Saturday, November 23, 2013

熱心がある間に On running with the stroke of inspiration

It's been coming to my attention more and more recently that making good work is all about running when the inspiration hits.

There are enforced arbitrary deadlines set by my professors where I have to come up with new work and often I really struggle to get a new work done in time. Sometimes it just doesn't flow and I struggle with the design stage for weeks before even starting in dyeing. Sometimes you just have no creative juice whatsoever and making new work becomes a real task.

Which is why it's so awesome when inspiration strikes and you suddenly know exactly what you want to try and make and you're actually excited about it. I've found these moments often come when I'm already in the middle of working on something else, so it's easy to just think, oh well I'll write that awesome exciting idea down and save it for the next work; for when I'm done with this. But you know, I have a notebook full of those saved-for-later ideas. 

What if you just act on them as they come? Sure, it might mean you are doing multiple things at once and sure, it might mean you don't sleep properly for a weeks and sure, you might not get all that plan done BUT! I think if you don't act on that idea and start making or start doing some preparations on it, the moment is lost, the freshness of the idea is gone and most likely you'll never come back to it. 

So what spurred all this was a recent body of work: a set of hand cut decorative stencils. I was in the middle of making work for our recent exhibition (which I'll write about soon!) and had this idea to make a set of katagami stencils that depict various endangered and vulnerable parrot species. I was inspired by old Ise stencils and I wanted to use katagami (persimmon juice strengthened stencil paper made from washi- how's that for long winded?!) in a way that Japanese people wouldn't; to do something surprising. And I had a great idea for it. 
この話を考えさせたのがとくにこの型紙シリーズです。展覧会へ向けて(もうすぐその写真などもアップロードします!) 他の作品を染める最中で、絶滅危惧種のインコを描写している装飾的な型紙も彫りたかったんです。日本人が思いつかない風に型紙を生かしたかったですね。
Some inspiration. Very delicately carved katagami stencil depicting an abacus and documents. 伊勢型紙からインスピレーション
Another inspiration image. This stencil uses the very fine metal punches to get these effects with dots. 細かい点々を使った型紙からインスピレーションを受けました。
I had the idea, I had most of the materials, I had the skills and tools, 
I just had very little time. A week to be exact. It was a fight or flight moment: Do I preserve my sanity and just take it easy for a week leading up to this exhibition and display what I have already made? Or do I run, and work right up to the last minute to create this work I'm excited about and exhibit it with all my other work? I decided to run.
ideas!!! at my desk at school 大学の机で。アイディアいっぱい!
Here's some images of the work installed. I called them 'Red Listed' as these 5 birds are all on the IUCN "Red List" of threatened species worldwide. I wanted to depict the birds as if they were fading out or being hidden. I tried various ways of showing this.完成した作品の写真です。「red listed - 消えてゆく」というタイトルをつけました。それは、この型紙の五種類のインコは前に説明したIUCN Red Listに書いてあるインコです。鳥が無くなっている・隠されているように描写しようとしました。
Paradise Parrot (Psephotus Pulcherrimus) 
Swift Parrot (Lathamus Discolour) オトメインコ
Orange-bellied Parrots (Neophema Chrysogaster) アカハラワカバインコ
detail of Orange-bellied Parrots stencil アカハラワカバインコの学名
Bit hard to see but this one is a Superb Parrot (Polytelis Swainsonii) ミカヅキインコ
Golden Shouldered Parrot (Psephotus Chrysopterygius) キビタイヒスイインコ
I had wanted to make 8. Then resigned myself to the fact that I only had time for 6. Then ran out of time and made 5. But I think the point is that I acted on that idea.

