Wednesday, December 15, 2021

When Harvest Gives You Rice Straw...

 It seems that the Japanese create art from so many mundane items. I recall when my Japanese friend and her mother were visiting. Small bits of paper from little throwaways like candy or gum wrappers would be folded into origami cranes. I was thinking of that when I saw the pictures of the Japanese rice harvest festival. 

As with so many countries, the harvests throughout Japan are very large celebrations. It can be likened to our Thanksgiving. A bountiful harvest means all will be fed - a real cause for celebrating and thankfulness.


One particular part of the rice harvest celebration is spectacular. In Northern Japan they turn the leavings, the rice straw (or "mara" in Japanese), into these enormous sculptures of animals and mythical creatures.



Whereas mara once was used for tatami mats, animal feed or plowed under, those uses were no longer necessary. What to do? Beginning in 2008, a collaboration between the city of Niigata and university design students led to the rice straw sculptures. (The requirements are that the sculptures be made entirely of the rice straw supported by wooden frames. )


These sculptures can be as tall as 30 feet. You can see the relative size from the images of the sculptures with people. They are so awe inspiring that it has become a huge tourist attraction.


If you are planning a trip to Japan, be sure to make sure the dates fall during this amazing celebration.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Let the Rains Fall - Caillebotte, VanGogh, Turner, Yee, Magritte, Richter, Malobabic

In keeping with our Pacific NW menopausal weather, yesterday it rained hard all day. Yet today, it is sunny and relatively warm. However, the general trend this time of year is cold, gloomy and rainy. It was with that picture in mind I thought it would be fun to look at how artists have featured rain in their paintings.

First and most famous for his painting of a rainy day is Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) His "Paris Street, Rainy Day," is taught in Art History classes for the classic that it is. (Dear Reader: Take heart as we stray away from such limitations.)


Another well-known artist of the same period was Van Gogh(1853-1890) This particular painting has the fascinating title of "Rain."

In the same 19th Century, we have J.M.W. Turner's (1775-1851) depiction of a train hurtling across a bridge in a storm. The title is, "Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway."


Stepping into the 20th Century, we move to Asian Chiang Yee, (1903-1977) who was a painter, poet and calligrapher. This is one of his works from "The Silent Traveller in London."

We now leap to the surreal through the works of Rene Magritte (1898-1967). It's a stretch for the rain subject, but it is in keeping with the surreal or dream state with his painting "Golgonda." (It's a city in India and I welcome more information on the painting from Magritte fans of this rain of men in bowlers.)

Now, we're in present-day artists representations of rain. The first is renown visual artist, Gerhard Richter (1932-), who at age 89 is considered one of the important German contemporary artists. This is his  "Rain (1)."

 Lastly, we return to a rainy day scene from a contemporary artist, Dusan Malobabic (1991?-), an Aussie, who often uses a palette to create this wonderful rainy day scenes in a Impressionistic manner.


The question is: Of those shown here, which reminds you most of the feelings of rain?

Monday, November 29, 2021

The Ancient Haida RavensTail Weaving

 In the way of the "best laid plans...," I'd intended to feature a family of Haida artisans starting with Charles Edenshaw and featuring a different member of his talented family every Thursday inasmuch as November is Native American History month. Thanksgiving Thursday altered my plan. Undaunted, I wanted very much to share a very unique and ancient Haida art.

Haida are known for their weaving in its many forms. They weave beautiful baskets, hats and all sorts of items using plant material. The weaving that takes another direction is their fabric weaving.  


For one thing, no standard loom is used and for another, the entire process is done while standing. One of the most ancient forms of this type of weaving is known as "RavensTail." It's an extremely old method that requires a very laborious process. For example, an apron worn on the front of regalia can take 6 months and a full chief's robe at least one year!

As you can see from the photo, RavensTail method is a twining method, where the horizontal weft yarn spirals around the vertical warps and other wefts.Whereas in regular weaving, the wefts are plaited under and over the warps.


The other factor is that for the RavensTail, the patterns are of a geometric weaving style. Originally inspired by the other forms of weaving previously mentioned. 





