Tag Archives: artist

Byron Bay Markets…Sunday 8th January, 2019.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

JRR Tolkein.

Every time, I go to the markets around Byron Bay whether they are in Byron Bay  itself or perhaps over at Bangalow, I have this all consuming sense of coming home. That this is me.

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I doubt this would come as a surprise to anyone these days. However, I was a 25 year old marketing executive when I first came to Byron Bay 25 years ago and had somehow managed to allow my writer-poet self to become fully corporatized. I also have to confess that I was on an ardent quest to find Mr Right, who also seemed to be corporatized and didn’t exactly draw out my creative side either. So by the time a friend of mine suggested that she could see me being a market stall holder in Byron Bay, it was a revelation. Indeed, by this time, this part of my self was even estranged and lost from me… buried alive and mummified in many dead layers of detrititus. Clearly, this was a shame particularly when I rewind back to my university days where I was performing my poetry at events like the Newtown Street Festival. Indeed, I could’ve gone right down this creative path so easily, but it was one thing to dabble in this world as a student. It was quite another to stay there and that wasn’t going to happen. Even if you took away parental influences, I was still a product of the system and once you get used to living the high life, it can become an end in itself.

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Anyway, when I was 25, I visited Byron Bay for the first time. I was driving very slowly from Sydney to Queensland to visit my grandparents in Ipswich and drove as far North as Maroochydore visiting friends via the breathtaking Glasshouse Mountains. To anyone who knows me now, it would come as quite a surprise that I actually set off all by myself in my beloved first car… the Mitsubishi colt. I loved the freedom of being able to stop off WHEREVER and just being totally free and independent. I made a friend, Jody, at the Youth Hostel in Byron Bay and we drove up to Murwillumbah and stayed at the Youth Hostel there on the river and kept in touch for a bit. There was definitely a sense of being Easy Rider or Thelma & Louise on this trip and when I arrived back home, I experienced a seismic shift. Nothing felt familiar and it was like I’d stepped into someone else’s life and not my own. Yet, this was also the time that the neurological storm in my head was brewing and a year later, I would be diagnosed with hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain and off to the brain surgeon..a rather radical approach for staying in tune with yourself but I’ve always trod my own path.

I don’t think the markets were around back then, although they could well have been. Byron Bay and that entire region of North-East NSW was at the tail end of its hippy heyday and the streets were still packed with hippies and ferals. Kombies with surfboards loaded up top were parked along the beach and not taking their last breaths either. I think it must’ve been a round 1995. Whenever it was, it was definitely long before marriage, mortgage, kids and 24/7 responsibilities (which the dog has reminded me includes her. She’s just deposited the components of her tennis ball on my laptop. If ever I’m in doubt about what I’m focusing on, I just need to see where she’s deposited her bits of stick or ball. She’s onto me.)

Oops! My apologies! I’ve clearly taken you on a massive detour along the long and winding road to Byron Bay Markets, and at this rate we’ll be lucky to get there before they shut shop.

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The Byron Bay Markets are held Butler Street Reserve, which is just over the disused railway line and a short walk from the main street. Just in case you’d like to know when the markets are on, here’s a link. Having been to the artisan markets the night before, the initial impact of arriving at the markets didn’t quite get my heart racing as much as usual. However, I did hear the most exquisite violin my music, and was all ears. Where was it coming from? I started scouring left and right and discovered the virtuoso was a moth-eaten Pirate Cat. Looks like he could use a bit of a makeover, but he could play the violin better than me thanks to a recording.

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Just goes to show that you don’t need the best instrument to make heavenly music. However, perhaps he could’ve polished his boots…

As much as I loved the markets, I soon realized that our demographic has changed significantly since I was here last and both the kids have outgrown all the handmade children’s clothes and toys which used to draw me in. After many years of op shop devotion, paying full price for clothes has lost its appeal these days and things don’t fit me easily and madam is fussy. So, I’d covered a good 50% of the market before I’d spotted anything to buy and I was starting to wonder if a miracle was at hand. Would this be the very first time Rowie went to Byron Bay Markets and came home empty handed? Surely not!! However, don’t fear. I haven’t lost my magic touch. It turned out even markets like suspense, and the best was yet to come.

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Artist Markus May.

Indeed, I spotted a chatty Willy Wonka type character in a purple top hat and loud shirt with his sketches. What initially caught my eye was a sketch of a tree over a sheet of music. It was beautiful. However, I’m constantly watching my pennies and you don’t know what’s around the corner. So, I went for a smaller sketch of a woman in a purple robe and a card with female nude sitting on a bed taken from behind and she’s looking across the room to a picture of a fairy on the wall. It’s like she’s found her wings. There is an answer, a way out, a way up. We were chatting and it came up that I play the violin and he soon returned with a tiny sketch of a woman with red hair holding her violin. Her eyes are closed and it’s like she can hear the music in her soul without needing to actually play. Naturally, I had to have that. I also bought a few cards. I felt rather fired up after stopping off there.

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Above: Artist Marcus May.

