Monday, 20 December 2010

Utsushi - the search for Katsuhira's tiger.

Some of you have already seen this short documentary film but I've just uploaded a High Definition version with Japanese subtitles onto YouTube.

You'll find details about the film maker and links to alternative text translations of the audio in the description below the film screen.

You'll find part one here.
and part 2 here.

You'll see the default quality setting on the play bar is usually 360p (on the right just below the screen). The film can be viewed in higher quality (up to 1080 High Definition ) by selecting a higher resolution setting. At the higher settings you can watch it in an expanded view to fill the screen.

There are some high res photographs, like the one shown above, posted here in my Picasa gallery. You'll also find a cover design for the dvd should you want to use it.

Please feel free to download the files for your own use. You'll need to use RealPlayer software to do this. It's available for free here.

If you're interested you can read more about the project the film follows and how it came about here in a post I wrote last June.
I hope you enjoy it.

best regards,

Ford Hallam

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The Art Instinct

I'm reading a fascinating book at the moment. Denis Dutton's "The Art Instinct" explores our aesthetic responses and creative acts from an evolutionary point of view.

I find his arguments very persuasive and it does in fact seem quite probable that there is very little that is really inexplicable in the way we respond to things like The Arts and the development of aesthetic preferences.

This review, by Hannah Rose Burgess, of the book may give some idea of it's main thesis and some of the possible objections.

This is a quote from the review that I particularly appreciated.

"Perhaps the best feature of The Art Instinct is the significant advances that it makes in discrediting the notion that art is culturally relative. Some very sharp scholarship adopts this view, but many of its forms can either be false or easily collapse into tautology. The Art Instinct takes a decisive stand against them. The chapter entitled ‘But They Don’t
Have Our Concept of Art’ is, in part, an attack on this. The author applies vigorous logic to reveal the incoherence of forms of this view."

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Ko-Umetada sukashi tsuba

I found this Ko-Umetada tsuba at Colin Griffiths Fine Art this morning.

The most well known name in this school is Umetada Myoju (Momoyama Period, 1573 to 1603) but it's generally believed that the name Myoju was actually used by a group tsuba-shi in the earlier Muromachi period (1333 to 1573). Almost nothing concrete is known about the origins of these workers and even the connection to the later, Umatada Myoju school is tentative. Those examples that are identified as belonging to this earlier group are generally unsigned and are called Ko-Umetada.

Tsuba associated with the Umetada group that date from after the time of Umetada Myoju are generally very distinctive. Their inlay designs are reminiscent of the exuberant Kōrin school
and unlike earlier Umetada works are most commonly in soft metals, typically shinchu (a type of Japanese, low zinc brass) and feature painterly inlay in shakudo and other alloys. You can see some of these types here.

The Umetada did produce iron guards after the time of Myoju but their character is generally influenced by the more "plastic" qualities their non-ferrous works exhibit.

The example that caught me eye this morning is quite unlike these later Umetada works I feel.

There is a suggestion of Shoami design sensibility here which is to be expected, apparently, according to Sasano. He also tells us these earlier Umetada works, Ko-Umetada, while reminiscent of Ko-Shoami are more refined. I assume he means in terms of the actual material itself and the workmanship.

The first thing that strikes me about this piece is the openwork design itself. The spacings and volumes are perfectly conceived and the rhythm of curves that are created give the piece a lively elegance. I particularly like the way the lines run into the seppa-dai at the top and bottom and onto the edges of those peculiar hitsu-ana shapes.

The piecing and refinement of those cut outs is skilfully executed. The nakago ana seems to me to be practically unaltered and is a very pleasing shape that suggests to a maker who was extremely conscious of even the most seemingly minor aspects of his work. The rough texture of the kuchi-beni, for me, provides a satisfying contrast to the surface of the steel.

The outer skin of the steel exhibits quite a fine texture and indicates to me a material that has been thoroughly forged to produce a fairly homogeneous steel but being hand made, so to speak, it retains a beautiful subtlety that is impossible to develop in modern mass produced steels. This texture is not the sort that would be applied by means of hammering or a finely textured punch. Rather, the steel would have been finished fairly finely and then, by means of various heating and oxidising processes, the outer layer of material is very gently oxidised away to reveal the more natural skin underneath. This sort of subtle finishing reveals the inner structure of the steel.

The image is a bit over exposed so the true colour is impossible to gauge but I don't see any obvious damage so I would be reasonably confidant that the surface patina is in good condition. Certainly, the overall condition of the piece strongly supports my instinct. We don't have images of the rim but there are at least 2 place near the edge where I discern what appear to be hints of fine linear tekkotsu and some indications of layers in the material so I would expect to see some more signs of the forging process evident in the mimi too.

Genuine Ko-Umetada tsuba are not at all very common and this example is quite large by comparison to those I've seen. Whether a shinsa panel would agree that this is in fact Ko-Umetada remains to be seen but as a good example of a real samurai tsuba this is a pretty fine example and at this price ($500) you really can't go wrong. That it has, in my opinion, a reasonable chance of being papered as being at least Hozon, maybe even higher given it's size, condition and elegance, to Ko-Umatada makes it an extremely tempting offering.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Shinchu Dragonfly Tsuba

If you're familiar with my recent work you may have noticed a certain fondness for dragonflies. I've been trying out a variety of approaches in terms of how best to capture the feeling of these intriguing little insects. I've posted a series of images of my dragonfly incarnations here, if you'd care to see their evolution. I was initially captivated by the wings, as I'm sure most people are, but the more I study them the more I've come to appreciate the whole structure. They really are amazingly sculptural, to my eyes at least.

