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Archive for January, 2010

A Few More

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Drawings on Paper

Here are some pencil drawings on paper. I’m often drawing in my journal, but these are some drawings on paper that I cut out and took with me so that I’d be able to scribble something while waiting on the train, plane, or in a cafe. These, in contrast to the Japanese print studies, are either imagined or perceived explorations of light and shadow, and organic line.

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Wabi-Sabi in Tel-Aviv


Inspired by Japanese Aesthetics while in Israel.

So I’ve been here for a month, and I’ve started a series of small paintings in the little room in Roi’s apartment, which is now my designated studio. I brought one art book with me on this trip: Japanese Prints of the 20th Century. I decided to use this time to explore an aesthetic I’ve admired for a long while now. The modern Japanese print possesses a simple, austere, yet playful beauty that intrigues me. How does one create something that is colorful, organized, imperfect,yet elegant all at once? I thought I’d look at these prints and offer my own interpretation of them. And so began this series.

Above are a few of the eight (still in process in the studio), so far: (click to enlarge)

The beauty, the secret, the forte of the Japanese print lies in the color, the design, and the outline. I’m learning a ton about those, but I’m struggling with my medium, which is so different from the originals- mine are oil paintings, while these are prints. The oil paints are best used to create a sense of depth and nuance, yet these prints demand complete flatness on the surface?! I’m loving the colors, but losing many brush strokes in failed attempts at flat space. I didn’t realize how much I am used to painting Light and Shadow in small thick strokes, rather than smearing large areas with globs of paint full of thinner. Now, I must admit that trying to accomplish this feat with a less than cooperative medium conjures a very familiar feeling: a feeling of working against myself, like sticking with something for a very long while even when it doesn’t feel right, because something compelling emerges despite the hardship. Shall I give up and return to the more familiar routine of painting shadow for form, and light for mystery? I am in Israel after all, where the light is intense… and, yet I seem to be following some other kind of light…..

Now, I was hoping to integrate aspects of my Israeli experience into the series as a counterpoint to the Japanese theme. As a result, one painting includes the landscape outside my window, another has the graphic image of an Israeli coin, the ten shekel, and yet another has me sitting under an israeli sun. I also started to think of an old calendar I had with neat typically Israeli illustrations from the 50’s or 60’s. The colors and sense of design are a cross between modern Japanese prints and Communist era posters, and they exude an air of optimism and naivete that characterized the politics of the period. I searched for a book with these images, so that I can refer to more than just my memory while painting. Unfortunately, I found nothing, despite a google search in Hebrew and visits to a few bookshops. The search continues.

Besides the practical aspects of the execution of these paintings, the series also inspired me to recall the little I know about the philosophy of aesthetics, and to read more specifically about Japanese aesthetic. I discovered a few mighty interesting concepts. I’d like to highlight two in particular: Wabi-Sabi and Yugen.

Wabi-Sabi refers to the type of beauty that celebrates the ephemeral, ever-changing, asymmetrical, and withered. It is modest, and subtle- it is not garish or obvious. It conjures an air of melancholy and longing. It contains within it an appreciation for the impermanence and poetry of life. I imagine that a Zen Buddhist monk, through years of meditation, has cultivated a deep sense of the Wabi- sabi aesthetic.

Yugen, on the other hand, is the potent beauty that combines grace and mystery. It obscures, and intimates, and teases and draws one’s imagination into it’s shrouded beauty. It presents you with an image covered in mist, and forces you to guess what is behind the veils. The power of its beauty cannot be expressed in words, or experienced through logic.

Here’s more on Japanese asthetics:
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/japanese-aesthetics/

These concepts remind me of the Western discussion on the Beautiful versus the Sublime, Apollo representing the virtues of symmetrical design and beauty, and Dionysus harnessing the power of the darker more dangerous sublime beauty. I have always preferred the Dionysian traits, but love to explore universal principles of design and symmetry as well.

Where do my Japanese prints fit in, aesthetically speaking? Well, actually I feel none of the above categories speak to their aesthetic. I don’t know that I’d like to find them their correct category/designation. For now, I’ll keep reading, and looking, and playing around with them, and I’ll see where they take me.

To view some paintings of mine from way back click on these links:
http://citypaper.net/articles/110200/pics/big/fff.anatben.jpg.shtml
http://squareinchgallery.com/id88.html

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