Posts Tagged 'Japanese art'

Layers and colors and prints, oh my!

Whether they’re used as Weezer’s album cover or turned into emoji, Japanese woodblock prints have long been admired for their striking imagery and rich detail. At the Center for Creative Connections, we’re excited to welcome three Japanese woodblock prints from the DMA’s permanent collection by Hiroshi Yoshida.

The soft colors and fine details on these prints make them appear delicate or fragile, but the process behind each of these artworks requires some intensive labor. To illustrate a bit of the behind-the-scenes work that took place for these prints, we collaborated with Austin-based printmaker Daryl Howard to recreate a traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking station similar to the one Yoshida would have used to create the works on view in C3. Based on a diagram from Japanese Print-Making: A handbook of traditional and modern techniques by Rei Yuki and Toshi Yoshida (Hiroshi Yoshida’s son), the display case in C3 shows a few of the most essential printmaking tools used for this art form.

There are two essential steps to make color woodblock prints:

Carving the woodblocks. Each color on a final print image corresponds to a separate woodblock. For instance, creating a final image with black, red, and yellow colors would require a printmaker to carve three separate blocks-one for each color. Printmakers used a (knife), to cut fine lines into each wooden block, and various aisuki (flat scrapers) to carve out unnecessary pieces of wood. Chisels known as sōainomi and marunomi were used with wooden mallets to clear out large spaces on the wooden surface.

Printing onto the paper.  After carving each woodblock, printmakers applied colored pigments directly onto the surface of the blocks using horsehair brushes called surikomi-bake. Softer mizubake (water brushes) were used to moisten sheets of paper before printing. To transfer pigments from the wooden block surface onto the paper, printmakers placed the paper on top of the woodblock and rubbed it with a baren made of coiled fibers and bamboo sheath. The artist would repeat this printing process, laying the same sheet of paper on top of each different woodblock to create a final image made of multiple color layers.

C3_blockdetail In the Interactive Gallery, we’ve developed a printmaking station where visitors can experiment with Step 2 of the printmaking process by making their own layered color prints using paper, carved linoleum blocks, and crayon rocks. Like the traditional Japanese woodblock prints, each of the carved blocks at the C3 table activity corresponds to one color that can be layered with others to create a final image. Yoshida often used 20-30 different color block layers in his prints, but our activity only requires four layers. The crayon rocks act as both a baren and an inking brush because they simultaneously apply color and transfer the impression of the carved block onto the paper. Take a look at the slideshow below to see a step by step run-through of the C3 printmaking activity.

C3_overview

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My favorite aspect of the printmaking process is the way working with separate layers allows for countless color combinations. Yoshida used this facet of the medium to create vastly different moods and atmospheres in his prints—these kinds of prints focused on color variants are called betsuzuri. In his 1926 Inland Sea series, part of the permanent collection in the MFA Boston, Yoshida utilized the same set of woodblocks to create six entirely distinct images showing various times of day:

A small sampling of the prints visitors made in C3 this week demonstrates a similar effect using color variants to produce unique images from the same set of carved blocks:

If you’re like me and you can’t get enough of this medium, check out these DIY printmaking tutorials using styrofoam and soda (yes, the drink!). For a deeper dive into the intricacies of traditional Japanese printmaking, mark your calendars for the upcoming Late Night Art Bytes on May 20, and the C3 Visiting Artist Workshop with Daryl Howard, printmaker extraordinaire, on May 21. Happy printing!

Paulina Lopez
McDermott Graduate Intern for Visitor Engagement

 

Everything Zen

Alternative rock band Weezer’s second album, Pinkerton, was released in 1996 to little fanfare. Panned by critics and lackluster sales, the sophomore entry was a far cry from the band’s multi-platinum debut, the self-titled Weezer with the hit single “Buddy Holly.”

Retrospectively, however, the album has become a cult classic and is regarded as one of the most significant albums of the 1990s. Exemplifying this polarity is the fact that Rolling Stone readers voted Pinkerton as the third worst album of the year in 1996, yet six years later in 2002 voted it the 16th greatest album of all time.