Then, I spotted a vintage stall and I should be ashamed to admit to buying more books, but I’m not. Rather, I’m cheering because I found a 1937 edition of the famed Yates Garden Guide and a Wolf Cub Scouting Book from the 60’s from the UK. If you’ve seen our garden, well you might wonder what I’d be doing with a gardening book. Indeed, you’d be thinking I’d be buying something out of Hogwarts for casting nasty spells on gardens, because I’m a serial plant killer. However, both my grandfathers were avid gardeners and this one dates back just a few years before they embarked on married life. Looking at it, it’s hard to believe that it’s from my grandparents’ life time as it looks a lot older. Not quite ancient, but older than old. Well, Dad’s Dad would be turning 109 this year, which I guess was hardly yesterday. It just reaffirms how quickly time flies by.

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Sheltering from the sun any way you can!

By the way, I should’ve mentioned the heat and just how sunny it was at the markets. I’d forgotten my hat and sunscreen and was trying to stay in the shade just to survive. There are days when out hot Australian sun goes into griller mode, and this was one of those. Fortunately, there were some huge shady trees and the stalls themselves provided much needed shelter. Boy, I really needed it.

As it turned out, the heat was also to blame for a low turnout at the markets. Perhaps, people were at the beach or simply hibernating indoors. I’m not sure. However, you have to feel for the stallholders. For many, this is their livelihood. Bread and butter on the table kind of stuff.

Hey, before we leave the markets and head up to the beach, I wanted to share a few photos of a couple of double-decker buses I spotted across the road. You never quite know what you’re going to find around Byron Bay (other than the unexpected!)

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Before we head off to the beach, I thought I’d leave you with a parting shot of the Pirate Cat, who looks like he’s taken a Bex and is enjoying a good lie down.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Barking Up the Wrong Tree…Friday Fictioneers

“Jess, joining us at the pub tonight? Emily’s bringing her brother along…David Wilson, the famous tree sculptor. His works have been in The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Being a taxonomist, we thought you’d get on.”

“Jane, if he’s so famous, why can’t he make his own dates? What’s wrong with him?”

“What about yourself? When was the last time you had a date? It’s not his fault that his sister inherited all the extroversion genes.”

“Jess, just promise me you won’t mention anything about their Latin names.”

Something told me, they were all barking up the wrong tree.

…..

103 words

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © J.S. Brand

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

The Struggle to Belong…or not!

“The person who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The person who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever seen before.”

Albert Einstein

For many years, I thought it was just me who was “different”. Didn’t fit in or go with the flow. Of course, I knew I was different, and even had scientific evidence to prove it. Moreover, I’m “creative”  which automatically lands you in a classification all of your own. We’re automatically assumed to be “weirdos”.

At times, I’ve tried to conform, or simply conform enough. However, the older I get and with a burning sense that life is short, I can’t be bothered anymore. You can like me, or lump me. I’m not going to play to your tune.

However, is being myself and not being part of the crowd such a bad thing? Is being authentic actually more important than conforming?

I guess it depends on who you ask.

Today, I was reminded of these tensions when I recommended a favourite book of mine, Shel Silverstein’s: The Missing Piece.  It’s been animated here and it is really cute, as well as making some strong philosophical points… Maybe we need to be a bit rough around the edges. Perhaps, being a seeker interacting with and absorbing a full  smorgasbord of life, is better than being fat dumb and happy on the couch.

“A man on his deathbed or after he has been snubbed by his wife may enjoy a few moments of solitude, the rest of his life is a noisy gregariousness. He fears solitude as a child fears the dark, indeed it is a universal dread which one must learn to conquer. A poet learns his lesson generally by finding himself early in life shunned, he is odd. `Why was I born with a different face?’ Blake asked. Genius is fundamentally odd and men hate the exceptional.”

-Jack Butler Yeats

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Edward Hopper, A Room In New York.

 

Another thing that got me thinking lately, is that I’ve been hearing loads of people from all different walks of life talking about how they don’t fit in.  Have been the outsider. Experienced some kind of difference between them and the mainstream. Indeed, I’ve heard this so often lately, that I’ve actually wondered whether anyone feels like they truly belong. Indeed, is this sense of not belonging, of feeling different, something that affects the majority and not just the fringe?

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Apple Inc.

I don’t know. However, I’d like to find out and that’s why I’ve posed this question to you: Do you feel like you belong? Or, do you feel different or unique in some way that shuts you out?

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Michelangelo, The Creation of Adam (close-up)

As for myself, I’m simply starting to believe that I see the world differently, and that’s okay. That I have a way of seeing in between the lines, that has something to offer others whatever that might be. At the same time, I can miss things that are like neon signs to other people. However, that’s why we have community, because each of us has their own unique perspective, and I guess we’re all meant to come together to form a whole. However, too often, people ostracize and ridicule those who see things differently from themselves, instead of embracing their perspective and working out how it could contribute to the dialogue. It’s a pity.

“I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.”

–  Oprah Winfrey

There is also value in being your own person, and not just merging in with the crowd. Of not being afraid to stand in your own space, stand up tall, spread your wings and not apologize for being there. Each of us deserves that.

