After Japan 

I didn’t realise how coming back home from my art residency only a few weeks before Christmas would impact on my work flow. At the time there was a real lag in my energy levels, not surprising given that day to day life and concerns were back in my face again. 

With the new year comes the need to get moving on making new work. I aim to pick up some of those ideas that came, as always, in the final days of my residency. In particular I am working on having a more direct interaction between the photographs I have taken, or have found in old books and my stitching. 

Stitch experiments on old photographs

This process has been assisted by another activity I am currently participating in, the 365 day handstitch challenge (on Facebook and Instagram), where participants undertake to stitch one thread every day of 2017. I’ve chosen to work with fabric and thread that I took to Japan,  but didn’t use. To make sure that my work stays loose I’m working with a favourite technique ‘stitching with my eyes closed‘. As you can see the challenge is having an impact on my other work.

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Something different

On the weekend I went to a talk by Jill Grant of Kimino YES, the sort of fabric store where the goods are had to resist. Apart from discussing some very interesting pieces of fabric that she brought along, Jill also showed us some of her own collection of Japanese textiles and related objects.

A Saga nishiki loom, with paper warp and silk weft

A Saga nishiki loom, with paper warp and silk weft

There was a Saga nishiki loom with its lacquer and gilt paper warp and silk weft. The paper warp is glued to the loom and woven with a highly twisted silk thread. (You can read more about Saga nishiki at Wormspit’s blog here). The loom also had an interesting folded paper heddle used to control the threads when weaving.

A view of the paper heddle

A view of the paper heddle

Here is a closer view of the warp, the lighter section at the bottom is where the silk thread has already been woven through the paper.

Closer view of the painted paper warp

Closer view of the painted paper warp

As you might well understand, this type of delicate work is used mainly for objects such as purses and brooches, that don’t require washing.

It turned out that Jill and I also share an interest in Japanese propaganda clothing – items with motifs such as aeroplanes and warships commonly made and worn during the 1930’s and 1940’s. The example Jill had was an exquisitely woven spun paper (shifu) and silk obi. In this case the paper is white and the thick silk blue, in a pattern of planes and clouds. The double cloth weaving technique means that each side shows the reverse colour to the other.

Paper and silk 'propaganda' obi

Paper and silk ‘propaganda’ obi

The reverse side.

Paper and silk obi, mid-twentieth century

Paper and silk obi, mid-twentieth century

Jill speculated that this was probably worn by the wife or close female relative of a Japanese pilot. I was excited to see such a beautiful piece of work. Thanks Jill.

Brushing up

During my brief stay in Adelaide I visited the Art Gallery of South Australia to see a ‘mini’ exhibition of calligraphic works on display in their Asian galleries. The exhibition, Brush and Ink, Contemporary Asian Calligraphy, displays large scale calligraphic works from China, Japan and Mongolia.

Japanese artist and commercial designer, Hiroko Watanabe’s installation takes up the end wall of the room. According to the room notes the 3D nature of this work is reflective of her work making commercial light-boxes to be placed on buildings. I always like to see ‘gesture’ in drawing and this work has it in bucket loads. I gather from the various reviews of this work that it was actually made during a performance with the group Above the Clouds, as part of the OzAsia festival. An interesting review of Watanabe’s performance can be found here.

"The value of the so-called invisible wind", Hiroko Watanabe, ink on Japanese paper (washi), 2014

“The value of the so-called invisible wind”, Hiroko Watanabe, ink on Japanese paper (washi), 2014

The Mongolian calligrapher’s were a revelation, quite literally I have never seen any of this calligraphy before and I only recently learned that there was a Mongolian script. This plaque attached to the Yonghe (Lama) Temple in Beijing is written in 4 distinct scripts from left to right as you see it Mongolian, Tibetan, Chinese and Manchu.

Inscription on the Yonghe Temple Beijing in  four scripts, (l to r) Mongolian, Tibetan, Chinese and Manchu.

Inscription on the Yonghe Temple Beijing in four scripts, (l to r) Mongolian, Tibetan, Chinese and Manchu.

The exhibition room notes say that ” calligraphers from Mongolia often describe the physical act of writing from the top down in one fluid motion, ‘as a man riding a very fast horse’, or like a falling coin'”. I can only concur as the overwhelming sense I had of these works was of their dynamic motion. This ceiling to floor work by D Ganbaatar is a case in point.

