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Since my return from a month long visit to Japan in December 2012, I have been working on several lines of visual inquiry, circling around the central issue of homelessness there. I developed compositions from the sketchbook I had filled with studies in situ. Many of these had been drawn at the edges of parks in Tokyo and the riverside in Kyoto.

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From my preliminary report to the WAI; February 2013

“Japanese homeless were more publicly visible than on my previous visit.  Honour and welfare criteria are inextricably linked here, with families able to claim state assistance only when the head of the household has absented himself. I have plans in mind to address this issue through my visual art.”

THE KIMONO CONFIGURATION                                                                                                                                                                While staying with Kasuko Hisamori http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol32no1/hisamori.html who has written extensively on European art and C19th century English literature, and her historian husband, Akira Satake, we discussed contemporary Japanese graphic art and design [naturally enough,] and the use of the ‘Hobby Horse’ in the writings of Laurence Sterne [rather incongruously]. I was particularly interested in the ever developing imagery and patterning incorporated into kimono design . Kasuko produced a catalogue of work by renowned fabric designer,s  Kako and Kunihiko Moriguchi. [Kako and Kunihiko Moriguchi: Yuzen / Living National Treasures   2009]

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The works were photographed in traditional configuration, hung and viewed from the back, with front pieces splayed back on themselves either side [ie; the unseen kimono front is opened wide] to form a triangle behind the outstretched sleeves.  This gave me the specifically Japanese compositional frame I had been seeking. Kasuko generously gave me a copy of this catalogue for me to pursue my researches on my return to Wales.

The Kimono

The sketches I made in Japan were made in my usual hand, with western style illusionism and perspective. The drawings I made from them in the studio became increasingly more stylised, simpler in line, more vertically stacked into a shallow depth. I employed starker contrasts and textural schematics to render rock, topiary and tarpaulin in an attempt to strike a balance between the two cultural hemispheres.

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This developing stylisation encouraged me to produce a hand-painted kimono.

I had already planned to commission the production of a kimono on which to project movie footage of the trip. Fine artist and maker Carole King [http://www.carolekingart.co.uk] used a kimono purchased for her from a previous visit in 2009 as a plan from which to construct a version. As its primary role was to serve as a ‘cinema screen’, its dimensions were scaled up to something rather larger than life size. [155cm drop; 134cm across shoulders]. The fabric used was bleached, pre-shrunk calico.

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I projected footage taken in the busy Shinjuku area of Tokyo, which I had subsequently edited into a cross-dissolving loop. t I photographed the results on camcorder. The results are a kimono-shaped slice of Tokyo nightlife; movement and light running across and bleeding beyond the edges of the fabric to the studio walls beyond.

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stills from ‘Shinjuku Junction’

The re-shoot completed, the kimono’s function as movie screen ended. With the simultaneous accumulation of compositions in a variety of drawing media from which to develop a suitable design, I made the decision to hand paint  the kimono.

A homeless settlement forms a synthetic blue  horizontal layer across the upper back and outstretched sleeves, to contrast with the foreground  of water flowing through a garden of volcanic rock. This was painted ‘in the round’; the composition flowing around the body of the dress so that it could be displayed in 360 degrees if required.

I added colours in stages, with minimal premixing prior to application, rather in the way of watercolour technique.

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I worked with the fabric laid out flat on a table. Carole had left the hem unstitched so that I could paint with protective card between the painted surface and the lining to prevent paint bleed-through,, though in the event, painting acrylic onto unprimed cotton created no such serious problem.

After a period of four weeks, the piece was completed  by mid June 2013

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Upon completion of the kimono,, I wanted to decorate another traditional Japanese accoutrement with a visual reference to these homeless settlements. Mikiko Nozaki had organised a private visit to the Nozaki House in Kurashiki City. http://okayama-japan.jp/en/facilitys/636/682.html Because it one of the last surviving Edo period merchant’s houses, it was designated an Okoyama Prefectural Historic Site in 1977. Among the treasures on view in this museum is a collection of hand decorated ceremonial fans.

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I decorated a paper fan with a blue tarpaulin clad settlement; seen through the screen of a bamboo grove with a piece of calligraphy ‘Anxiety’, by Hiroshi Ueta, a calligraphic artist based in Kyoto.

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A second fan in a lighter, more traditional vein was painted in gold, with Little Egrets and ‘Joy’, by Hiroshi Ueta.

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A selection of this work will be on show at the Ballroom of Tregwynt Mansion; Pembrokeshire. August 18th to 24th

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Ian and Gaynor McMorrin will also be exhibiting work inspired by their time in Japan. The exhibition has been organised through Fishguard Arts Society.

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