Edward Hopper nighthawks

Edward Hopper, Night Hawks

I’m not sure if all these thoughts have joined together in any kind of cohesive whole. If I was someone else, I’d have my list of points and might even be telling you how it is. However, I am more of a seeker. Somebody who is seeing dim shadows and shapes through the fog and trying to make sense of it all. Trying to make sense of what I think is an important consideration…Does anyone feel like they truly belong in  our modern civilization? That’s probably putting it too strong, but you get my drift and I’m truly interested to read your feedback.

So, I’ll leave you know with the thoughts of Aslan:

“Don’t doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are.”

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Finally, My Favourite Dead Artist…A-Z Challenge.

After traveling through the alphabet with the likes of Botticelli, Munch, Da Vinci and immersing myself in such incredible paintings as Christina’s World, The Scream, Picasso’s Dove of Peace, I had to finish the series off with a tribute to my very favourite dead artist…my grandfather or “Papa” who used to draw my brother and I little cartoons, which he’s stick in with a letter or card. As a kid, they were magic and they still are.

My grandparents always lived inter-state and back in those days, letter writing was a very regular thing along with the weekly phone call. My grandparents always had two telephones in my time, and there would be one on each phone so neither of them would miss out on a single word from us. In hindsight, it was truly amazing growing up knowing they loved me that much. Indeed, my grandmother said to me once, that she didn’t even care if I wrote her letters on toilet paper. So often, particularly during my teenage years, their love held me together as the swirling vortex of pubescence engulfed me in waves of angst. Family was their world and they had so much love to give. That’s particular true of most grandparents who are freed up from the demands of parenting just to love and be loved and my parents are carrying this forward.

Anyway, this is a tribute to my grandfather and his little drawings.

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Out watering the veggie patch with my grandfather. He used to grow beans, which fascinated me as well as fresh corn. Don’t you love his orange terry toweling hat!

Life was much simpler back in the 70s and 80s. My grandparents used to post me a $5.00 note for my birthday and quite often there might be a washer or something simple in there as well. Or, perhaps that was in the Christmas parcel, which came wrapped very simply in brown paper and string, both most likely “recycled”. My grandfather’s motto was “waste not, want not”, which never made any sense to me. If I didn’t want it, I didn’t care. Indeed, it was more a case of: “Good Riddance!” Another one of his sayings was: “Die Gänse gehen uberall barfuss ” or “The geese go barefoot everywhere”. I was most surprised when I finally made it to Germany in my twenties, that most of the Germans had never heard this phrase before. Even Google was rather stumped but did come up with this:

Geese go barefoot and ducks wear red shoes

The drawing I’ve posted was drawn in 1976 when I was 6 years old and our school choir was making a record. This was a very big deal back then. My nickname as a child was “Nina and my mother was the accompanist. I particularly love the little record player he’s drawn down the front doing the recording. However, that’s not the only dinosaur in the picture. The piano is almost a dinosaur these days as well.

Above: The Kids and I outside Haebich’s Cottage in Hahndorf where my Great Grandfather was born and died. Top right… Haebich’s Smithy by Hans Heysen. The Haebich’s owned the blacksmith’s shop on Main Street, Hahndorf and it was depicted by three highly esteemed Aus tralian artists.

The other interesting thing about my grandfather, was that he was born and raised in Hahndorf, a German-Australian village in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia and he was full of crazy stories about the place, which I always listened to with baited breath. This town was populated with real characters and he real brought them and the place to life.

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My grandfather and I taken in 2001 at our wedding, where he gave the blessing. he also gave a speech at the reception where he brought up my teenage dream of being Australia’s first female Prime Minister, a position stilll available at the time. I was so embarrassed at the time, but I came to appreciate how proud he was of me and just for being myself (as long as I studied hard!!).

That was until his memory started to fade. The stories stopped, and tragically Alzheimer’s moved in and forced him out. He was about 90 by then and reached the grand age of 95. I sometimes wonder whether his brain just ran out from over-use or whether it was just bad luck. I guess when you’re over 90, the odds are that Alzheimer’s is gunna get you. It’s unfortunately, a much too common end of a brilliant life.

So, this officially marks the end of my A-Z Series: Letters to Dead Artists. This train has terminated. All out. All change.

Many thanks for joining me and my crazy crew of artists for the journey.

Best wishes,

Rowena

On Being an Artist…A Second letter from Shibata Zeshin A-Z Challenge.

This morning, I was trying to eat my breakfast and get back to the land of the living after spending the last month with an alphabet soup of dead artists. However, Japanese artist, Shibata Zeshin, had other ideas and wrote me another letter.

While I know what he’s getting at, I wasn’t quite sure how to condense all this wisdom into a succinct heading. However, it seems that he has a real heart for young emerging artists, not just in terms of painters, but also musicians, dancers…the works.

You see, he saw quite a difference in how young people and society approach learning their craft nowadays, to when he was a young man and it rattled him a bit. That although we live in this instant everything society, that it still takes time, patience, incredible perseverance, as well as natural talent, to produce a masterpiece. Moreover, it also takes a lot of faith, and an almost unrealistic belief that you can hop from mountain peak to mountain peak. That there might even be a bridge.

Anyway, the way that I’ve been rambling on for so long, soon you won’t need to read his letter, because I’ll have already spilled the beans, but here goes…

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A Second Letter From Shibata Zeshin

Dear Rowena,

Last night, I retreated to the Quiet Carriage when I could simply be with my thoughts, my paintbrush and paper and think as an artist thinks…by painting.

