Learning about artists' strictures in the use of colour in antiquity and medieval times is fascinating and surprising, a far cry from today's total artistic licence in colour usage.Read More
Seeing an exhibition from the Nanjing Museum about the Ming period in China is guaranteed to be fascinating ahead of time. Indeed, the Caixa Foundation exhibition, "Ming: the Golden Empire", now in Palma de Mallorca after visiting Holland, Germany, Edinburgh, and Barcelona, offers a wide range of objects to tell one of the splendours of the Ming period.Read More
It is always fascinating to learn of how and when people become artists. It can be from early childhood, or even late in life - think Grand Ma Moses. Whatever the timing, it is always wonderful if that turn towards art is indeed so deep that the resultant art not only fulfills the artist but also enriches us all as viewers. I happened on an example of a young Parisian, a musician, who took up ceramics at the age of 24 and within four years, is producing amazing work. I was at a large, summer exhibition's opening at the Contemporary Arts Centre atthe Château de Tanlay in Burgundy, "Hommage à Bénin".Read More
As I spent a magical morning in the Ridola Archaeological Museum in Matera, South Italy, last summer, I was enthralled by the freshness and complexity of many of the images on the Greek ceramic vessels on display. Since the Greeks had been coming to Southern Italy since the 10th century BC, huge numbers of ceramics have been found, often totally intact, in different archaeological digs in the area. Some of the pieces were imported from Greece, but many were created in Italy.
As I wandered, entranced, I remembered reading that many ancient Greeks, such as art critic and writer Philostatus, thought of art as a continuation of our world, the space within which we live and breathe. There were no boundaries between art and the world; the figures existing in contemporary art or on the pottery surfaces might have been imaginary, but they were as real to the Greeks as film characters are real and believable to us today as we watch a film. In other words, art was viewed as an extension of reality. No wonder so many of the figures, fish, birds and other creatures in dynamic movement around those red-figure vessels I was seeing in Matera seemed so arresting.
That long heritage, from the Greeks and from earlier artists working on cave walls, rock faces, in Mesopotamia, China, India or Egypt, has always involved realism in some fashion. Art has blurred the boundaries between the imagined world, the depicted world and the real world; man has always expected the viewer to have "leaps of faith". Today, artists grapple with the same issues. What a visual artist sees and experiences gets distilled and translated into images that go beyond the range of verbal description.
Noted artist Michael Klein was quoted as saying, "Painting realistically is a means to an end." What he is interested in creating is the visual image that was the basis for the feelings he wants to express - the boundaries of reality and art flow through the artist's brain and hand in seamless fashion. Developing a visual language implies that an artist looks hard and learns to see things for what they really are.
In the same way, according to sculptor and artist, Lee Ufan of Korea, boundaries between art and reality can be eliminated by "allowing the relationship among the viewer, the materials and the site to stand in for the experience of art" (Alexandra Munroe, Guggenheim curator, writing in Art & Auction, May 2010). Ufan makes the art object "disappear" so that the art becomes "a fluid and dynamic event occurring in real time and space".
Ufan talks of "the art of encounter". Mankind has been blurring the lines between reality and the art encountered since time immemorial.
Joan Miro famously once remarked that "That magical spark is the only thing that matters in art". In other words, he noticed and absorbed everything imaginable around him in his life, cannibalised it and transformed it into art, especially in his sculptures. The most amazing things became part of his art, from his children's toys to the famous paper bag which caused one of his foundries to exclaim, "You expect us to cast a paper bag?" The answer was yes, in bronze!
To me, the lesson Miro gives us all is that as artists, we have to be open to every possible resource, every possible influence, because from it, and usually from the most unlikely of instances, comes the spark that leads to creation of something new in our art.
We all know about those moments when we pass something which is part of our daily life and which, until magic suddenly happens, has been unremarkable. Then, unexpectedly, the light falls on the object in a certain way, or there is a new relevance to it because of something else going on in our head, whatever. Then the "cannibalising" happens, and we can incorporate a new dimension into what we are creating.
Other times, the world becomes fresh and exciting because of a visit to somewhere new, which talks to one. That little voice inside one's head says, "Pay attention, this is important", even though, at the time, you don't really know why.
This happened to me in Matera, South Italy, when I was looking at Neolithic shards of pottery in the Archaeological Museum. They fascinated me, and I draw a lot of them, something I normally don't think of doing. But as I drew them, I began to realise I was linking back to early artists who had, in their turn, looked around them in their world and cannibalised images from what they saw. This was a link of many thousands of years, a fact which made an even greater impression on me.
Once home again, I realised that these notations that I had made were potentially the basis of a series of silverpoint drawings. I was cannibalising on the world I had encountered in Matera, in essence. This is one of the drawings.
Thanks to those artists working aeons ago, I started doing work that is totally different from my normal drawings. Sometimes it is definitely fun to be a "cannibal of the world".
A little while ago, I read on a friend's Facebook page of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with gold. I thought it was truly fascinating as a concept, and also as a metaphor.
According to the Wikipedia entry for Kintsugi, this skill of making a new and beautiful object out of a broken and probably worthless and useless vessel came about because the late 15th century shogun Ashikaga Yoshimaga sent a damaged Chinese tea vessel back to China to be repaired. The resultant repairs, with ugly metal staples, were so shocking that the Japanese began to seek better ways to repair broken ceramics. Firing lacquer resin sprinkled with gold dust as infill, Japanese created this new art form of kintsugi, an art that became so popular that purportedly, people deliberately broke important ceramics simply to enhance them with Kintsugi. Apparently silver was also sometimes used in the lacquer resins.
There is a growing interest in this art form, which allows vessels to take on a fresh and enhanced life, complementing originally refined work or adding new and more modern dimensions to classical vessels. Ironically in our parlous economic times, when repairs and renewals have again often become the order of the day,
kintsugi seems to be very relevant as a philosophy and example of ways of repairing and recycling objects. I also feel that kintsugi is a wonderful metaphor for dealing with daily life. If disaster or adversity strikes, how can each of us use the equivalent of gold dust to repair the cracks in life, at least to some degree, and create something new and viable, if not beautiful, out of what has happened. In other words, how can we turn a negative into a transformed but luminous positive?