In making these, I was able to try out some new techniques, in particular using these tiny sharp circular stamps and to challenge myself on just how detailed I could cut. These are things that will help me in making new work. I also tried a different way of displaying them by having them up on windows in the gallery space so that they were backlit. This way you could see the intricate detail and it also brought out the warm brown colour of this traditional stencil paper.These days you can get a paler more plastic-y stencil paper that is less prone to shrinkage and more water resistant but this katagami stencil paper is the real deal that has been used for hundreds of years and it really has a different feel all together.

practicing using tiny punches on modern (less expensive) stencil paper.
I actually cut three layers at once, one of the traditional katagami for display, one of coloured paper as a decorative paper cut and another from modern plastic-like katagami for using to dye textiles with. Here you can see the design in ink on rice paper stuck to the stencil paper and cuttting through the whole lot. 同時に三枚も彫りましたー渋紙、洋型紙、色紙。墨で薄い和紙にデザインを描いて型紙に貼ってから全部彫っていく。
cutting three stencils at once and here peeling them delicately apart 一緒に彫った三枚を丁寧に引き離している。
detail of paradise parrot stencil with little house motifs 小さい家のモチーフを入れたゴクラクインコの型紙。
Since I made them just in time to exhibit, I was also able to receive feedback from my teachers and from the public about them. I got some good reactions and I think I even impressed the one hard-to-crack traditionalist professor who's always telling me I'm copying too much and need to find my own style.

Stencils as installed on the windows in our exhibition at Rissei Former Elementary school in Kyoto. 今間京都にある元の小学校「立誠小学校」の教室に型紙をこういうふうに展示しました。
stencils on the windows with the afternoon sun coming in 窓に貼って、陽射しが入ってくると暖かい感じですね。
It was nice that there was a small gardern just outside the windows so you could see real leaves through the leaf sections of the stencils too. 型紙の葉っぱの部分に、そとの実際の植物が見えて面白かった。

I've since caught up on the lost sleep and cleaned up the tornado that swept through my apartment in the week of non-housework and I want to encourage people who are making and creating to give in to the challenge and make what you want when the fancy takes you.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Takeuchi Seiho: Paintings & Sketches at Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art

Over the weekend, I went to see the big show on at the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, the work of Modern Japanese Painting giant Takeuchi Seiho (竹内栖鳳). They have two shows on simultaneously, one showing his paintings and a second showing his amazing sketches and underdrawings.

It was AMAZING!! I'm finding this more and more recently but old Japanese Paintings (nihonga) which look kind of same-same and a bit bland in books and catalogues are something else entirely when you see them in real life. 

For one thing, it's the sheer SCALE of these works! They are huge! You can't compare standing in a corner of the library looking at a small reproduction of a Lion painting in book to being face to face with an enormous painting of a Lion on a gold leaf covered folding screen. 
Not just any Lion, a HUGE lion! This screen was over 2 metres tall. circa 1901
Another massive screen. Actually this was a pair of screens. Elephant 1904.
Another thing which simply doesn't translate in a book is the level of detail. That's something I really enjoy about Nihonga; whilst paintings can appear to be abstract upscaled versions of smaller paintings, they almost always incorporate some areas of intricate detail. This large folding screen painting of deer was just such an example. Upon closer inspection, their fur is so realistic! Fluffy deer!

Young Deer Gathering  1924.
hard to see but they are oh so fluffy
Takeuchi Seiho lived from 1864-1942. In 1900 he travelled to Paris and it's interesting to see the way this influenced some of his artwork. I thought this pair of paintings was unusual, "Historic Spot of Rome, 1903" because the sense of perspective and the realistic depiction of space appears very western. Also the subject matter is obviously Roman building ruins whilst the materials and format he used remained very traditionally Japanese.

"Historic Spot of Rome, 1903"
Takeuchi also often used birds as motifs in his paintings and I thought they were really dynamic. He managed to depict them true to life, in the sense that he did piles and piles of sketches and drew them anatomically correctly but painted them with a looseness and energy too. 
Fighting Cocks
Detail of Sparrows in the Snow. 
My favourite work in the exhibition was this painting below, 秋興 or "The pleasantness of Autumn" from 1927. For starters, it uses colours very similar to my most recent artwork; this beige and vibrant blue-green. It's an unusual composition to have the ducks sort of in the centre and then lotus leaves coming in from the bottom and the top, hiding the birds in places.

"The Pleasantness of Autumn" 1927
Takeuchi was so prolific that they are splitting the exhibition into two sessions. I will have to go again in the second half!