Being the last artist onboard, I really haven’t had much of a chance to meet the other artists or see much of the contemporary world beyond our train. However, one thing has come across loud and clear. That is, an almost compulsive need to have everything done yesterday, and that at the press of a button, the world is at your command. This was very impressive. However, this is no way to make a lacquer box,  and while you can now buy yourself a cheap plastic or cardboard box, that can never replace the work of a master craftsman. Even with all your gadgets and trashy products, there is still a place for precision, beauty and quality craftsmanship…and it’s worth the extra cost.

However, what concerns me is that your young people think they know it all and have nothing to learn. That the long arduous painstaking methods of, for example, producing one of my lacquer boxes, take too long and they can just go on one of these reality shows and soar from obscurity to fame overnight. While this has seemingly been the lot of the winners, what you don’t see is the many, many years of diligent practice and how they have started from scratch and not usually experienced a smooth path to the top, but more of a jagged trajectory with more downs than ups. That they have a talent for perseverance, just as much as doing their thing be it painting, sculpture, dance, writing. Success is not a gift, and is by no means always guaranteed.

By the way, developing these skills isn’t just about developing technique either. You also need to experience the world in all its complexity to reflect the spirit of a living, breathing thing. Otherwise, there’s only an empty shell, something empty and mechanical and it can go and paint itself.

Being an artist is all encompassing. It’s in every breath that you take, and all that you see. It never stops or switches off. It is your being.

Best wishes,

Shibata Zeshin.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Needless to say, I’m a bit lost for words with his advice, but I will pass it onto my kids because I find it very reassuring. As a child, I was so impressed that my mother could sight-read any piece of music on the piano, but what I didn’t know was how exceptional her talent was, and how hard she’d worked to develop it further. If I had, I might not have been so frustrated by my own efforts. Playing the piano for her, is like breathing. I hope I’m not elevating my own writing abilities, to say that my kids might well look at my writing in the same way, and feel it’s completely unattainable. That they can’t write. Or, that Mum’s the writer. While I was always good at writing, I wasn’t great when I was younger and I had to work at it and my family and friends had to put up with some pretty dreadful and even sickening poetry over the years. However, I improved. Moreover, it’s something I’m continuously working to improve. That journey will never end. I am constantly seeking more, like a parched and thirsty traveller lost in the desert. I will lick the precious water droplets off the leaves if I have to.

On that note, I’d better go and see whether the fridge has cooked dinner tonight. Or, should I have words with the stove?

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I thought I’d just include a few paragraphs which explain just a fraction of the effort that went into making one of Shibata Zeshin’s lacquer boxes….

“Until Zeshin’s time, most quality lacquerwares had relied for their decorative effect not only on painstaking craftsmanship but also on lavish use of precious metal flakes, foils, and powders, as well as other materials such as ivory, coral, and shell. Zeshin learned these traditional methods from an early age and used them through his life. During the 1840s, however, he responded to harsh new laws against conspicuous consumption by developing alternative types of decoration, using cheaper materials but devoting extra time and skill to their preparation and execution.

To achieve the wave-patterned seigaiha-nuri (“blue-sea-waves lacquering”), for example, he pulled a comb through a thin layer of wet lacquer mixed with cereal starch to

Tetsusabi-nuri: Cake box with butterflies and stylized chrysanthemums, about 1860–90. Lacquered wood, 4 1/2 x 6 5/8 x 2 1/2 in. (11.4 x 16.8 x 6.4 cm). Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection; courtesy of San Antonio Museum of Art.

improve its viscosity, an apparently simple technique requiring almost unimaginable skill and accuracy, since the work had to be perfectly executed in a very short time before the lacquer dried, and mistakes could not be corrected. To create a subdued dark-green ground suggestive of antique Chinese bronze, called seidō-nuri (“bronze lacquering”), he scattered several layers of charcoal and bronze dust onto wet lacquer, while in tetsusabi-nuri (“iron-rust lacquering”) he simulated the look of rusty iron using charcoal dust, vinegar, and iron-oxide filings. Shitan-nuri, the most elaborate of all these finishes, combines a whole range of techniques (including the use of a scratching tool made from a rat’s tooth) to imitate polished Chinese rosewood.”

https://www.japansociety.org/page/multimedia/articles/the_genius_of_japanese_lacquer_masterworks_by_shibata_zeshin

 

Z- Shibata Zeshin, Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to Z…the very last day of the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. As you may be aware, my theme for 2018 is Writing Letters to Dead Artists and the last artist I’ll be writing to during the challenge, is Japanese artist Shibata Zeshin (1801-1891).

During this series, I’ve revealed a raw honesty which is somewhat of a personal trademark. So, I’m undermine that by pretending  that I understand Shibata Zeshin, and know everything there is to know about him. Indeed, after so many very late nights and burning the post-midnight oil, I was even prepared to be creative…a dead artist who was snoring Z’s perhaps…

However, thank goodness for my Google lucky dips, because I not only found Shibata Zeshin but I very bravely dipped my toe into the very tip of the Japanese art “iceberg”. Personally, I find it a bit intimidating tapping into Japanese art. Their culture is much more structured than what I’m used to which many rules and an exquisite attention to detail which in itself is totally foreign to me. Moreover, as an aspiring perfectionist, there’s only one thing I hate making mistakes and try to fill myself up with so much knowledge and detail that I couldn’t possibly slip up and get something wrong, especially mucking up something as important as a historical detail. People have been hung, drawn and quartered for less.

