20 May 2013

Souzou - Outsider Art from Japan, a Wellcome Collection Exhibition

Okinawan lion by Ryosuke Otsuji

2010, clay, natural glaze; Shiga Prefecture

All images © Wellcome Trust
To go to an exhibition of the art of the “mad” (a word we are not really allowed to use any more, and yet it is useful, as a pointer) is to look inside our own minds. For so many to be insane, whether on a temporary or permanent basis seems to be outside our personal experience. 

Untitled by Shingo Ikeda

Undated, artist's notebook, collection of the artist
Yet who amongst us has not felt the mad fury of rage against something, or someone, or the insanity of infatuation, obsessive desire, the unwarranted despair over one of life’s disappointments? If you haven’t at some stage, gone through one of these states of mind maybe you are, well, mad, or auto-supressing information?

Untitled by Marie Suzuki

2008-10, sketchbook, pen; collection of the artist

The present exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, which it says is “the free destination for the incurably curious” is of Souzou, or Outsider Art, from Japan. All the exhibitors are in some form of care, and the exhibits have thus been produced under the aegis of a specialist institution. 

Embroidered Chocolate Cake by Norie Shukumatani

2011, embroidery thread, felt, T-shirt tag, cotton; collection of the artist

The definition of Souzou is itself interesting I think. Outsider Art I feel tells us where the work comes from in the physical world, the French term Art Brut, means raw or uncooked and this tells us what it is. The Japanese word souzou, has two meanings, one is creation, the other imagination, and for me this sums up where it originates, the mind, the unconscious, and is thus pure self expression, mostly unmediated.

Untitled (detail) by Komei Bekki

1980-4, 200 clay objects, collection of the artist

Although aware, some more than others, of the world around them, souzou people are not interested in following fashionable trends. Much of the work is obsessive, the materials are unconventional, the methods personal. It is inventive, amusing at times, intriguing, revelatory. It is not naive, or childlike. Do go and find out for yourself what goes on in our minds when we are not inhibited by convention.

Diary by Takanori Herai

c. 2009-11, pencil on paper, collection of the artist

The videos are beautifully filmed and add to, not exactly understanding the motives of the artists, but an appreciation of the time and effort that went into making the work, and gratitude for the enlightened attitude of those who encourage and support these creative acts.

All images © Wellcome Trust

The exhibition runs until the 30th June 2013 in London. As mentioned above entrance is free. Find out more about the Wellcome Collection here.


11 January 2012

Time for Another Round of Musings...

Winter setting well in, here in the northern hemisphere. (NB the "cold" blue colour! Nice touch?)

TIME FOR REFLECTION(warm reflective colour)

This time, self portraits: here is one I did years ago, things must have been

The reason for a blog on Self Portraits? I have been going through hundreds of pictures and sketches of all sorts, hoping to find some to throw out (I know I could throw out the lot and the world would not be the worse for it.) Last time I attempted to throw away because I was moving house, a friend was watching, "helping", and grabbed rejects from my bin. Subsequently he has had them framed and I am now questioning my judgement, .....as one should....all the time...on everything! They look quite good!

This time I had hardly any to reject, mostly because I felt that with further work (!!! how much I wonder, and when?) they could be improved. Also my inner Protestant, almost moribund in several other matters, doesn't like waste. (Another good reason to hang on to work is that a large number of pieces in waiting often, jumbled up in serendipitous ways, can give rise to new ideas.) One marvellous tutor, years ago gave the injunction "Never throw anything away, it can always be re-cycled." Well what a good excuse to keep every little scrap and scratching, until one is nigh buried under them.

Amongst the pieces that could be, as the French like to say a "re-looker" (not a wonder sometimes that the
Académie Française wants to keep the French language pure, when such ugly phrases are adapted) were a number of self portraits, often done in classes over the years.