A modified image of a print from Ando Hiroshige’s Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō, a copy of which is in the DMA’s collection, was chosen for Pinkerton’s album cover. Kambara: Snow at Night depicts a snowy evening in Kambara village—an unlikely scenario, since Kambara was located in a temperate area.

Hiroshige’s romantic enhancement of reality for emotional effect makes the woodblock print a fine choice for Pinkerton, since it is such an expressive album. Angst-filled, youthful poets so often tend to exaggerate events for greater dramatic impact. Interestingly, examination of the resulting production style and various thematic elements in Pinkerton inextricably link it to Zen Buddhism and other aspects of Japanese culture.

Pinkerton features a very raw and abrasive sound in an effort to evoke a live performance. The recordings for Pinkerton were done in one take, meaning everything was recorded simultaneously with little to no overdubbing after the fact. For example, lead singer and principal composer Rivers Cuomo recorded the vocal tracks with his fellow band members in unison around three microphones close to one another. This recording method contrasts with the way vocals are usually recorded, in an isolated chamber after the instrumental tracks have been laid down. Instead, the band member’s vocal tracks bleed into one another much like the guitar, drum, and keyboard work do. Little if any editing was done to their singing or the instruments. The resulting quality of the album sounds extremely rugged and unrefined, which contributes to its liveliness and emotional intensity.

Rivers Cuomo spent his early years in upstate New York living at a Buddhist Zen Center. Eventually he would move to Yogaville, an enclave of the spiritual practice in Virginia, where he remained for the rest of his childhood. These experiences no doubt contributed to the direction of production for Pinkerton. The desire to create the audio effect of an energetic, live performance is reflective of the fluid, in-the-moment perspective treasured in Zen Buddhism for the creation of art.

Moreover, Zen artistic values that permeate into the culture of Japan to this day treasure simplicity and the rough. Indeed, Zen art seeks to inspire contemplation of human existence as something that is ephemeral, lonely and melancholic through its emphasis on imperfection.

In this way a crooked, shabby cup is perceived as more attractive than an immaculate, symmetrical, and fastidiously constructed bowl made of fine material. This perspective results from the fact that the malformed cup encourages reflection on the nature of reality instead of merely being aesthetically pleasant to look at, like the “perfect” bowl.

Due to Pinkerton’s initial poor sales and critical reception, Weezer nearly disbanded, going on hiatus for 5 years until 2001’s Weezer (Green Album). With this new release onward, the band has not recorded in the atypical fashion they had on Pinkerton, instead choosing production enhancements that resulted in greater polish and clearness. The Zen artistic values of spontaneous creation and greater emotional depth achieved through imperfection serve to illuminate the artistic brilliance and relevance the band was able to achieve at that moment.

Artworks shown:

  •  Ando Hiroshige, Kambara: Snow at Night, 1834, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus.
  • Deep Bowl for Tea Ceremony (Mukozuke), Japan, A.D. 1568-1615, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard D. Haynes.

Devon Hersch
McDermott Intern for Asian Art

Let’s get Zen-ical

The DMA’s Asian Collection features many works of art that express the Japanese Zen Buddhist tradition. Essentially, Zen art seeks to express the True or Formless Self, a form of being that is prior to and free from any physical form. In order to channel one’s True Self, the creative act must be conducted in a state beyond thinking. In other words, the pinnacle of artistic achievement results from an act of creation made with no inhibitions or restraint in a flow of consciousness.

Hakuin Ekaku, Daruma, Edo, n.d., ink on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, General Acquisitions Fund 1972.1

Hakuin Ekaku, Daruma, Edo, n.d., ink on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, General Acquisitions Fund 1972.1

A few works that demonstrate this most purely include the Daruma Scroll (c. 1603-1868) by the Zen priest Hakuin Ekaku and the Tiger Scroll (c. 1603-1868) by Nagasawa Rosetsu.

