Month: March 2017

Peace of Mind in Horizontal Lines

Maybe visiting art museums is like some sort of religious devotion. This thought occurred to me yesterday when I was alone in a roomful of Yamazaki Hiroshi (山崎 博) photographs.

Yamazaki Hiroshi

Yamazaki Hiroshi’s “Horizon” series

Yamazaki Hiroshi (1946 – ) specializes in shooting sunlight on the sea. His individual photographs didn’t mean much to me on their own, but looking at hundreds of them together in a row was a different immersive experience. For a moment I forgot about time and forgot about lunch plans with my friend, as if nothing else existed other than the sea and the sun.

I had a strong déjà vu feeling when I stepped into the gallery, and it took me a while to realize that the déjà vu must have come from Mark Rothko.

rothko room in moca

Mark Rothko room in MOCA

Mark Rothko’s paintings are meant to be seen up close, so close that the painting dominates the entire field of vision. When I stand in front of a Rothko painting, a voice inside the painting is calling me, and I have a strong impulse to walk into one of the color blocks. Strangely, it’s always very clear to me which of the two or three color blocks I want to walk into, without any ambiguity.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living between a mundane world and a “spiritual” world, even though I’m agnostic and not religious. Art is one of the keys to the “spiritual” world, and so are music and literature and other things. In that sense, visiting art museum is a way to constantly remind myself of the “spiritual” world, so it’s like going to church.

For this reason, I’m always fascinated by the ideas behind the Rothko Chapel and Tadao Ando’s Church of Light, despite not having been to either place in person. The Rothko chapel in Houston is “the world’s first broadly ecumenical center, a holy place open to all religions and belonging to none”, with fourteen Rothko paintings inside. The Church of Light near Osaka is a Protestant church, but I love it as art.

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Church of Light by Tadao Ando

Last week a professor recommended Rothko’s essay collection “The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art” to me. Maybe I’ll update this post after reading the book.

 

God of the Crossroads by Wifredo Lam

I find Wifredo Lam’s paintings kind of creepy. The Afro-Cuban ghosts and jungle animals stare at me, as if they can read deep inside my mind. Their round eyes are telling me that they seem to be scared by what they see in me.

When I look at this painting God of the Crossroads, I imagine taking on a voyage up the Congo River like in Heart of Darkness. At some point, the river forks into two branches. I stop my boat, trying to decide which way to go. Suddenly, when I glance at the riverbank, I see a faint image of the God of the Crossroads through the dense foliage. It looks at me as if it already knows which direction my subconscious mind wants to take. It is telling me that direction is wrong, but I have no idea which direction I am secretly thinking about. The God of the Crossroads fades away, leaving me alone in the middle of the waterways…

God of the Crossroads

The Sombre Malembo, God of the Crossroads (1943)

Village Houses – Feininger, Cezanne, Münter, Metzinger

I saw these four paintings of village houses recently at different places, and it’s quite interesting to compare them side by side.

Some random thoughts.. Jean Metzinger’s Landscape reminds me of Angela Carter’s The Magical Toyshop, when Melanie gets stuck on a tree in the middle of the night. Village in Thuringia is exactly how I picture the end of the world in Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the WorldLower Main Street would perhaps be The Wizard of Oz.

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Village in Thuringia (1943), by Lyonel Feininger, oil on canvas

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Mont Sainte-Victoire (1890), by Paul Cezanne, oil on canvas 

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Lower Main Street, Murnau (1910), by Gabriele Münter, oil on textured cardboard

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Landscape (1914), by Jean Metzinger, oil on canvas

 

Picasso Lithographs: Looking inside the Artist’s Mind

By recording intermediate states of artworks, lithography provides a rare opportunity for the viewer to see inside artists’ minds. To make a lithograph, the artist draws the image on a limestone plate with a special ink, and the image is printed to paper from the stone. It is very convenient for the artist to modify the image by adding or subtracting ink on the same stone. By printing each intermediate state to paper, the artist can easily keep a history of his creative process.

The Norton Simon Museum has a long history of collecting Picasso prints. Norton Simon, the museum’s namesake, purchased 850 Picasso prints in 1977 from the collection of Fernand Mourlot. More than 80 Picasso prints were on view last month at the Norton Simon Museum, including “The Bull” and “Long-Haired Young Girl”.

Not many artists valued the intermediate steps of the artistic creation process as much as Picasso did. He was interested in investigating his own thought process, and consciously wanted to document his “states of mind”. Since he met the French lithographer Mourlot Frères in 1945, Picasso produced 185 lithography plates in the next three years, and more than 400 plates by the end of the 1960s.

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“The Bull” is one of the most famous lithographs by Picasso. The full transition from a realistic behemoth to a simple outline demonstrates how the artist searched for the spirit of the bull in the process of abstraction. From the first plate to the second plate, Picasso bulks up the bull to make the image more powerful. Starting from Plate 3, the bull is dissected by muscle and skeleton contours as if in a butcher shop. As the simplification process continued, the image lightens with a more elegant sense of balance. In particular, the head shrinks, the front sharpens, and a tail appears. In Plate 10, the bull is reduced to a line drawing – except that the bull’s reproductive organ remains shaded to indicate its gender. With all the careful consideration in each step, Picasso shows us in the final plate what he considers to be the absolute essence of the bull.