This is my latest tsuba. It was completed earlier this year as my entry in the Nihonto Bunka Shinko Kyokai competition for newly made swords, polishing and associated arts. All entries that are deemed of sufficient quality to be accepted into the competition receive the designation of nyusen. This tsuba of mine was apparently well received, being admitted as nyusen and in addition it earned me an award called Gijustsu Shorei Sho 技術奨励作. It translates as "Technique Encouragement Award". Apparently this is roughly equivalent to the designation Doryokusho in the NBTHK shinsaku competitions.

The basic plate is of a brass type alloy I made up based on analysis' of various old examples. It's called shinchu in Japanese. The dragonfly is of shibuichi, ao-kin (green gold), shakudo, silver and the eyes in mother of pearl.

If you like to see some more images of this tsuba you will find some here, in my picasa gallery.

Monday, 24 May 2010

A pair of gold sakura design menuki

These are a pair of gold menuki I've just completed. They were made in a 22ct gold alloy comprising gold and silver. This particular alloy is called ao-kin in Japanese, green gold. The technique I used to create them is called uchi-dashi and is a process of slowly moving and manipulating a thin sheet of metal into a full, 3 dimensional sculpture. The metal is held in warm pitch and formed by means of small punches driven by a hammer. You can see a sequence of images detailing the making as well as some more images of the finished menuki by following this link.

This was the original design I came up with...the final gold versions are pretty similar I feel.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

John's dragonfly menuki

You may remember this pair of menuki I made last April. This was quite an avant garde concept as far as menuki go but it simply followed on from previous work I'd done based on hollow steel forms that were stone-like. I've also been intrigued by the dragonfly in terms of structure and design and how best to recreate the impression of these amazing insects in metal.

I was asked, at the beginning of this year, to re-visit the idea and make another pair. These are what I came up with. I was quite pleased with the evolution of the concept as was my client.

You can see some more images here, as well as a couple of a fuchi, I had lying around in the studio, that I added a little decoration to as an accompaniment.

If you're interested to see the original pair you can see them here.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

It's time we stopped poisoning our children

Apart from all the new developments with the work I've also been acting as something of an environmental campaigner recently.

Some of you know my little boy, Joel. Well until recently he was going to school on a wine farm. Brilliant! you say, can I join him?....yeah, we thought it was great too. Until we began to get educated as to what really goes on on the average wine farm.

It's chemical warfare! I kid you not, some of the stuff they spray, right next to the school buildings, are derived from nerve gas. Ok, ok, maybe a little overly dramatic but seriously, when you begin to research the subject you reach a point quite quickly where you sit back literally stunned and shocked at the reality of the situation.

I'll confess, a few weeks ago I actually sat here in my study and cried. I was so appalled at what we've, so unthinkingly, allowed our children to be exposed to. It's scary stuff.

The fact is, there's no getting away from the growing mountain of evidence from the scientific community that long term exposure, to even very small amounts, of these industrial agricultural chemicals is a very real and serious threat to the health of our children.

The very idea of having a school in the midst of all these chemicals is utterly insane and can only be defended by steadfastly refusing to even acknowledge that there may even be a problem to consider.

Believe it or not, the management of Joel's school, Chameleons Montessori are apparently able to keep their heads buried in the sand and continue to deny that there's anything to worry about. All I see is a governing body who has placed the financial considerations of their business over the care and health of my child.

This wilful ignorance (it gets worse actually....) in the defence of vested interests is unforgivable. The truth of the situation has been consistently withheld from parents and facts bent to give the appearance that all is well.

You can't keep the truth from people forever though. Slowly, we're putting the bits together... and it's not a pretty picture. This is personal now and I'm intent on making sure no more children are placed in harms way. Not at Joel's school nor any other farm school. It's time people knew the facts and decided for themselves.

We've formed an association called The Galileo Group. and I've published a blog that details the whole sordid story so far. I'll be adding to that as the saga unfolds. I'd appreciate it if you'd pop over there by clicking the link and add your name as a follower. We need all the support we can get so that the issue gets noticed. The more traffic to the site the easier it becomes for search engines to deliver our message to those who are looking for it.

Normal service will now be resumed.

What's up....?

It's been incredibly busy here in my studio since I came back from Japan last November. My project to stimulate a Renaissance in the field of Japanese sword adornment seems finally to be gaining momentum and official approval. I've actually got some exciting news to share....but you know me, I'll make you wait a while first just to heighten the suspense ;-)

I'm putting the finishing touches on a pair of gold menuki today and will add pics here once the client has seen them finished items.
This is the design. They are around 4cm long.

I've not been sure, of late, how best to proceed with this blog really. To be honest there are times when it feels like a thankless task, this constant exposure of self. Of course, as someone trying to survive as an artist this is part of the job and until I'm "discovered" I've got no choice but to keep banging my own drum. It sometimes feels a little crass so I hope you'll forgive me that. I don't want to use the Ironbrush forum as a platform for my own work so what I've decided to do is just use this blog as sort of window into my studio. I intend get back to using the blog like a diary to document what I'm up to and there are some very exciting projects lining up. I'm starting a full koshirae shortly and you'll get to watch the whole process, almost live!...I've got a few ideas to try and allow you into my working world that I'll be incorporating over the next few weeks and months...lights, camera, ACTION!