Rich in symbolism, this ancient art form was almost lost. One who benefited from her lineage dating back to her great,great grandmother, Isabella Edenshaw (wife of Charles and an artist in her own right)and numerous aunties and cousins, is Lisa Hageman Yahgulanaas. She has won many accolades and recognition for her weaving. (She is shown here demonstrating the RavensTail weaving method.)

If you're curious about the RavensTail method, you can find her video demonstration on her website:

Below represents Ms. Yahgulanaas and Evelyn Vanderhoop, who was her teacher and mentor.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Robert Davidson: Native American Contemporary




This week is about another of Chief Edenshaw's gifted great grandsons, Robert Davidson (1946-), who is a carver, painter, and printer. 



Davidson's Haida name is:G̲uud San Glans, which means "Eagle of the Dawn." He is a descendant of  the eagle clan and the eagle features prominently in his works. He is recognized as the leading figure in the renaissance of Haida art and culture.



As with so many times in art history, the renaissance is not a re-creation of what was, but rather a combining with what was with a modern twist. Davidson's works are often representative of that combination. While he can and does build traditional totems and other older Haida styles, he also creates paintings, prints and jewelry in a stripped down, modern version of the ancient stories.




 We tend to think of Native American art as being of a fixed historic time. That's usually what people want to buy. However, when you consider that Davidson's exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum was titled, "Abstract Impulse," it does speak to the diversity of Native American art.


Here are samplings of  his stylized eagle representation. What are your thoughts on this contemporary approach?



Wednesday, November 10, 2021

  November is Native American History Month and last week's blog was about the Haida Chief and Master Carver, Charles Edenshaw. His amazing art skills passed down through his family. One of the recipients was his great grandson, Jim Hart (1952-), Hereditary Chief and also a Master Carver. 


The Haidas' ancestral territory was known as "Haida Gawaii," more commonly found on maps as Queen Charlotte Islands. It's an archipelago off of BC, Canada. Since the Haida lived there for more than 12,500 years, their main sources of subsistence and mythology were derived from the sea and the sky. The Raven, the Eagle and the Orca are all featured prominently in their art - especially Raven and Eagle.

                                                                                                                                                                      These influences are part of the carvings of Hart. He has created spectacular carvings be they totems or screens. He's also the first of his nation to use bronze for his sculptures. An example of his bronze

 works is "The Three Watchmen," now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.







Another of Hart's highly regarded carvings is a massive 16' x 11' piece titled, "The Dance Screen." Hart spent 3 years salvaging red cedar from the wildfires on the islands, and with the assistance of 4 carvers, finished this monumental piece, which describes a mix of stories about the cycles of life.

For the last example of Hart's story concept, he worked with carvers from the Mohawk, Maliseet and Coastal Salish tribes to create the piece titled, "Reconciliation Pole."




 It is a 55 foot totem made from an 800 year old red cedar tree to tell the story of Native American life before, during and after their children were sent away to Indian Residential Schools. The art is beautifully rendered. Yet, speaks to a enormously poignant period that began in the 1800s and didn't end in Canada until 1966. (Here's a diagram you can enlarge to see the different periods of time on the totem.)






By now, the story of these children is well known. The answer to how many died is unknown. Only a few schools in Canada have been examined and that number is about 6,000. Hart decided that he would extrapolate from that number and came up with 60,000 in total. Hence, Native American families of the children and survivors pounded 60,000 copper nails into the pole. That's the reason for the title of Reconciliation. (Although the nails were pounded all along the pole, here you can see the ones outlining the school.)



If you're ever in the beautiful city of  Vancouver, BC, you can visit the pole at the UBC campus where the Native Americans controlled the ropes to raise the pole as has been their custom for all totems.(You can also watch the process on videos.) 

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Charles Edenshaw: Native American History Month

November is Native American History Month. As with most indigenous cultures, the arts are so important in their rituals, history, mythology and passages. 



There's a patriarch and chief of the Haida people, who was famous not only for his paintings, woodcarving, argillite carvings and jewellery, but also for his lineage of artists. His English name was Charles Edenshaw (1839-1920) and his Haida name was Tahaygen. (This week will be his art and over successive Thursdays this month, his famous family lineage. )


Edenshaw was recognized for his talents by the Haida people, collectors and anthropologists as an exceptional carver. He was renown for his originality and innovation while adhering to the strict guidelines of design principles of the Haida traditions.