Nagasawa Rosetsu, Tiger, Edo, after 1792, ink and color on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, General Acquisitions Fund 1972.13

Nagasawa Rosetsu, Tiger, Edo, after 1792, ink and color on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, General Acquisitions Fund 1972.13

Daruma is the Buddhist monk that transmitted Chan Buddhism to China from where it was then transferred to Japan and became its own distinct phenomenon known as Zen. The inscription on the Tiger scroll indicates that the artist was able to express the essential nature, the pure essence of “tiger.” Notice that in both works, the outlines of the images are loosely defined, suggesting that the boundaries of the forms are permeable and in a state of flux. Indeed, both works appear as if done in a rush, which reflects the Zen ideal that the creative act must be a reflection of the Formless Self, something only attainable in a state of non-thinking.

Another concern at play in these scrolls is the display of rugged masculinity and strength. For instance, the tiger, an animal not indigenous to Japan, was appropriated from Chinese mythology due to its association with power and military might. Daruma appears ruggedly knowledgeable with his unkempt beard and wrinkled forehead. These characteristics contrast with more traditional forms of Buddhism, in which holy figures were generally depicted with pristine, youthful appearances and perfectly symmetrical faces. The emphasis on masculine characteristics and the association of age with holiness reinforced the patriarchal structures responsible for maintaining the feudal system in Japan.

Meditate on these works and more that capture Zen Buddhism in the DMA’s free collection galleries.

Devon Hersch is the McDermott Intern for Asian Art at the DMA

Friday Photos: Art Babies

This Monday, with a little help from some shiny blue fabric and a DIY dragon puppet, our monthly Art Babies class dove deep into the galleries for a little fun under the sea with Takenouchi no Sukune Meets the Dragon King of the Sea. Babies and grown-ups alike enjoyed exploring our Japanese collection before heading down to our studio for all kinds of sensory play. When it was time to say goodbye, we wrapped up with singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star under our magical starry fabric.

We love seeing our littlest visitors feel right at home in the Museum, and we’ve even bumped up our number of classes each month to squeeze in a few more friends! Tickets for July through September (we’ll be focusing on our senses) are now on sale. To register, visit our Art Babies page.

We can’t wait to see our friends again next month for more family fun!

Jennifer Sheppard
McDermott Intern for Family and Access Teaching

Focus on: Nobuo Sekine

For the past few months, Japanese sculptor Nobuo Sekine’s (b. 1942) works have been on view in the Marguerite and Robert Hoffman Galleries. For those of you who haven’t seen them yet, or are still wondering what these works are all about, this blog post is for you.

Phase No. 10 (1968), Phase of Nothingness-Water (1969/2005), and Phase of Nothingness-Cloth and Stone (1970/1994) were originally created in the late 1960s, and what they have in common is the word “phase” in their title. In order to understand these works better, let’s first talk briefly about global art trends in the late 1960s and then explore the idea of “phase” that so interested Sekine.

In the early 1960s, artists such as Richard Serra, Donald Judd, and Robert Morris made a clear shift away from the gestural quality of abstract expressionism (Jackson Pollock) and embraced a more minimal aesthetic. Minimalist art was intended to discard the emotionality of the past along with all non-essential formal elements related to the art object. The resulting work took shape as hard-edge geometric volumes created with industrial materials that showed little-to-no evidence of the artist’s hand in its making. As minimal sculpture evolved, artists in the late 1960s began moving outside the white cube of the gallery and museum space to create large-scale outdoor works that used the earth itself as the medium. Known as Land Art, this movement was closely associated with the work of Robert Smithson, Michael Heitzer, and others. It is within this transitional moment between minimalism and Land Art that the work of Sekine Nobuo and the Mono-ha movement in Japan came into being.

Phase Mother Earth (1968/2012) (Photo courtesy of artspacetokyo.com)

The term Mono-ha (meaning “School of Things”) encompassed a variety of different forms and approaches, but at its core the short-lived movement explored the encounter between natural and industrial objects. Using natural materials such as stone, wood, and cotton in their unadulterated states, in conjunction with wire, light bulbs, glass, and steel plates, the work of Mono-ha artists presented objects “just as they are,” with the hope of bridging the gap between the human mind and the material world.

