Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Open Studio & Artworks in Progress - Nakajo Artist in Residence

They say the weather this year has been exceptionally strange. No kidding! We watched another typhoon approaching Japan on Sunday and hoped it wouldn't wash out our Open Studio event. Thankfully the heavy rain held off until the night and we had a successful day.

From 10-4, I had my studio room in my little house open to the public and Mihajlo & Jelena (the other two artists here) were screening their previous films in a little cinema setup inside one of the other houses. We welcomed a lot of our local friends and faces we've met at local events. It was cool to show them that we have actually been quite busy, making and exploring.

I made a dyed banner for the event using powdered tumeric I got at the market stall (The cash register ladies had a little chuckle at me buying an entire bag of tumeric) and some indigo pigment stick. It's tied down with stones and bits of broken pottery I found in the river near here.

My banner for the event looking a
bit out of place in the grey weather

no sign of the alps all day but at least it wasn't typhoon-ing

Here's some snapshots from inside my studio.

Welcome to Melinda's Studio. A sign I brought from home that I made a couple of years ago
A sign prepared by the staff about me and about Australia (importantly, tim tams are included!) random cute things gifted by locals
Here's a piece I've been working on using a roll of Shoji paper left by a previous artist (the paper used to paper the sliding screen doors)

These circles are test swatches of different pigments I've ground up from local stones found mostly by the river. I'm hoping to get a few more metres of dots before the exhibition late this month
the room I'm using as a studio. spacious!!
Inspiration-y tid-bits. Pigments I brought from Australia in tiny bottles.
Bird book - check. Japanese Weeds Identification books - check.

I've been busy smashing up rocks too and making pigment colours. Mostly I've found stones at the river nearby, the Dojiri River. They are mostly quite soft and oxidised red or yellow on the outside but there's also crazy cool fossils and shells in the river bed because once upon a time this area as under the sea! crazy. I'm up to 27 colours at the moment, maybe I'll get to 50?

Rock collection - mostly these are ones that were too hard for making pigment out of. Chestnuts too just to make sure you were paying attention. 

I'm also making a series of Katazome works on paper depicting weeds and plants I've found around Nakajo. Will do about 15, I'm already up to 11.
I've been carving the names of each plant in the romanized Japanese this time, instead of the latin name like I've done previously. 
Anyway, that's it for now I think. Got to keep some things a secret! The final artworks will be displayed at the Nagano City Arts Centre gallery from October 24-29th 2018. Lots to do! 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Life in Nakajo - Greenery and community

I've been in Nakajo for almost 1 month now. Slowly the complexity of this little piece of the world has been revealing itself.

Nakajo is a beautiful town. Until 2010, it was designated as a village and I think at it's heart, it still is. What is now the 'main street' through Nakajo is not exactly 'happening', there's a post office, a pharmacy, a middle school, high school, the City Office branch, a community hall, a couple of tiny supermarkets and one or two other shops. The rest of the street is very quiet. There are some shops that look like they were in business up until a few years ago but are now deserted and here and there the greenery is creeping in.

The Butchers signage - the shop itself is as is but without any sign of life.

Everywhere the greenery is busting out and over things.
BUT! The true appeal of Nakajo is the nature! There are all these steeeeep windy roads heading north up into the hills north of Nakajo's main street and the river. They all converge at about 700metres above sea level on this parallel road that links Shrines, stacked rice fields, an old water-powered Rice mill, gigantic cedar trees, a totally retro Japanese Inn, two fantastic old wooden Schools now disused - one is a time capsule of debris and broken floorboards, the other has a glistening hall used for musical performances....The list goes on. For us artists, this is the most fantastic part.


An old water-powered Mill, which used to be used for pounding the outer husks off rice.

Looking back out through the entrance gate to Gau-in Temple
The time capsule of Miyamasa Elementary School was incredible
11 metre girth of 800 year old + 'Kusaga Cedar' designated a natural treasure of Nagano Prefecture

Down here in the river edge part of Nakajo there's some pretty great things too. There is an amazing Shrine with a super long name, just next door to our little houses. So much atmosphere (and in this weather, mozzies too). There was finally a sunny day to take some photos. The priest for this shrine and a couple of others in the area lives just down a couple of houses. He has a busy life taking care of these amazing buildings and ceremonies at the same time as farming and fishing.

The Grounds of Sumetaruhomikoto Jinja Suwasha Go-oden  - Say that ten times fast
Sumetaruhomikoto Jinja Suwasha Go-oden

There's also a virtually unmarked park that has these reconstructed thatch houses which were uncovered in a survey and dig in the 1960s. Complete with reproductions of bones that were found buried in the same area and Jomon-era pottery - which looks nothing like the ceramics we commonly associate with Japan. That all came from Korea much later on - simple and refined. This stuff is hefty and symbolic.

Reconstructions of unearthed village near my house

best part was the reconstructed ceramic skull. There were burial sites here too.
It's almost 'not Japanese' if you know what I mean.

But more to the point, we've discovered that there is a lot going on here despite appearances. There is a true sense of community - festivals and sports days, people harvesting rice together, Taiko drumming practice on Wednesday nights. There's a mountaineering club, a historical association, a Magicians club (!!!)
Even though I wouldn't call myself a total city person, this kind of lifestyle is definitely far removed from life in the outer burbs. Buses are infrequent, people drive everywhere, the day starts with the sun and people seem to eat meals by the clock at 6, 12 and 6....
There are a bunch of good humans here too - those who were born here and those who chose to make this home. Attempting cool things too like encouraging agricultural experiences for young people, building a new artists' studios and gathering place, and turning abandoned old houses into cafes.