 You can read more about Takeuchi Seiho and his life here 

International Exhibition of Art and Design + New Work 国際交流総合展+新作

This past 6 days, I had my latest artwork on show as part of a large group exhibition called the "International Exhibition of Art and Design". It was held in the Annex Building of the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. While the title (albeit vague) may perhaps conjure up images of grandeur and shiny display cases, don't let your imagination get carried away for the reality is that was a much more humble, honest display put on by a bunch of genuinely nice Artists from Japan and Abroad.
Group shows are by nature, a display by a very diverse group of people. In this case, there were many different techniques, countries and ages represented. Textiles, Sculpture, Illustration, Painting, Ink-work; Australia, Great-Britain, the US, Finland, Japan, China, name a few. You can see work from the artists here. During the set-up we tried to make sure that works looked okay next to each other but whether you can make so many different artworks look good together, I'm not so sure.  There were also some works where you go, "errr, okay..?" but the majority of works were really impressive and well-done.
view of the exhibition. My work was next to a roketsu wax-resist work by Kobayashi Shoko.
It's a group show like so many others in Kyoto; run by some kind of art organisation with submissions mostly from regular members but with fresh faces each year. However, unlike others, this group encourages foreigners to participate and seeks to encourage the exchange of ideas and cultures between Japanese and International artists.
looking towards the back of the exhibition. On the middle panel at the back is my friend Kiyomi's wax-resist work. The motif and colours are similar to the one shown here
gallery view
This year was my first year to be involved and it was a great experience. It was a good opportunity to meet artists working in totally different techniques and to hear what they had to say about my work and to form some new connections with International and Japanese artists working in and around Kyoto. 今年初めて出品しました。全然違うジャンルで作業している作家と話ができて、京都と周りの地域で作業している人と出会えていい経験でした。
gallery view
gallery view.
Without further ado, let me show you the work that I exhibited! It's called "Going, going, gone" which is an explanation of the three parrot species depicted in the artwork; from right to left they are the Swift Parrot (Conservation Status is ENDANGERED), the Orange-bellied Parrot (Status: CRITICALLY ENDANGERED) and finally the Paradise Parrot (EXTINCT).
では!展示した新作を紹介します!「Going, going, gone」というタイトルの意味は、「無くなっている、無くなっている、無くなった」のです。右から左へ行くと、描写してある三種類のインコは、オトメインコ(絶滅危惧)、アカハラワカバインコ(絶滅寸前)とゴクラクインコ(絶滅)。つまり、このインコはgoing, going, goneですね。
"Going, Going, Gone" 2013. 180x200cm Silk, Yuzen Resist, Chemical Dyes
Here's some of the Endangered Swift Parrots on the middle layer. You can see how it's partly see-through. 絶滅危惧種のオトメインコです。透明感のある生地を使いました。
These are Critically Endangered Orange-bellied Parrots. You can see the small sections of stylized text here which I`ll explain below. 絶滅寸前のアカハラワカバインコです。背景に文章が見えますね。下に説明します。
Here's a female and male Paradise Parrot, thought to have become extinct around the 1930's.
In this piece, I used three different layers of silk fabric, beginning with a heavy silk at the back, then a lighter georgette silk, and finally a very transparent organza at the front. I wanted to create depth as well as give the impression of the birds coming in and out of focus; appearing and disappearing. Also, the flight from right to left is taken from the tendency to show the flow of time in Japanese paintings as running from right to left. 
"Going, going, gone" (detail) Here you can see from right to left, Swift, Orange-bellied and Paradise Parrots. 右から:オトメインコ、アカハラワカバインコ、ゴクラクインコ。
You may be able to see the texture in the work behind the birds? This is fragments of text from writings by ornithologist John Gould (1804-1881). He was an Englishman but spent several years in Australia (mostly in Tasmania) observing and writing about Australian birds. His writings are very descriptive and I love the flowery language he used. The tragic thing is when Gould wrote about these they were still common (well, the Paradise Parrot was already on his way out) but now they are in serious danger of disappearing. 

I was really glad to see that my work was moving slightly in the gallery space, as people walked by or just in the air-conditioning. ギャラリーで作品が下のようにちょっと動いていてとてもよかったです。鳥が本当に飛んでいるのを感じさせます!
my work moving in the breeze

And so it's onward to the next exhibition!! Coming up so soon it's frightening is this group exhibition I am a part of with the 5 other Textiles Master's course students, "How How". It runs November 12-19 in Kyoto and more information can be found here. On that note, time to go get back to work!!