One is on my blog title of course. Another was in a previous blog....called Bad Hair Day, done when I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night and frightened myself by seeing my image on the mirror. (This happens nearly all the time now, not just in the middle of the night.)
Some years ago I read an article in a psychology magazine that put forward the idea that artists do self portraits when they are facing, or have made, a change in their lives. This seemed to be a very interesting observation, however there were things missing, such as the desire for self understanding, or the portrait of
oneself as a projection of someone else, possibly “wishful thinking”, such as making oneself appear much younger or more beautiful. Very tempting! Seldom successful. Of course
Dürer managed it rather well: he painted himself as a Christ look-alike.

It must have been difficult doing self portraits before good quality mirrors were invented. Highly polished metal, or a reflection in water does not give such a clear image, often this is can be a comfort. Poor light is another way of avoiding the truth about the face reflected back from the mirror.

At one time I did a portrait looking in a mirror, of myself looking shocked...I was rather proud of it, and it went into a small show of students’ work. Someone must have taken a fancy to it, or found it so horrendous that they took it down, because it disappeared. I was very upset. And obviously I have not forgotten the incident. It rankles still...how immature is that?

Most self portraits have the artist looking rather serious, which is not surprising if one is really searching for the “truth”. This next self portrait is rather a clever thing, how did he manage to paint himself with his eyes closed? It is part of a larger painting of the Resurrection (A story from the Bible, central to Christian belief,) by Piero della Francesca, which is a good way of sneaking oneself in, in the way strangers in a crowd will get themselves in to the background of a TV reportage.

Piero woz here 

One of the most difficult self portraits I was asked to do, in a class, was of myself reflected in 2 mirrors.

This was a real mind blower. I began to wonder who I really was!

I am still wondering.

In this glorious portrait miniature of 1577
Nicholas Hilliard does not seem to suffer this problem. 
He was a Queen Elizabeth I favourite, and we can see why.

I am sure he just winked at me.

What a contrast with this by Zen monk Hakuin Ekaku circa 1764.

He probably would have said he was nobody, and really meant it.

It does seem that as one ages,
one is more interested in seeking the truth rather than glamourising.

Here is the wonderful Rembrandt - I feel he is not trying to flatter himself.

And another favourite, by Chardin
The shadow over the nose is so telling,
and the lack of vanity, clothes thrown together, hair in a strange turban and blue ribbon. Wonderful. We feel, I think, that we know him,
certainly I feel that I would LIKE to have known him.

The inscription under this painting by Salvatore Rosa 1640, 
(who doesn't look like the sort of chap you would want to take to a rowdy party,) says

"Of Silence and Speech, Silence is better"

Maybe of Blog and Blank page, Blank page is better.
(This is a self portrait projected into the future.)

PS. On the other hand I do feel a change is imminent, 
so maybe it is time for another
LONG look in the mirror of interior self.

PPS. Shock! Horror! How could I have done this...no pictures by women painters, except ME ME ME.

Next blog and New Year Resolution (Year of Dragon) to fix this.

All the images of The Masters are courtesy of Wikipedia. Thank you.

20 September 2011

Another Short Blog with a Moral

Another short blog, with a Moral, so I need to start with

Dear Reader,

“Inspiration” if one can call it that, and usually, for me anyway,  it is a question of getting on with work, comes from many sources.  Often triggered by a flash of something out of the corner of the eye, or a dream, a juxtaposition, an object, someone else's work  which leads one on another path.

This picture, in pastel, was inspired by a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum. During the visit I noticed on one of their information sheets that there was a painting competition. The work was to be based on an object in this vast and wonderful collection.  As I wandered through the ceramics rooms I saw a small vase or dish, I really can't remember which, and the dragon on it seemed so lively.  I particularly like dragons as this is my Chinese Horoscope sign (“I'm not surprised,” as someone once said to me when I told them. What did they mean by that cryptic comment? Me? A Dragon?)

With the details of the competition in my bag, I hurried home and got to work.  It went very quickly and was fun to do. When I had finished I read the Rules of the Competition...the picture was to be no more than 4 inches square...mine was about 2 feet by 3 feet! 

The Moral is...well it is obvious isn't it?  I was just too enthusiastic and hurried to be bothered to read the Rules first. And in fact this time, for once, I don't regret it, after all it wasn’t an exam,

and not all Dragons are scary, are they?