Yet, it is far better to get up and have a go and do something. To extend yourself beyond the safe and the familiar than it is to stay within your comfort zone and go nowhere. I keep reminding myself of this, but quite often these processes are quite unconscious and our lives are that busy, that we can easily move onto something else and that covers up our avoidance. I guess this is where going public with your ambitions is important. There’s always someone who’ll ask you how that book you abandoned a few years ago and consigned to the bottom drawer is going. One of these days, I’d at least like to tell them that something got published. Anything! I’m not fussy anymore. Indeed, am rapidly sliding towards desperate, which as any single out in the dating scene knows, is never a good thing.

Anyway, here goes…

Shibata Zeshin was born and raised in Edo (modern-day Tokyo). His grandfather Izumi Chobei and his father Ichigoro were shrine carpenters (miyadaiku) and skilled wood carvers. His father, who had taken his wife’s family name of Shibata, was also an experienced ukiyo-e painter, having studied under Katsukawa Shunshō. At age eleven, Kametaro, as Zeshin was called in his childhood, became apprenticed to a lacquerer named Koma Kansai II. At age 13, the young man who would become Zeshin abandoned the name Kametaro and became Junzo. Koma Kansai decided that his young charge would need to learn to sketch, paint, and create original designs in order to become a great lacquerer. He arranged for young Shibata to study under Suzuki Nanrei, a great painter of the Shijō school. Shibata then took on yet another artist’s name, abandoning Junzo and signing his works “Reisai,” using the Rei from Suzuki Nanrei, and the sai from Koma Kansai.

It was during his time with Nanrei that he was given the name Zeshin, which he would stick with for the rest of his life. The name has a meaning similar to “this is true” or “the Truth”. It was a reference to an old Chinese tale of a king who held an audience with a great number of painters. While nearly all of the painters afforded the king the proper respect, bowing before him and comporting themselves appropriately, one arrived half-naked, did not bow, and sat on the floor licking his paintbrush; the king exclaimed “now, this is a true artist!” And from this the name Zeshin was taken[1]. That story really amused me.

Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891) was the greatest of all lacquer artists. His unique talent was hewn from a childhood spent in traditional artisan workshops, a strong respect and devotion to tradition, and a constant thirst for innovation and self-education. His career saw the transition of Japan from the Edo (samurai) period to the Meiji era, when the nation, united under a semi-constitutional monarchy, set about an ambitious modernization process that would rapidly develop the country into a world power.

Zeshin took full advantage of these abrupt changes. A shogunal decree restricting artists’ use of precious metals, materials considered essential to lacquer work, led Zeshin to instead employ bronze dust, charcoal, and iron filings to create novel, eye-teasing effects. One of very few lacquerers granted the title of Artist to the Imperial Household, he later embraced the emergence of Japan on the world stage, exhibiting his work at international expositions and developing new ways to push the boundaries of lacquer to rival Western oil paintings. It was during this period that Zeshin created a series of masterpieces in lacquered wood, lacquer painting, and conventional ink painting on paper or silk that attracted numerous prominent clients and made him one of the first living Japanese artists to achieve name recognition in Europe and the United States. Yet he remained at heart a proud member of Japan’s urban artisan class, and his art is emblematic of his extraordinary ability to combine two conflicting roles in a time of national upheaval[2].

Through his depictions of nature, Zeshin has elevated the simple into something truly magnificent, and almost had an ethereal sense. Indeed, he’s immortalised his fleeting glimpses of nature and his works have that real sense of being in the moment, or even inside it, where time doesn’t even exist and the observer and the subject are one. Moreover, he also brings out the spirit of the subject.

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This brings me to Zeshin’s Grasshopper & Sunflower 1877. While the sunflower immediately caught my eye and the grasshopper was more of a distraction or something to be shoed away, this is not my culture and my gut told me this grasshopper was there for a reason That is, one other than hiding from some kid madly chasing it with their Bug Catcher. Oops! That’s right. They didn’t have Bug Catchers back in 1877, but I’m sure someone or something was trying to catch it in their own way, even if it was just the artist with his brush. Anyway, that’s how I found out that the Japanese see the grasshopper as a symbol of good luck and have a long tradition of enjoying their beautiful calls, both in the wild and as pets. Indeed, grasshoppers also appeared in Haiku:

Grasshopper’s song in

moonlight- someone’s

survived theflood.

Issa

Yet, as I said, I was drawn to the sunflower, not the grasshopper.

“I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life that the sunflower. For me that’s because of the reason behind its name. Not because it looks like the sun but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky. A satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that’s such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life.”
― Helen Mirren, Actor

Van Gogh Sunflowers

Why pay millions, when you can pick one up at the local thrift shop…

If you’ve been following the series through, you may recall that I have a very strong attachment to Van Gogh’s Sunflower Series. Indeed, I have a print of the London version hanging in our hallway, and have also seen the Amsterdam version in person and experienced the sunflowers dancing right in front of me. Back at university, I also recited my “sunflower” poem at readings, and it became a bit of a connection with the person I wrote it about. So, just like Van Gogh, I felt like the sunflower was mine.