"Mongolian Pride" , by D. Ganbaatar, 2013, ink over 6 sheets of papyrus

“Mongolian Pride” , by D. Ganbaatar, 2013, ink over 6 sheets of papyrus

I’m still trying to understand how this work “Aspiration”, by Lkhagva Tuvshinjargal, has been made (apologies for the light reflections in the photo, they were unavoidable). I couldn’t tell if this was white ink on a previously prepared paper or some type of reductive technique, like bleach taking colour out of a dark cloth. If anyone knows how this technique is achieved I’d be interested to find out.

"Aspiration", by L

“Aspiration”, by Lkhagva Tuvshinjargal, 2013, ink on papyrus

If you would like to see more of  Lkhagva Tuvshinjargal work I found some on this Hungarian blog (Google translate works well as my Hungarian is non-existent).

I also enjoyed this small collection of calligraphy on ceramics, from the AGSA’s own collection, also on display as part of the exhibition.

Ceramics by Shoji Hamada and Milton Moon (and possibly another artist who's name I've forgotten)

Ceramics by Shoji Hamada and Milton Moon (and possibly another artist who’s name I’ve forgotten)

Additional images of Mongol calligraphy can be found on the following sites:

Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery – calligraphy

Mongolian Calligraphy on Facebook

 

Japanese plants and gardens

I love looking at gardens when I travel. This recent trip was the first time we have been in Japan during cherry blossom time.  In Kyoto there was one place we had to visit, Tetsugako no michi, or the Philosopher’s Path. Along a canal channeling water down from the hills surrounding Kyoto are rows of cherry trees. Both Japanese and foreign visitors alike crowded the paths to take photos of themselves, as well as the blossoms.

Taking photos on the Philosopher's Path, Kyoto, Japan.

Taking photos on the Philosopher’s Path, Kyoto, Japan.

I was able to take the time to sketch a section of the canal and while it had been my intention to add painted cherry blossom to the top of the sketch, it didn’t happen. I’m content to leave it like it is.

The Philosopher's Walk, (Tetsugako no michi), 12 April 2014.

The Philosopher’s Walk, (Tetsugako no michi), 12 April 2014.

After leaving Kyoto we travelled to Kanazawa, a city on the west coast of Japan, that developed  as a centre of gold mining – the city’s name means ‘gold swamp’. We stayed with local families while we undertook a two week language course. I was excited to find that my “host mother” was, like me, a keen forager of edible plants. During my stay she went to the local mountains with friends and also on a guided field trip to gather local wild foods. I had fun drawing the plants when she bought them home.

Kogomi, (Matteuccia struthiopteris, or Ostrich Fern) fresh fern fronds, which we ate as part of our dinner.

Kogome, fern fronds, 17 April 2014.

Kogome, Ostrich fern fronds, (Matteuccia struthiopteris), 17 April 2014.

Kuro moji, (Lindera umbellata), which we drank an infusion of. Apparently this plant is being examined for potential medicinal use. I can only say that the tea made from the plant was very pleasant.

Kuro moji, (Lindera umbellata), 18  April 2014.

Kuro moji, (Lindera umbellata), 18 April 2014.

We were in Kanazawa at the absolute peak of the cherry blossom season. We visited Kenroku-en, the magnificent garden in the centre of the city.

A wedding party under the sakura (cherry blossom) at Kenroku-en garden, Kanazawa, Japan

A wedding party under the sakura (cherry blossom) at Kenroku-en garden, Kanazawa, Japan

Our first visit was with our class so there was no time to draw. Two weeks later I returned to the park to draw. The cherry blossom was all gone. Instead, I drew my favourite section of the garden, a meandering stream that is lined with irises and azaleas, under a canopy of cherry trees.

Kenroku-en, stream with iris and azaleas, 27 April 2014

Kenroku-en, stream with iris and azaleas, 27 April 2014

I would have loved to have been able to stay on a few more weeks in Kanazawa to see the iris in bloom. The best I can do is give you a link to some photos of how good it can look.

Images of Koyasan, Part 2

The town of Koyasan can be roughly divided into two main areas. To the east is the Okunoin, a large cemetery and temple complex where thousands of grave markers and memorials are located. Perhaps the most dominant style of memorial marker is the Gorinto (Five-tiered stupa). The shapes of the tiers represent the five elements, from the bottom up earth, water, fire, wind and space.