By the time Edenshaw had developed his unique style, his works were in such demand that he made his living as an artist. He traveled extensively with his family through British Columbia and Alaska during the Spring and Summer, carving and selling his works. 



Carved works included: chests, bowls, platters, masks, poles, canes to sell to outsiders; whereas his works using silver or gold were for family crests of Haida people. His carvings often explored the mythical such as the Raven stories of creation.

Edenshaw's works are in the collections of museums and there's a book available on Amazon of his works showing the details of his beautiful designs. (click on images to see enlargements)

Next week will continue the Haida artist, Jim Hart, Edenshaw'sgreat grandson and an amazing sculptor.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Charles Sheeler: Father of Precisionism


 In the way that each era has its own reflection in art, Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) represented the growth of industry and the American era. In fact, Sheeler is considered to be the founder of the American Modernism or Precisionism Movement.



He was interested in the interplay between photography and painting. It was the basis of his abstract leanings on portraying both rural and modern industrial scenes at their elemental geometric form. Hence, the use of Precision as to the style of the art movement.


From Sheeler's time in Europe, you can see in his paintings the inspiration of the Cubist such as Picasso and Braque. These works were more from the intellectual than the emotional as are the works of sentimentality found in pre-Raphael or the humanity of the Impressionists.





 Even his beloved farm takes on a certain precision in his art. Yet, there's a certain beauty to the deceptively simple, but fully identifiable paintings of Sheeler.

Finally, here's one that incorporates Sheeler's precision, but the unusual is the sense of movement:

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Seurat, Signac, Van Gogh & Pointillism

When asked recently what was my favorite art period. I didn't hesitate. It was the very dynamic period from mid-19th century to the pre-WW 2. Perhaps because with the invention of the camera, artists were free to move from photo-realism to Impressionism, Japonisme, and Pointilism. So many new techniques arose in that period and have endured to this day.

It was seeing the famous painting by Georges Seurat (1859-1891), "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte" that the magic and science of Pointilism struck me. Close up, the painting is a mix of colored and indistinguishable dots, but as you move back, it becomes an outstanding representative scene. (Below is the painting at a closer view)

How do they manage to paint small areas of color or tones and yet create a portrait or a scene? It baffles me at the same time it creates a certain wonder.

(click on images to see an enlarged version)



By 1886, Seurat and Paul Signac (1863-1935) had mastered the technique and are considered to be the Pioneers of Pointilism. It was the optic science of the eye that blurs the overlapping dots into a single object. Today, we use the same optics for digital creations via pixels.Back then, it was mixing primary colors to create secondary colors. 

Other well known artist who experimented with Pointilism were Van Gogh, Monet, Pissarro, and Luce.Well, enough about the technique. Here's some of the more famous paintings as seen using optic science.

In this Seurat painting, you can see the dots at the very closest. At you move back, the blurring starts and the man begins to take shape in our vision.

Here is a closer view of the painting "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte." (shown above at a greater distance.) 




The other pioneer of the technique, Signac, made expert works. For this blog, below is a close-up of his Pointilist technique followed by a bit of softening, which the eyes do naturally as the colors begin to meld together.








Lastly, although Vincent Van Gogh was known more for his impasto works, here's one that shows his interest in Pointilism:





This technique is carried into contemporary times by artists like Chuck Close (1940-2021), who not only uses colors for his large portraits, but also black/white tonals to accomplish the same effect. He's successfully creates the blurring within tiny rectangles.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Indigenous People by Roseta Santiago


 This Monday was Columbus Day. It seemed a good time to pay homage to the Indigenous People, who had already had discovered this continent to be later known as the "Americas."





 An artist, who found inspiration in Native Americans, is Roseta Santiago (1946-). She came to know about the Pueblo people of New Mexico and, while not a native herself, found out more about the meaning of heritage as she painted their portraits, rituals and crafts.





The single subject for focusing on this blog is Santiago's portraitures. In them, you can see the masterful use of chiaroscuro (dark/light) lighting and the dignity of her subjects.