Saturday 1 March 2008

Remarkable web based storytelling

I was going to simply put a link to this site below, with all the other links, but it really is such an exceptional thing that I didn't want it to get overlooked. I had previously posted a link to it on tcp but here it is again;

It's a photographic record of a whale hunt carried out by Inuit people and the presentation and various options presented are really novel. All in all, an admirably creative use of this medium by an exceptionally innovative photographer.

A word of caution though, if you are at all squeamish about hunting, eating whales or even the sight of blood it would perhaps be best to ignore this post. The "story" that is presented is not a statement in support of any position on this sensitive matter, it is merely a crystal clear record of the event. It presents a glimpse into the lives and ways of 2 species of creatures living on this planet and their timeless interaction. In this it is honest and innocent. The question to ask is; do we have any right to judge or even comment on this way of life particularly if we could be said to be acting from our own totally selfish motives?

Lazy post for the day

"There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun."
Pablo Picasso

Friday 29 February 2008

Close up of the Lotus flower

Here's slightly better image of the flower, if you click on it you get a much larger view.

Lotus flower tsuba

I made this tsuba in 2006. We'd just moved back to Cape Town and I was without a studio for a few months while we waited for the household to arrive by sea. I'd prepared the steel blank back in England and brought my chisels and hand tools with me...I hate to be without them. This tsuba was made on various kitchen tables and other unlikely places.

Carved steel, no power tools touched this piece! The flowers are inlaid in pure silver and have touches of gold which I applied by fire gilding. The stem of the unopened bud on the back is of unrefined copper hence the colour. This particular carved texture is part of an ongoing exploration I've been making into ways of getting steel to appear more "natural" and without being too contrived about it....pardon the apparent paradox, it's very deep Zen stuff actually ;-)

It resides now in the Kiyomizu Sannenzaka Museum in Kyoto.
Sadly my camera at the time ( a Fuji finepix S9500 ) was dying on me so the images I took before I left it in Japan were not the best. I now use a Canon 400D with a dedicated EFS60mm f/2.8 macro USM lens and I'm very happy with it. That's for the techie types out there who need to know this sort of detail ;-)
and the back with the date inscription which is just a tad oversize.

Wednesday 27 February 2008

The Mantis by Ataru Maeda

I’ve already introduced Ataru Maeda to you and I’m certain you’ve all had a good look at his creations. This is one that I particularly appreciate. The subject, a mantis, is very common in Japanese art, especially on objects used by the warrior class. The samurai really admired the apparent fearlessness of these delicate insects. If you’ve ever reached out to try and pick one up or merely touch it you’ll have seen how they rear up and lunge out with their fore limbs, almost like a boxer sizing you up. Their Japanese name; kamakiri , refers to those deadly scythe-like weapons. A kama is a Japanese sickle and is usually a short, curved blade attached at right angles to a wooden shaft about the length of a man's forearm. Kiri means “to cut”.

A common pairing in traditional art is of the mantis and a wagon wheel ( sometimes broken ). As far as I know this wheel represents the emperor's carriage, his being the only wheeled vehicle in the land. Our brave little chap is, according to this image, not even cowed by this approach of the most revered and powerful ( in theory anyway ;-) ) personage in the world. There could almost be a suggestion of subversive resistance to authority in this motif.

Ataru has carved his interpretation of these heroic little creatures in stag antler. From what I understand, and from my own limited experience, this material poses quite a few challenges in terms of it’s consistency and how it will ultimately appear. Most work in stag that I’ve seen tends to be stained to enhance the texture inherent in the coarser areas and to a deep glow to the areas that can take a glossy polish. This effect is very appealing , perhaps also because it is familiar, but here we see a piece that defies this “safe” convention.

The overall composition works elegantly, to my eye. The stalk of bamboo is a perfect compliment to the insect and the degree of curve provides just a hint of springiness that seems to enliven the creature.

As I contemplate this work, and I’m well aware that I am able to see only a tiny part of what makes up the whole art work, I am struck, first, by it’s starkness. It feels wintry!…the almost frosty white with only the faint brown mottling to relive the whiteness. Until, that is, I am drawn into those limpid, mysterious eyes.

The use of this translucent, orange material ( what is that Ataru? ) was an inspired touch. The creature still remains somewhat austere but these ambivalent eyes add a hint of warmth that is almost mesmerising. I can almost guess what it’s prey might feel like…ugh!

The mantis has been very faithfully rendered, with a soft, almost plump belly ( abdomen ) the wings cloak the body ever so delicately and I just know the texture on them is so finely carved that they are a delight of patterning. And then there are those fore claws…neatly tucked up and away, almost as though this mantis would like us to overlook them, and the threat they present. The way they are depicted against the body makes me think of the way people sometimes cradle their hands, almost tentatively, in a pensive attitude of refined restraint.

Here on the southern most tip of Africa our indigenous Khoi-san people have long revered the praying mantis. The Afrikaans word for it is Hottentots god. There is a beautiful folk story told by these people about the mantis and the moon too; you can read a version here;
Perhaps a lunar kamakiri would look a little like this one. I think this sculpture has captured something quite essential of the spirit of the mantis and as you may have guessed, I love it.

Tuesday 26 February 2008

The little hut at the end of the jetty.

As a further teaser before I get immersed in my promised essay on wabi/sabi ( shudder), here's a poem by the very influential poet and critic, Fujiwara no Sadaie ( 1162 ~ 1241 ) . In it we get a glimpse of the Zen Buddhist concept of mu, "nonexistance" or "the void" and it's influence on the developing idea of wabi/sabi. The photo of the little hut at the end of the jetty seems to me to capture the sentiment of the poem remarkably well.

The calligraphy might be by the poet but is more likely only from that period. I hope it adds something to the lightness of the verse.

here's the poem...

As I look afar
I see neither cherry blossoms
nor tinted leaves
Only a modest hut on the coast
In the dusk of autumn nightfall

Monday 25 February 2008

What's with wabi-sabi?

Firstly, apologies for not having kept up my promised barrage of blog entries. Despite appearances, I do actually have a life of my own, and sometimes it gets in the way of all the plans I make. I'll see if I can't spice things up a little this week...oh! I've just remembered, my mother arrives tomorrow morning ( at a typically inconsiderate 6:15am ) at Cape Town International airport. She's threatened to stay for a week before flying up to Port Elizabeth to see her sister. Still, I suppose my boys will be pleased to have their grandmother around to spoil them for a while. Anyway, I'm sure I can still make a few interesting posts to keep you coming back for a "look see".

I haven't been completely idle in the writing department though. In response to what I see as a rather poor comprehension in various fora on the net of the Japanese aesthetic of "Wabi-Sabi" ( a conjunction I particularly dislike ) I have been trying to compose a more in-depth and revealing essay exploring this most fundamental of Japanese modes. In particular, I'm attempting to express it's universal relevance especially at the start of the 21st century.

If you have any specific, or considered thoughts on the subject I'd be happy to hear from you. Either as a comment on this blog or privately. You'll find an email address below the comment dialogue box.

Also, Dustin ( Clayton) , if you'd like that critique on your kagamibuta that you posted on tcp, I've got a few comments I could offer that may be of use to you. As I'm no longer registered on that forum you could contact me as suggested above.

And if you're wondering about the significance of the photo ( no!, it's not my outhouse. ) quite accurately, and literally, conveys some of the most significant aspects of " sabi" and the very closely associated concept of "yugen". Interested?...