In Japanese, the sunflower is called Himari, it is very popular in Japan and even has its own festival in Zama city, Kanagawa prefecture where farmers plant sunflowers as a fill in crop after the wheat harvest to avoid undesirable weeds proliferating in the fields. Presumably the farmers also harvest and sell the sunflower seeds.

However, the sunflower isn’t just an eye-catching beauty. As well as providing a harvest of seeds, sunflowers also reduce toxins in the soil through a process called phytoremediation. The sunflower sucks up toxins like lead, arsenic and uranium, which are sucked up by the roots and after a few generations, the soil can be returned to forests. Indeed, through the Chernobyl Sunflower Project, sunflowers were used to clean up the radioactive waste in the plant’s cooling pond. Japan has followed their lead with the Fukushima Sunflower project to remove radioactive waste after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.

Personally, I find this very exciting. While I don’t lie awake worrying about the fallout from these disasters, you only have to switch on the news to be very concerned about the state of our planet and a natural solution like this is absolutely fantastic. Bring it on.

The only question I have is…Do you think we could possibly plant sunflowers inside the brains of society’s bad eggs, and decontaminate them? Indeed, this process could also be used to treat depression? Hey, I just thought of a third possible application….plant sunflowers in the brains of teenagers and they’ll start turning to the sun all day, instead of their electronics. Much better for them!

Sunflowers, therefore, have their healing powers and there was perhaps no greater psychological need, than when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down in the Ukraine and the plane just happened to crash in a field of sunflowers, who incidentally turned their faces away from the horror. Everyone onboard was killed and the twisted and broken wreckage reflected the heartbreak and brokenness of their loved ones and mourners the world over. You might not be aware that the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul McGeough, Foreign Correspondent and photographer, Kate Gerraghty, salvaged sunflower seeds from the scene and brought them back via quarantine for the families and friends of the victims. Paul McGeogh writes: “we had decided that if families and friends of the Australian victims could not get to the crash site, then we were obliged to bring them a keepsake. First we wondered about a small quantity of soil, which might be carried in a locket. But we settled on seeds – they would be lighter, more compact and, with careful gardening, might be propagated from year to year. It would help too, we thought, that sunflowers are such happy chaps.[3]

Sunflower letter

Sunflower seeds from the Ukraine

It’s a long story but I received some of these seeds in the mail and planted them in our backyard. I also took the seedlings into my kids’ classes at school and beyond and talking about what these photographers did to make a difference. My only hope is that these seeds grew and the sunflowers’s smiles and their special phytoremediation abilities somehow managed to ease their grief.

However, it just so happened that the plane landed in a field of sunflowers and I guess these beautiful, vibrant flowers can to represent good triumphing over evil and hate, as well as a hope for the future when for the families who lost their precious loved ones, they were plunged  not only into unfathomable grief, but also a burning sense of injustice. A need to see terrorism, war and violence wiped off the face of the earth. Or, at the very least, from underneath the flight paths of passenger jets.

Two Carp

Shibata Zeshin, Two Carp.

 “The orange of the golden carp appeared at the edge of the pond. . . . We watched in silence at the beauty and grandeur of the great fish. Out of the corners of my eyes I saw Cico hold his hand to his breast as the golden carp glided by. Then with a switch of his powerful tail the golden carp disappeared into the shadowy water under the thicket.”
Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima

Returning to environmental disasters, as much as I really admired Shibato Zeshin’s carp, as an Australian, I find it very hard to like carp anymore after they’ve taken over many Australian waterways and are killing our native fish. It’s been a huge problem for quite awhile, especially in the Murray River. However, there are plans to release a virulent strain of herpes virus into the Murray-Darling river system in a bid to eradicate European carp, in what Science Minister Christopher Pyne has dubbed a “carp-aggedon”.

So after staring at the sunflowers, chasing grasshoppers and trying to keep the carp out of our river systems, I’d better start writing my letter to Shibata Zeshin.

My Letter to Shibata Zeshin

Dear Shibata,

The obvious thing to ask anyone whose name starts with Z, is whether they’re always sick of being last and always at the end of the alphabet? Most humans are very stuck in their ways and for some reason organizing things in reverse alphabetical order is too difficult. I’m not sure whether they think they’re some very complex and difficult mathematical equation involved, or if they’re just lazy. Of course, I could understand why a librarian wouldn’t want to rearrange an entire library just to give the Z authors a better chance of being chosen, but is doesn’t take much to rearrange a classroom of kids. Mind you, I guess that would set the teachers brain in reverse, which could be dangerous, especially if they started walking backwards. Best we leave things just the way they are, before we have any nasty accidents and next time you decide to change your name, might I suggest you go for Aardvark. It’s very popular in the telephone book.

