Category Archives: Reflections

The Japan Shodo Show

日本語バーションは英語の後にあります。

The other day I went to the Japan Shodo Show at Kyoto Wang Inter-Art Museum /  JARFO Art Gallery in Kyoto. 

The exhibition organisers pose the question: ‘What is ‘Shodo as Contemporary Art?’ 

It’s a question encompassing significant artistic and philosophical issues. 

In response the show presented a myriad of stimulating visual explorations. While some artists used the traditional media of shodo – sumi ink and washi, many used other materials such as acrylics and other media. Some work was clearly based on language, both Japanese (all script forms) and English, it was often semi or completely illegible. Other work was purely abstract and in a few cases it was gestural, which reminded me of the shodo heritage. The works were for the most part in traditional shodo colours-monotone black and greys and some red. Notably, quite a few were mounted on simple scrolls, very chic and very effective.

Visually the exhibition was exciting, but as an exhibition exploring shodo as contemporary art I was surprised there was no display panel outlining the issues involved. In addition, none of the artists were identified and the works had no captions.  I assumed this anonymity was deliberate.  Stripping the viewer of any linguistic clues as to the meaning or concept of the artwork, we had to confront it directly and to interpret it for ourselves. 

This is a challenging demand for any contemporary art.  We rarely pick up everything the artist is trying to express. In this case I felt it was a great pity. I would have gained much if there had been explanatory captions to the individual pieces.  Indeed, talking with one of the artists about his digital piece I was able to appreciate it fully – visually, intellectually and emotionally. I would never have been able to respond so completely without his commentary. 

先日、京都の王京都美術館/ JARFOアートギャラリーで開催された日本書道ショーに行きました。

展覧会の主催者は、現代美術としての書道とは何かという問いを投げかけます。 ’
それは重要な芸術的および哲学的問題からなる質問です。それに応えて、ショーは無数の刺激的な視覚的探求を提示しました。一部の芸術家は書道の伝統的な媒体である墨と和紙を使用しましたが、多くの芸術家はアクリルや他の媒体などの他の材料を使用しました。一部の作品は明らかに日本語(すべて)のスクリプト形式と英語の両方の言語に基づいており、半ばまたは完全に判読できないことがよくありました。他の作品は純粋に抽象的で、いくつかのケースではそれは身振りであり、書道の遺産を思い出させました。作品の大部分は伝統的な書流の色で、単調な黒と灰色、そしていくつかの赤でした。特に、かなりの数が単純な巻物に取り付けられており、非常にシックで非常に効果的でした。

見た目はワクワクしましたが、書道を現代美術として探求する展覧会として、問題点をまとめた展示パネルがないことに驚きました。また、アーティストは特定されておらず、作品にはキャプションがありませんでした。アートワークの意味や概念に関する言語的な手がかりを視聴者から取り除き、私たちはそれを直接直面し、自分たちで解釈しなければなりませんでした。

これは、現代美術にとって挑戦的な需要です。アーティストが表現しようとしていることすべてを取り上げることはめったにありません。この場合、私はそれが非常に残念だと感じました。個々の作品に説明的なキャプションがあれば、アートワークからより多くのことを得ることができたでしょう。確かに、彼のデジタル作品についてアーティストの一人と話をすると、視覚的、知的、そして感情的にそれを完全に理解することができました。彼の解説がなければ、私はこれほど完全に答えることができなかっただろう。

(Google 翻訳
https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=google+translate&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8)

Korean Shan Sui Ink Wash Painting Exhibition- Beauty Landscape

英語のみのコメントで失礼いたします。グーグル翻訳をご利用ください。

https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=google+translate&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

Last week  I visited this rare exhibition of North Korean ink paintings at the Kyoto Wang Inter-Art Museum/JARFO Kyoto Gallery.  The artwork on exhibit had been bought by the director Chun-II Wang from the North South Korea Art Council .It had originally been donated to the Council by the National Museum of Korea to help them raise money.  

It is unusual that so many artworks from North Korea can be seen together like this in Japan.

The ink paintings are in the traditional landscape genre. They depict dramatic mountain scenes  in North Korea:  towering mountains, rocky cliffs, trees clumped together on mountain sides, and rushing rivers and cascades.In some paintings there was the odd building or two, but other than that  there was no other sign of human  life. 

All of them clearly belong to one school of painting, but despite the parameters of that style and the set motifs, there were differences between the  works, most noticeably in their energy and dynamism.  Some were more controlled, others much more spirited.  What I found striking about the paintings was the brushwork. 