The tenets of Mono-ha are most clearly embodied in Nobuo Sekine’s famous outdoor sculpture Phase Mother Earth (1968/2012). Often cited as the beginning of the Mono-ha movement, Sekine’s sculpture consists of a 2.2 meter-tall cylinder of earth positioned beside a hole of the exact same dimensions. While clearly in dialogue with other American and European Land Art of the time, the modest scale of Sekine’s work invites the viewer to experience the earth simply as earth rather than as a grand artistic gesture writ large across the landscape.

Phase No. 10, Nobuo Sekine, 1968, Steel, lacquer, and paint, The Rachofsky Collection and the Dallas Museum of Art through the DMA/amfAR Benefit Auction Fund

Sekine’s Phase-Mother Earth is closely related to the artist’s previous sculptures exploring the mathematical field of topology. Topology is a field of spatial geometry in which space and materials are considered malleable and can undergo countless transformations from one “phase” (state) to another without adding or subtracting from the original form/materials. In Sekine’s words, “a certain form can be transformed continually by methods such as twisting, stretching, condensing, until it is transformed into another.” This idea of manipulating form and space can be seen in Sekine’s work Phase No. 10 (1968) currently on view at the DMA. This wall-mounted sculpture closely resembles a Mobius strip, and when viewed head-on it appears to be a flat, curvilinear design, but when viewed at an angle the sculpture juts out from the wall, creating an optical illusion.

Phase of Nothingness—Water, Nobuo Sekine, 1969/2005, Steel, lacquer, and water, Dallas Museum of Art, DMA/amfAR Benefit Auction Fund

The work Phase of Nothingness—Water (1968) continues Sekine’s engagement with topology. To illustrate these ideas, the artist juxtaposed two equivalent shapes—a cylinder and a rectangle—both containing the same volume of water. At first glance, it doesn’t appear that the shallow rectangular tank and the tall cylindrical tank both hold the exact same amount of water. Similar to his earlier outdoor sculpture Phase—Mother Earth, this work attempts to depict a sense of equivalence and emphasizes the continuity of form and material. These two shapes are not meant to be seen as opposites but as equals. As Sekine explains, “[T]he mass of the universe neither increases nor decreases. This is the universe of eternal sameness. When one becomes aware of this, then the futility of modern concepts of creation can be realized.”

I hope this blog helps explain some of the fascinating (and at times complicated) ideas that inform Sekine’s sculpture. The exhibition closes Sunday, so plan your visit to the DMA before it’s too late!

Gabriel Ritter is The Nancy and Tim Hanley Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Dallas Museum of Art.

How it's Made: Japanese Lacquer

Next time you visit the Dallas Museum of Art, make sure you stop by our Japanese collection.  You can find the Japanese gallery on the third floor in the Arts of Africa, Asia, and Pacific Island galleries.  In the center of the gallery, you will find three exquisite examples of Japanese lacquer.  In fact, one of my favorite works in our collection is a Japanese lacquered Chest of drawers.

History of Japanese Lacquer

According to Monsieur Gonse, a French connoisseur and art critic, “Japanese lacquered objects are the most perfect works of art that have ever issued from the hands of man.”

The art of lacquer actually came to Japan from China around the 6th century A.D.  Originally connected with Buddhism, early lacquer adorned the walls of Buddhist temples.  As the medium became more popular, lacquer objects became more utilitarian and were primarily used as everyday objects.  Individuals who commissioned such decorative objects had to be patient with the time commitment involved, for it could take months to even years to complete a lacquered object.

What makes Japanese lacquer special?

In order to appreciate the true value of Japanese lacquer, it’s important to understand how lacquer objects are made.

Lacquer comes from the sap of the lacquer tree, Rhus vernicifera,and is known as

Extracting lacquer from the Rhus vernicifera tree

urushi.  Most lacquer forms begin with a wooden foundation, a special wood called Hinoki, a species of Japanese cypress.  Before the layering of the lacquer begins, the lacquer artist wraps the wooden object in a silk or hempen cloth saturated with a mixture of lacquer and rice flour called nori urushi.  Then, a layer of powdered earthenware mixed with lacquer is applied over the cloth and sanded smooth.   This method is applied with finer grades of powder until an even layer is produced.

