem », 1968

Director’s note

by Kuniko Satonobu Spirig

As an art historian, I was asked to write an essay on Teruko Yokoi, a Japanese-Swiss artist living in Bern, for the catalogue of her retrospective at the Kunstmuseum Bern. I was fascinated by her work, particularly by the way she used techniques of traditional Japanese art and captured the atmosphere of Japanese landscapes in works of abstract expressionism. Being Japanese and Swiss myself, I identified with the way that Yokoi married the aesthetic traditions of East and West.

Another woman artist, Sonia Delaunay had already died when I wrote my doctoral dissertation on her work, and I had been deeply frustrated not to be able to ask her questions about it. So, I was delighted and excited to be able to interview Yokoi in person.

We met in September 2019. Brushing aside my theoretical questions about things like her creative process or the meaning of abstract forms she used, Yokoi shared stories from her childhood instead, evoking images of colorful landscapes. She told how she had danced and sung in the garden when she was five, because even though it was still cold, she knew that spring was coming because she had noticed how the arrival of buds had changed the color in the branches of the trees. Impressed by her daughter’s sensitivity to colour, Yokoi’s mother organized private painting lessons for her.

This story reminded me of soft-colored branches in Yokoi’s painting “March”.  I imagined a camera sweeping across the painting over the colors reminiscent of early spring, to settle on the branches in the corner of the canvas. This image gave me the idea of filming some of Yokoi’s works, with my interpretations. I also wanted to document Yokoi’s “pictorial” anecdotes, show her sense of humour and energetic gestures, capture her personality on screen before it was too late. I decided to make this film on Teruko Yokoi.

I wanted also to highlight Yokoi’s courage and determination as a woman artist. In 1954, only 9 years after the Second World War, she left Japan to study art in the United States, in the heyday of abstract expressionism. At that time, there were a few Japanese male painters who went to Paris or the United States, but it was exceptional for a Japanese woman painter to study abroad. When she arrived at the art school in San Francisco, she had a hard time communicating in English, and was shocked by the new techniques (like dripping or throwing paint on canvas) that other students used. She felt unable to imitate them. Discouraged and depressed, she nonetheless continued to paint in her own style.

In 1960 Yokoi went to Paris with her husband, the famous painter Sam Francis. There she was surrounded by other artists, but remained in her husband’s shadow. A. Rüdlinger, Director of the Kunsthalle Basel, came to the couple’s flat for dinner and discovered some of Yokoi’s paintings. He said: “Sam, you never told me that your wife was also a painter. Your wife’s paintings are beautiful, send them to Basel at once”.

Rüdlinger’s introduction to the Swiss art scene was one of the reasons that Yokoi chose, after her divorce with Sam Francis, to come live in Bern.  She lived and worked there for the rest of her life, showing her determination as an artist as she donned a white coat to paint every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The retrospective of her work at Kunstmuseum Bern, held when she was 95, was a long-awaited confirmation of her place in the Swiss art world and even in the international scene.

Once I had decided to make the film, I had the luck to meet Matthias Günter, a talented Bernese filmmaker who shares my interest and sensitivities; he agreed to be the cameraman and editor for the film. I also discovered rough footage of Teruko Yokoi shot in 2012 by the American filmmaker Mark Whitney; he gave me permission to use his material. Inspired by the first rough cut of Yokoi’s film, Niklaus Erismann, a composer who is the friend of Matthias, wrote “Homage to T.Y.” for the film.

Shortly after her exhibit closed at the Kunstmuseum, we showed the rough cut of the film in the retirement home where Yokoi lived; at the end of the projection she got a thundering applause from the other residents. Just a few weeks later, before we had finished editing the film, Yokoi died unexpectedly but peacefully. She was 96. I am deeply grateful to have been able to share the film with her and enable her last community of friends to appreciate her work.

I was still not satisfied with the film when it was completed in 2021, so in 2023, I decided to re-edit it, trimming the content and modifying the sound. I was lucky to have met Norbert Eichler and Andreas Graf of the sound mixing lab “Epic Lab Film, Music & Scoring, Switzerland”. Norbert, in particular, greatly enhanced the expressiveness of the sound we were using. In 2024, the final version of “Teruko Yokoi – Art in the Making” was completed.










映画の制作においては、ベルンの映像作家、マティアス・グンターに出会えたことは幸いだった。カメラと編集を担当したマティアスとは、映像に対する同じ感性・感覚を共有できた。さらに、アメリカの映像作家、マルク・ウイットニーが、2012年に88歳の横井を撮影した映像の使用を快諾してくれたことも幸運だった。音楽は、映画の粗編に感動したマティアスの友人の作曲家、ニクラウス・エリスマンが主題曲「Hommage à T.Y.」を作曲してくれた。


映画は、2021に一度完成を見た。しかし私は、どこか満足していなかった。そこで2023年、再編集を決心した。内容的に余分な部分を切り落とし、音を再編した。このとき、サウンドミックスの専門会社「エピック・ラボ・フィルム」のノルベルト・アイヒラーとアンドレアス・グラフに出会えたことは幸いだった。特にノルベルトは、使っている曲の表現性を非常に高めてくれた。そして2024年、ついに「Teruko Yokoi – Art in the Making (横井照子の表現世界)」が完成した。

© 2024 Kuniko Satonobu Spirig

© 2024 里信邦子スピリグ




Please contact me for any inquiries about the film.







DESIGN Hatchi Studio| VIDEOS Matthias Günter | PHOTOS Kuniko Satonobu & Teruko Yokoi