Diluted ink is commonly used for clouds and skies in ink painting,  but interestingly in some of the works the brush strokes were vertical or at a diagonal,  with  the ‘halos’ of water visible where the strokes overlap. All the paintings were on Korean paper (similar to Washi) which allowed for some bleeding of the ink. Mid-grey washes were used on the cliffs and, unusually in a few paintings, dark solid black areas of ink for areas in shadow, or perhaps caves.However, it was the linear brush work of the mountains and water that carried the life of the works.  In some paintings the dark brushwork on the mountains resembled rapid scratches, seemingly divorced from their function of depicting rock face. Water was painted with dynamic rhythmical sometimes very gestural strokes in light ink. In contrast, trees and bushes were often portrayed more quietly with complex, subtle layers of colour and ink, wet into wet and with final dots of colour onto the dry ink.

The grandeur of the landscapes in the exhibition goes without saying, but my lasting  impression of the paintings as a whole was of energy and propulsion. There was one exception,’Along the Shores of the East Sea’ by In-Gu Park.  It was more lyrical and  calm, I felt I could relax.

Shinoda Toko

英語のみのコメントで失礼いたします。グーグル翻訳をご利用ください。

Shinoda Toko died last week  aged 107.  She was a giant among abstract calligraphy artists, and for many years more well known abroad than in Japan.  I had the good fortune to meet her once,. It was at the Opening of a Retrospective of her work celebrating her 90th birthday at the Hara Museum in  Tokyo. I was struck by her composure and grace. She was dressed in a grey kimono and courteously greeted the guests one by one as we arrived. She didn’t sit until she had received us all. 

I have one image of her brushing work which I saw in an old video of her.  She was dressed as usual in a kimono. She held a long brush vertically over the paper spread out on the floor, and swaying sideways left and right she  let the brush stroke the paper in straight, grasslike lines.   She slightly altered her position and the brush changed direction. The movements were minimal, just enough to allow the arm to redirect the brush. The lines were delicate and free. They seemed to come straight from her soul.

https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/toko-shinoda-artist-death/index.html

Sesshū and Gyokudō exhibition

https://c.sanyonews.jp/sesshu_gyokudo/

英語のみのコメントで失礼いたします。グーグル翻訳をご利用ください。

Sesshu and Gyokudo: Two Ink Masters Return Home 

Last week I went down to the  Okayama Museum of Art to see this exhibition.  Both artists came from Okayama although they moved away from the Prefecture as they grew older. Both are ink painters and calligraphers. Sesshu Toyo (1420 -1506) was a painter-monk, Uragami Gyokudo (1745 – 1820) was a literatus (Bunjin) . He was famous during his life time as a zither player. 

Here are some impressions I had of the exhibition.

First of all it was a shock – the artwork itself  is so beautiful!  I know ink work reproduces badly on the computer screen and in print but I had forgotten the extent of the difference. 

It was pure delight to enjoy the subtlety of sumi ink, its infinite gradations, the modulations of the line work, the balancing of forms, the build up of  textures. So much is lost and blunted in reproduction. . 

Overall the feeling I had was of calm both in the exhibition and of the artworks themselves. This was surprising because in both artists’ work there was agitated brush work – the excited sometimes manic brushwork of Gyokudo and Sesshu’s black jagged line work .

One reason for this calm may have been that both artists use washes to modulate the space, and  this helps to mitigate the extremes of their linear expression. They also leave the paper or silk free of ink in many cases. One of Gyokudo’s screens (‘The winding path round the mountains’, my translation) was transparent in its lightness, pulling us beyond the layers of busy brush work in the foreground. In Sesshu’s work the strong line work is limited to the  mountains and trees, it is balanced by other motifs painted in a variety of lighter brush work.

Sesshu is famous for  among other things his textured  ‘axe strokes’  for  mountains,. I was surprised by the lack of these strokes in the works on display. Instead outlines were soft, and  not so jagged, and, rather than using  line work, he used washes on the mountain sides to produce sculptural effects.   These softer artworks relate to the Haboku, Broken ink landscapes for which he is also famous.

Gyokudo’s work is an  adventure in energetic line and composition. His works often look as if they are about to  collapse.   A few of them made me laugh they looked so unstable.  But within this wildness there was a natural control of movement, probably rooted  in his musical practice.

Gyokudo’s painting surfaces are complex build ups of dry brush stroke, soft washes and short line work in different ink concentrations, ranging from light to very dark, and often two toned,  His musicality is reflected in the rounded forms repeated in sequences in the compositions of the paintings

Coming away from the exhibition I was aware of the different ways in which we use ink nowadays. Sesshu and Gyokudo  were seeped in environments which were deeply connected with the natural world. Both used ink as their natural medium of expression.Light, shadow, air, water  the natural elements pervaded their consciousness as they did the ink medium itself.  Our worlds are different , as are the ways we make and use ink. We use the medium in new and original ways, I wonder what Sesshu and Gyokudo would have made of them!