However, I’m not writing to you to discuss the alphabet, other than to apologise for getting to you so late in the peace and you’ll only have one day to join us on the journey, where we’ve been visiting Dead Artists from A-Z. Quite a few of these artists were influenced by Japanese art, so even though you stuck to more of a traditional Japanese style yourself, you might find it interesting to see how it’s been applied over in Europe by the likes of Edgar Degas and Van Gogh. By the way, you and Van Gogh are both into sunflowers in a big way, and they could be the start of a great friendship. Van Gogh was trying to set up an artists community in Arles in the South of France so maybe you could both join up with Gauguin and set something up near a dazzling field of sunflowers. Indeed, you might want to visit the festival in Zama city, Kanagawa prefecture. They have 30 different species of sunflower so you’re bound to find at least one which inspires you.

“I write, erase, rewrite,
Erase again, and then
A poppy blooms”

Issa

Focus, Rowena. Focus.

Thank goodness Issa whispered in my ear again…

“A world of dew,
And within every drewdrop
A world of struggle”

Shibata, I wanted to ask you why there is so much struggle, tragedy and heartache in our world. So many of the artists in this series have suffered enormous grief, sometimes through the loved ones they’ve tragically or prematurely lost, but many have also experienced a grief, a sadness, an inner torment which is simply the storm within. I know and understand that we can’t be happy all the time and that we need the interaction between misery and joy, happiness and sorrow to be able to experience joy much more intensely, but why does growth have to hurt so much?

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Shibata Zeshin.

Dear Rowena,

The weight of the world isn’t on your shoulders, Rowena. It is carried by the cranes. Leave them to it.

I’m not sure if anyone’s immune to suffering. But the world is also overflowing with such beauty. When your heart is heavy, turn your eyes outward and see creation all around you. Don’t let it slip through your fingertips. Yet, don’t hold onto it too tightly either or your destroy it. Simply hold it in the palm of your hand. Or, watch it through that camera lens of yours and absorb each and every particle until you’re one.

Many people used to tell me I did things my own way, which is why they called me “Zeshin” and it stuck. Do you really think there could be a way of planting sunflowers in people’s heads? Technology is so advanced in your world, anything’s possible. I just heard Van Gogh asking Gauguin to “Beam me up, Scotty” and he disappeared. I’m going next.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with another Haiku…

With dewdrops dripping,

I wish somehow I could wash

this perishing world

Basho

Best wishes,

Shibata Zeshin.

mouse Zeshin

 

References & Links

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibata_Zeshin

[2] http://artdaily.com/news/22655/Genius-of-Japanese-Lacquer–Masterworks-by-Shibata-Zeshin#.WucHPZdlNhE

[3] https://www.smh.com.au/interactive/2015/planting-hope/

 

 

X-Guo Xi – Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

Perhaps, I should wait until the morning to launch into writing to Guo Xi and focusing on one of his most famous works Early Spring, dated 1072. It’s well after midnight and you know how it is when you’re having a great time and you find someone you really connect with…you don’t want to leave. Indeed, I don’t feel I’ll ever quite leave Andrew Wyeth and Christina’s World behind me. We are one.

Yet, one of the hurdles inherent in this challenge, is to move on. Not to get bogged down at one station along the way. Rather, the train needs to keep moving. Well, I wonder if I can take all my other artists with me, and create something of an Arty Party, not unlike the Elvis Train called The Blue Suede Express which heads out to the Parkes Elvis Festival, in far West NSW. I don’t know who we’d put in charge of designing and painting the outside of the train. Indeed, we’d probably have to pick names out of a hat. There might be a bit of competition, not to a mention stylistic debate. I couldn’t imagine Jackson Pollock and Norman Lindsay sharing a seat, let painting the same carriage. I need to consult my seating app and see who is sitting where. Of course, they’d have to sit in alphabetical order, although I could see some tricksters mixing up the place tags. They always do.

Anyway, without further ado, we’re moving onto Guo Xi (郭熙, ca.1020–1090), a Chinese landscape painter from Wenxian in Henan province who lived during the Northern Song dynasty. Just to put that into perspective, he died 928 years ago and I think he’s our second oldest artist, if you can think about it like that. Inspired by his Snow Mountain, Xi will be accompanied by Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King.

Guo Xi served as a court painter under Emperor Shenzong (reigned 1068–1085). Early in his career as an artist, Guo Xi painted large screens and walls for major palaces and halls in the capital that had caught the emperor’s attention. Guo was later promoted to the highest position of Painter-in-Attendance in the court Hanlin Academy of Painting. He produced many monumental landscape paintings, and specialized in painting large pine trees and scenery enveloped in mist and clouds. He employed “curled cloud” texture strokes (卷雲皴) for mountain slopes, while he did trees in “crab claw (蟹爪)” forms to create a style of his own. Being a court professional, he developed an incredibly detailed system of idiomatic brushstrokes which became important for later painters. His most famous work is Early Spring, dated 1072. The work demonstrates his innovative techniques for producing multiple perspectives which he called “the angle of totality.”-China Online Museum

 

Guo Xi was often referred to as a “Northern Song master” when it came to painting. His work inspired many later artists and he even had landscapes dedicated to him. His lesser-known “Deep Valley” scroll painting depicted a serene mountain valley covered with snow and several trees struggling to survive on precipitous cliffs. The ink washes and amorphous brush strokes are employed to model surfaces that suggest the veiling effects of the atmosphere. One of Guo Xi’s techniques was to layer ink washes to build up forms and his “Deep Valley” is a masterpiece of the use of light ink and magnificent composition. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guo_Xi