A set of 3 gorintos in the Okunoin, Koyasan, Japan.

A set of 3 gorintos in the Okunoin, Koyasan, Japan.

At the other end of the town is the Dai Garan where the main temple complex is located along with many other temples and monuments.

The centre of the main temple complex is the Konpon Daito or Great Pagoda. I sat painting a section of this temple in the chilly morning air, accompanied once more by the sounds of chanting coming from the Kondo or Main Hall.

Part of the dome of the Konpon Daito, Great Pagoda, Koyasan, Japan

Part of the dome of the Konpon Daito, Great Pagoda, Koyasan, Japan

This area of the town is also the home of other major buildings such as the Kongobugi Temple. The rooms of this temple are decorated, in a variety of styles, illustrating the life of Kobo Daishi (the founder of the Shingon sect). Not only were you not allowed to take photos, the signs also specifically forbade sketching. This is what I recall of one room in a series that illustrated the four seasons. This room depicted autumn; yellow and orange maple leaves fell down against a backdrop of gold leaf, a striking deep blue stream ran through the background (this is not included in my version).

Recollections of the 'Autumn' room in the Betsuden, Kongobuji Temple, Koyasan, Japan

Recollections of the ‘Autumn’ room in the Betsuden, Kongobuji Temple, Koyasan, Japan

We also visited the Mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu and Tokugawa Hidetada, the first and second Japanese Shoguns. From what I understand this mausoleum contains the ‘spirits’ rather than the physical remains of the shoguns. Here visitors have to content themselves with admiring the elaborate wooden carvings that grace the exteriors of the two small buildings. Views of the gold-painted interiors are restricted to glimpses in the official brochure. I enjoyed the late afternoon quiet and drew this view of the torii gate at the entrance to the mausoleums. The stamps are available at many tourist attractions, so I’ve incorporated them into my page.

Torii gate at the entrance to the Tokugawa Mausoleum, Koyasan, Japan

Torii gate at the entrance to the Tokugawa Mausoleum, Koyasan, Japan

 

Images of Koyasan, Part 1

Well I’m back from a great trip to Japan so I can now upload some of the sketches I made while I was there. For the most part I managed to keep to my challenge of drawing something everyday, whether in my diary/sketchbook or an e-drawing on my phablet. I’ll bring you the drawings in several chunks.

Today I’m starting with images from the mountain town of Koyasan. This town is a religious centre for the Buddhist Shingon sect.  The main form of accommodation in town is at hostels run by the various monastic temples. The main drawcard to this type of accommodation is the vegetarian cooking that is prepared for guests. Believe me when I say that this food is not a form of abstinence (well apart from not eating meat). Here is a sample of one evening meal, for one person.

Dinner for one at the Jimyoin monastery, Koyasan, Japan

Dinner for one at the Jimyoin monastery, Koyasan, Japan

Guests, whether Buddhists or not, are invited to attend morning prayers in the temple. Prayers are led by the head priest, who is supported by other ordained priests. It was half an hour of chanting in a darkened space, lit only by candles, a time of focus and being present.

I thought it was also a perfect opportunity to practice fixing an image in my mind. This drawing was made after I returned to my room for breakfast. The first morning I was seated directly behind the head priest. The priest is marking the prayers with the ringing of a bronze bowl.

The head priest at the the Jimyoin Monastery, Koyasan, Japan

The head priest at the the Jimyoin Monastery, Koyasan, Japan

Two days later I drew another part of the temple furniture, in this case a cabinet containing images of the Buddha.

A cabinet containing images of the Buddha, Jimyoin Monastery, Koyasan, Japan

A cabinet containing images of the Buddha,
Jimyoin Monastery, Koyasan, Japan

Pots

On our last night in Kanazawa we had a fantastic dinner at the Uo-yaki Itaru izakaya (a type of small bar which also serves food). We had a range of yummy food including sashimi, octopus, duck and tempura. I even had to stop drawing so I could enjoy my dinner!
Here is a collection of pots that were sitting just in front of us.

image

Pots on the counter

There was a stovepipe going across the back of the range, a bit of an odd arrangement.