After the foundation layers are smoothed, the object is ready for the refined lacquer. The refined lacquer is blackened by iron and applied carefully in layers.  Because the lacquer takes a long time to dry and needs high humidity for hardening, the object is placed in a “wet box” for three to four days before the next coat is applied.  After the object is removed from the “wet box”, it is carefully smoothed and polished with magnolia charcoal.  This is repeated about thirty to eighty more times until the final coat is applied.  After the last coat has dried, the object is finger polished with deer’s horn ashes and oil.

Fun Fact: Because the humidity in Japan is so high, the three lacquered objects here at the DMA are placed in humidity controlled cases.

This precise artform requires a huge amount of skill and patience.  If one were to apply thirty coats of lacquer and wait four days in between each layer, it would take up to 120 days to complete the lacquer portion of the object.  This is not including any special techniques such as inlay or other carving methods.  Altogether, it could take half a year to complete a lacquer object!  How long do you think it took to create this Lacquered wood saddle?

Next time you’re at the Museum, come by and see some of the finest hand-made objects in our collection.  Once you see these beautifully-crafted objects in person, they are bound to become your favorites!

Over and out,

Loryn Leonard
Coordinator of Museum Visits

Resources:

  • Mody, N.H.N., “Japanese Lacquer,” Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Jan., 1940), pp. 291-294
  • Weintraub, Steven, Kanya Tsujimoto, and Sadae Y. Walters, “Urushi and Conservation: The Use of Japanese Lacquer in the Restoration of Japanese Art,” Ars Orientalis, Vol. 11 (1979), pp.39-62

Art for Two

It’s a perfect day for thinking in twos; we’re getting close to that couple-y time of year, and it’s also the 2nd day of February (2/2)!

The DMA collection is full of couples in works of art—some of them are real-life pairs, some are fictional twosomes.  Below are just a few of the many couples here at the Museum.  All of them (or works by them) are currently on view.

Wendy & Emery Reves: A Couple Art-lovers
She was a fashion model. He was a Hungarian journalist and writer.  Together Wendy and Emery Reves befriended celebrities (Winston Churchill and Greta Garbo) and amassed a breath-taking collection of decorative and fine art by artists like Degas, Monet, and van Gogh.  The Reves gave their entire 1,400 piece collection to the Museum in 1985, where it is housed in a beautiful replica of their French villa on the 3rd floor of the Museum.

Shiva & Parvati: A Divine Couple
Hindu god Shiva, and his wife, the goddess Parvati, are shown in this 7th-8th century atwork as a loving couple.  Shiva is the Lord of Life, Death and Rebirth, and in this sculpture he appears as Maheshvara, or great god. Parvati appears as Uma, or the shining one.

India, Stele of Uma-Maheshvara, 7th-8th century

Frances Bagley & Tom Orr: A Couple of Local Artists
Dallas artists and real-life couple Frances Bagley and Tom Orr collaborated to create the stage set for the 2006 Dallas Opera’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s, Nabucco.  They translated several components of the production’s set to create an installation that is on view in the exhibition Performance/Art, through March 21st.  Nabucco tells the Biblical story of the Jews’ exile from their homeland by Nabucco, the Babylonian king.  The image below shows Bagley and Orr’s interpretation of the Hanging Garden, the final scene of the opera.


Scene from the Tales of Ise: An Ill-fated Couple
The couple in these 16th century screens is based on characters from a Japanese collection of fables called “Tales of Ise.”  This scene shows the pair attempting to elope by escaping through a field of grass, as they are pursued by servants of a provincial governor.  The empty, lonely scene foreshadows the tragic fate of the young couple, who will soon be discovered in hiding after the servants set fire to the field.
Tosa Mitsuyoshi, Scene from the ales of Ise, Momoyama Period

Couplet
This last one isn’t an artwork in our collection, but it just might be my favorite on the list.  It’s a student-made video about two chairs visiting the Museum, and it reminds me of the fun of looking at art with someone else.  Hats off to the Booker T. Washington High School Film Club students who created it during a Saturday afternoon here this past October.

Our next Late Night on Friday, February 19th is a perfect time to visit the Museum with a special someone; there will be French themed performances, and a focus on Impressionism and romance.

Happy February!
Amy Copeland
Coordinator of Learning Partnerships with Schools and the Community


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