We are nearly halfway through the residency period and I've been busy making too. Gearing up for an open studio this weekend. When everythings up on the wall and looking pretty I'll share some images with you of what I've been up to :)

For now, enjoy some Northern Alps!

Friday, September 14, 2018

RINPA - I'm living inside a Rinpa painting.

You might have already heard of the Japanese art term "Rinpa".
The Japanese characters 琳派 are often written in English alternatively as Rimpa.
Whichever way you want to say it, Rinpa is a Japanese art movement that covers much of the Edo Period. It's not an Art movement in the traditional sense though.

A Favourite - Morning Glories by Suzuki Kiitsu. Part of a pair of 6panel folding screens.
The term Rin-pa 琳派 reads as "The Rin Group" but it's actually a contraction of what was once known as the Sōtatsu Kōrin Group (Tawaraya Sōtatsu and Ogata Kōrin are two very famous painters) The rin refers to the surname of painter Ogata Kōrin (1658-1716).

Over time, definitions of who is included in the Rinpa group have been fluid and it wasn't even until the 20th century that the shortened name Rinpa stuck. It's not an art movement based on a Master and his Apprentices system but more of a group of artists from different eras who identified with the Rinpa style and held Ogata Kōrin/Tawaraya Sōtatsu/Sakai Hōitsu in high esteem as kind of honorary teachers. See a more eloquent and detailed explanation here... Interesting huh?

What I love about Rinpa works are the sense of energy and movement they convey with minimal subject matter. Often there is a sweeping form that leads your eye across the composition or a repetition of motifs that creates a nice rhythm. It's unlike a "western" (I don't really like that word..."non-Japanese"?) take on perspective that leads your eye inwards or backwards, these compositions move your eye around and across. There's no concern to depict the background - it is suggested by its absence.

My personal favourites amongst Rinpa artists are

Sakai Hōitsu 酒井抱一
and his student/assistant
Suzuki Kiitsu 鈴木其一

Here's a pair of folding screens by Sakai Hōitsu, 「夏秋草図屏風」"Summer and Autumn Flowering Plants". These are designated "Important Cultural Property" by the Japanese government. They were painted with Japanese pigments and you can see the background is silver leaf - which darkens over time.
The right hand side alludes to summer - a river, blooming lilies, twining bindweed and long green grasses. The left side is an autumn image of windswept grass, kuzu vine, and other symbolic autumn flowers.

Pair of Folding Screens by Sakai Houitsu "Summer and Autumn Flowering Plants" Edo Period

detail of summer flowers screen - Japanese Bindweed

From the Autumn screen - Kuzu vines, Sususki grasses and other lovely bits and pieces
As an aside, did you know that time in these kinds of paintings is often depicted from right to left? Summer on the right turning to autumn on the left. In other famous works, the birds or motifs are often travelling from right to left too.

Here's a painting by Suzuki Kiitsu - alluding to the cold start to Spring with plum blossoms and camellias. - Honolulu Museum of Art
When I was living in Kyoto, I would look at Rinpa artworks like these of plants and flowers and think, hmm that's pretty but I didn't necessarily have any connection to the imagery within.

Now I'm in Nakajo, out in the countryside west of Nagano central, I'm seeing these very plants and flowers everywhere! You can kind of glaze over with the Japanese tendency to depict things seasonally - it's so ubiquitous. Morning glories on summer yukata. Susuki grasses to depict cool autumn breezes. Twining Kuzu vines to show the greenery of late summer. Dragonflies, cherry blossoms, bells, fans, you could go on and on. I guess it is what people outside of Japan might think of as most "Japanese-looking".

But then you get out somewhere like here in Nakajo, and you realise these patterns and motifs are not cheesy imagery, they are truly what is growing at your feet, on the paths and next to houses.

Heron wading through the river...
SO herein lies one dilemma. (there's plenty more, I can assure you but let's start with just this one!)

Usually, I am working in Australia, depicting my local surroundings - birds and plants and colours - in a Japanese dyeing technique. There is *I hope* some balance between Australian-ness and Japanese-ness.

Now I'm here, I want to depict all the wonderful things I'm seeing around me. But, as it turns out, all of the things I'm seeing are kind of cliche things like morning glories on posts and twining greenery and drooping heads of grass. If I make these works in Katazome, on washi like I intend to, will anyone even blink? They might just come out looking like Japanese artworks. Which is nice. But I'm not really into just nice.

How to see it all through my own Australian eyes instead?
Not sure yet.

There was a revival of interest in Rinpa artworks in the last few years as various exhibitions and events celebrated the 400 year anniversary of the movement. (I was even involved in one in 2015) Among those initiatives were exhibitions to re-define Rinpa, to see the modern world through Rinpa eyes or to bring Rinpa into the 21st century.

Rinpa 400year anniversary exhibtion I was involved in at the Museum of Kyoto in early 2015

How about not just pulling Rinpa sentiments into the 21st century but also stepping sideways to incorporate an international perspective. After all, Rinpa is a movement open to any artists who hold those early artists in high esteem.