Thursday, August 13, 2009

Be the river

(The image to the right is just a snippet of the whole piece referred to below. Come to the show at Gallery House anytime from August 24 to September 19 to see the whole thing!)

This last spring was a busy travel season for me. Not only did I visit Italy, but also was part of a delegation of women who were invited to speak at a women's conference at SIAS University in Henan Province, China. It was an incredible journey. Well, there are many things to write about that, but here I want to reflect on how the trip influenced my own art.

Striving toward an Asian aesthetic has probably always been an underlying goal for me as an artist. Indeed, you may have noticed in the box at the header of this blog, I mention "wabi-sabi," a Japanese philosophy about the art of imperfect beauty. The other underlying goal for me is to create works, using photographic arts and Photoshop, that look more illustrative than photographic.

It is no wonder, then, that during my visit to China I took advantage of opportunities to see as much art as possible. In Shanghai, I met an award-winning calligrapher and was introduced to calligraphy as an art form. She took us to M-20, an old factory that had been converted to a maze of art studios and galleries, in which widely-varied contemporary Chinese art was displayed. It was pretty wild. We also visited the Shanghai Museum, which displayed incredibly beautiful paintings and calligraphic scrolls, plus carved jade, centuries of coins and money, and other artistic artifacts. Plus, we also visited a small village supported by the government to preserve the working artists there who still practice what is called Farmer's Art.

I particularly am intrigued with the calligraphy. What I learned from our friend, whose English name is Ginger, is there are many styles of calligraphy, just as there are many styles of writing in our script. For example, there is "rolling calligraphy," much like our cursive handwriting. There is the more formal style, like our "print" and there is also a style that is used for carving into stone. The selection of the style depends on its use, and on the artist's choice for the art she is creating.

One of the pieces I will be hanging soon as a featured artist at a Gallery House (Palo Alto) show uses calligraphy as a central part of the image. Using calligraphy in it allowed me to make a statement about the concept of the piece, but not in such a glaring way as to make it overly obvious--the calligraphy itself is art in a way that English lettering is not (usually).

In this piece, titled "Be The River," I wanted to make the point that everything fades and dies away, so we should be present and live as fully as possible while we can. Sort of a carpe diem message. But, I wanted it to be in my own I found a few lines from a poem I wrote years ago: "Be the river who flings herself over the edge." Fortunately, one of the other members of Gallery House is Midori McCabe, a wonderful painter of abstract art, and who is Japanese. Midori's mother kindly translated my lines in Japanese calligraphy and they scanned and emailed the characters to me.

It was written in pen, so the lines were too thin and broken to import directly into my Photoshop art, so the first thing I had to do was select them and redraw them in Photoshop to fatten and smooth out a little bit. It was an interesting first foray into drawing calligraphy for me, using one of the most modern of technologies to create an ancient art form. Then I imported that layer into my image, and played for several days with alignment, placement, size, color.

I have already printed and framed the piece, ready for the show, and yet even now I can see of other effects I could have used to create this piece. But, that is the way of an artist, always wanting to push further or edit even after a piece is "complete." Next time.

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At 7:35 PM , Anonymous Barry Wright said...

Hi Nancy,

I met you at the Gallery House earlier this month, but failed to show up at the
open house (?) later, sorry about that. I love your blogsite and want to know if
any other events are coming up? Thanks



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