One of his most famous works is Early Spring, dated 1072. The work demonstrates his innovative techniques for producing multiple perspectives which he called “the angle of totality.” This type of visual representation is also called “Floating Perspective”, a technique which displaces the static eye of the viewer and highlights the differences between Chinese and Western modes of spatial representation.Xi developed an innovative technique, called “Floating Perspective” or “Angle of the Totality”, with which the artist was able to represent multiple perspectives within a single painting. This is an exceptional advance that did not appear in Western painting until many centuries later. Moreover, it’s also interesting when you compare it to the efforts of Renaissance artists like Da Vinci towards linear perspective. As I mentioned before, I can barely park my car in a straight line, so linear perspective is not my thing. I’ll just have to count on the wisdom of others.

guo-xi_snow-mountains-664x1024-500x900

Guo Xi – Snow Mountain, ShanghHai Museum This piece shows a scene of deep and serene mountain valley covered with snow and several old trees struggling to survive on precipitous cliffs. It is a masterpiece of Guo Xi by using light ink and magnificent composition to express his open and high artistic conception.

His son later described how Guo Xi approached his work: “On days when he was going to paint, he would seat himself at a clean table, by a bright window, burning incense to right and left. He would choose the finest brushes, the most exquisite ink; wash his hands, and clean the ink-stone, as though he were expecting a visitor of rank. He waited until his mind was calm and undisturbed, and then began.”2.

Gao Xi clearly had an incredible eye and appreciation for the details of the landscape, including how it transitioned from season to season. In his “Treatise on Mountains and Waters (山水訓)”, he wrote:

The clouds and the vapors of real landscapes are not the same in the four seasons. In spring they are light and diffused, in summer rich and dense, in autumn scattered and thin, and in winter dark and solitary. When such effects can be seen in pictures, the clouds and vapors have an air of life. The mist around the mountains is not the same in the four seasons. The mountains in spring are light and seductive as if smiling; the mountains in summer have a blue-green color which seems to be spread over them; the mountains in autumn are bright and tidy as if freshly painted; the mountains in winter are sad and tranquil as if sleeping.”

So, not only are his painting touchingly beautiful, but also his prose.

So, without further ado, here’s my letter to Guo Xi.

Letter to Guo Xi

Dear Xi,

I can’t help wondering where you’re from and wanting to find those mountains you’ve immortalised in your paintings. Not that I can climb them myself, but perhaps I could at least admire them from the ground, the same way we marvel at the stars. Well, that is if we actually take the time out to look for them. Or, indeed, if the sky isn’t too polluted to block their light. Isn’t it terrible that the machines of man have blackened out the stars and the heavens? Indeed, we’ve even tried to tame the mountains, although the big ones still put up a fight.

I’d love to sit on top of a mountain and just look up at the stars, the moon and feel that clarity all around me. That nothing else matters. You can just sit on your rock and just be. The cares of the world are all taking care of themselves on autopilot without us.

I guess I should be careful what I wish for because more than one intrepid explorer has climbed their own mountain, and found nobody left when they came home. They didn’t like being left on hold while they explored other realms without them.

So, Xi, I could see myself on top of your mountain now with my husband, the kids and three dogs in tow. I just hope they don’t have any sticks up there. We’re already regretting to teach the dogs how to fetch. Hopefully, they too could benefit from a bit o stillness and they might even find their inner dog.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Guo Xi

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter. I have been here for such a long time withut any communication from the earth so I was very happy.

You must be careful when you climb the big mountains. The greatest danger isn’t climbing up or climbing down. It’s how to continue living with your fellow man in day to day life when you have known such peace and freedom. There is no tick of the clock and you are in your own time zone in your own world. I almost went mad with all the talk of chickens, what to eat for dinner, a hole in the roof. I didn’t care for these things anymore. Wanted to return to the mountains. They were calling me. But I have wife, son. Must stay. Keep my pictures in my head and paint them with my inks.

As much as I would like to go back to my mountains, I will do that in my head. Too much change. Time not stand still. Almost 1000 years. Memory better.

Still we must climb and conquer our metaphysical mountains. Don’t let them build up across our path to block the track. No good. You need to get your shovel out and move the dirt before the mountain gets too big. Can’t get moved. You get strong shoveling dirt. You only get flattened when the mountain buries you.

By the way, here in China we have the Year of the Dog.
Yours,

Guo Xi.

PS I had to share a comment I found re Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King. “The first part of the song is when you’re sitting in the exam hall, just writing and sitting in silence while you think “I’ve got two hours left”. The second part of the song is when the examiner suddenly says “Five minutes”. So true.

References & Links

  1. http://www.comuseum.com/painting/masters/guo-xi/
  2. Quoted by Arthur Waley in “Chinese Philosophy of Art-IV” in Burlington Magazine, vol. xxxviii, No. ccxviii, p. 247 in Jenyns, Soame. A Background to Chinese Painting. New York: Schocken Books, 1966, p. 134