Words about the art
My eldest sister e-mailed me yesterday and asked me to send her some of my "radiation," paintings. I knew what she meant. It was stuff from right after the earthquake and resulting nuclear disaster. I went into my hard drive to see what I could turn up. it has only been a few years, but it is shocking how things get misplaced, in my computer as well as my studio. I have had one hard drive, my main back up go bad on me since then, perhaps it is the reason. But that an excuse. it is all i can do to make this stuff. i just don't have much time or energy left over to organize it.
This is supposed to be my "Words about Art," section, though I find right now I haven't any. I remember those days and these artworks, better than my hard drive does, but I don't have anything more to say about them at the present time.
About my exhibition of Jizo Paintings, some time ago
I saw an exhibition of Rembrandt etchings, small dark prints in great big wide frames. It got me thinking about frames. It had been my job in New York for a while, making frames. I also worked for an abstract artist, textures were his specialty.
These things combined in my thoughts with the Japanese scrolls I was learning to make. Scrolls serve many purposes, one is is aesthetic. A monochrome painting is enhanced by the combination of colors and textures in which the scroll surrounds it.
Looking at the Rembrandts I though of making my own series of dense dark paintings and surrounding them with frames, using the tricks of frame making, texture and abstraction in service of my own images. Abstract painting tricks in service of a figurative image.
Unlike the modern acrylics I had used in New York, I decided to work with more permanent and traditional materials that were used in frame making from before the Renaissance, wooden panels, plaster based gesso, gold and silver leaf, Japanese urushi.
The images inside is a whole other story.
From first moving to this quiet and protected part of Tokyo I had noticed the stone men and women. Little stone men mostly, stuck along the street, later I found they were mostly called, jizos. But I didn’t know that word at the time. I asked neighbors about the little stone men. Many people didn’t understand. They didn’t see them. They were so mush a part of the neighborhood they didn’t notice them.
There were no little stone men beside the road in Oneonta where I grew up. For me they stood out. And more than just the stones, there were also flowers. These lone stone men were cared for, tended, given fresh flowers. And there were lots of them, quite ancient, scattered around my part of town. They were not connected with a temple, or a house, or any other thing, except the neighborhood. They stood alone beside our roads.
I learned that most, though not all were stone representations of Ksitigarbha, a Buddhist saint that decided to refuse Buddhood, final enlightenment, until all hells were empty of beings. In Japan he is thought to be the protector of children. I found out that most, if not all of the little stone men along the roads of Yanaka were at one time memorials for children.
Yanaka, where I live, is a temple town. It was settled by temples that relocated here to gather around the great Kaneiji, a temple founded in early Edo as a protection. At that time people knew that bad luck comes from the northeast. Ueno Mountain was northeast of the Edo Castle, and the proper place to erect such a protection. As a result the area now is lousy with temples.
In many of the temple you will find jizos, usually in a line of six as they were in China. You will also find, in other parts of town, temples that sell cute stylized, big headed jizo stones to young ladies in memorial to their aborted fetuses, hundreds of them, all making money, all in a row. Many with little gifts of candy or toys from the lady that paid for the stone and rents the space.
My interest was not in these professional jizos, but rather in the stone men and stone women on my streets. Amateur jizos, stone neighbors.
My favorite and the one closest to my home had the death name “Red Plum” carved into it. This child must have died in the springtime, and the date was from Edo, about the time Mt. Fuji last erupted. Most people could not read the words on the stone. They were of an archaic style. It was not a grave in a temple. It was just a little stone, underneath a pomegranate tree, beside the Coke-a-Cola machine around the corner from my home. But someone, who of course never knew this two hundred year ago departed child, or any of her long gone family, still brought her fresh flowers - As you would care for a neighbor.
And as I said, there were many of these stone men scattered around my neighborhood. Little independents, traveling thru time.
My neighborhood was beginning to change. Most of Tokyo had turned upside down and destroyed itself for the Tokyo Olympics, then for the terrible economic bubble that made it a great proffit to burn doen the local sentos, and force people out if their neighborhoods, development, change.
Yanaka was changing. Big corporations were bamboozling my neighbors, putting up big buildings, robbing us of our sky and our sun.
As this was happening I walked thru different parts of Tokyo, and I noticed their jizos were gone. It was not something I could have notice when I first arrived. You can not notice what is not there, unless you realize it should be. There must have been jizos along their roads at one time, protecting travelers, protecting children. But at some time during their muscling development they had discarded thier jizos, thrown them away, to make room.
I wondered what became of a place that discarded their jizos? What became of their souls?
It was the inspiration, the motivation behind my exhibition, honoring our jizos, mourning the loss of them in other parts of town. Looking at our past, wondering what we were doing to ourselves in the name of progress.
Quite another think happened when I opened my exhibition door. There was a mob.
A couple of the Tokyo papers had done stories about my exhibition, at a time people still read newspaper. And people got excited, old people mostly, some people that sketched jizos themselves, but mostly people who's relatives were dying of cancer, and they though a jizo would help them. Paintings were sold, they were flying off the wall, all sold except the painting of Red Plum, closest to my house and to my heart. I kept that one, pretended was it sold.
I am not a religious painter and had not intended to capitalize on that particular market. It was not what I was about. It seemed the whole idea of the show got lost in unintended consequences. It left a bad taste in my mouth. I have stayed away from jizos as a subject ever since. Though I still note them fondly as I pass them on the road.
A postscript on Red Plum. Her pomegranate tree is now gone, cut down to make room for a car park, but she is still there, as is the Coke-a-Cola machine.
I studied scroll making in Japan. Part of that study involved the visiting museums to see how the great scroll were made - The mix of texture and color, the interaction of central image and the cloth that surrounded it. A curator friend of mine told me that a scrap of an old piece of cloth can cost as much as a sports car. Its beauty and importance cannot be undervalued.
My current exhibition is very much about the relationship between a painting and its frame, their communication and balance. I have tried to bring the aesthetic of scroll making into the work I am doing - color and texture, the interaction of figurative and abstraction
Ameyoko Backstreet October 2016, JimuSoan, Yanaka
I was an oil painter in New York. 25 years ago I studied ink painting from a very old man across the street from the Yoshiwara. Tokyo has been my subject. Tokyo has been my passion. I painted the 29 Stops of the Yamanote Line in 1995, the 18 Bridges over the Sumida River in 1997, The Stone Men of Yanaka - Jizos that live on the street in 1999. Two years ago I painted Ichiyo's shortcut through Yanaka.
My paintings come from where I live.
Ameyoko is beside the tracks in Ueno. After my divorce Ameyoko became my living room and my garden. I live in the streets. I live in the bars. Crowded, full of life. In the Ameyoko, even the main street is a backstreet.
About the materials - Sumie is the most direct and sensitive painting material I know. Sumie is very old, but it is alive. It is new for me.