Monday, December 14, 2009

Speaking of Seasons...

I thought I would talk a bit about my choice of imagery for the Book*Art*Object book.

I considered a few different possibilities before deciding on the mix of a jacarandah tree and photos of my mother. For a number of years I've been wanting to get more in touch with the cycle of seasons. Living in a city, I feel the need to make an effort to be more aware of nature and my place within it. I find this awareness can be both soothing and stabilising. Not being able to get out and bushwalk or something similar, I've been drawn to smaller, more urban acts, like planting seasonal flowers and enjoying seasonal produce as ways to mark the changes occurring around us. I'm interested in things that operate in cyclical ways and I also had ideas for artworks exploring the seasons as a metaphor for change for my masters, but ran out of time to explore them. Importantly, I see the seasons as a useful way to think about life and death, and to help with acceptance of this process. It seemed to me that imagery of the passing seasons could be a useful mechanism to explore the ideas inspired by the poem "Learning Absences" (Rosemary Dobson).

It struck me that when it comes to losing someone and we find ourselves needing to learn how to come to terms with their absence, we feel terribly ill-prepared. Yet, the whole of our lives could be seen as preparation in small steps for those far greater absences. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said: "You cannot step twice into the same river" meaning change is constantly occurring, one moment to the next, and change brings loss and absence.

When I think of the seasons, I am often drawn to Spring with it's new growth and beautiful flowers, and yet in Spring, there is absence too, we just don't often take note. There is the absence of the branch, bare of foliage and flowers, seen in its starkness against a winter sky. This is the cyclical nature of the seasons that I chose to work with in this book.

I've been aware of seasonal change as a major theme in Japanese art, which I love. You see it on pottery, but also on screens and scrolls and all sort of artworks. I wanted to check out a little of how these masters worked with the seasons so I did a quick google search and found two terrific online resources. The first is the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Timeline of Art History" I think this is really exciting! You can search by work of art, time period, geographical location or theme. There are also a large number of thematic essays across a range of categories, for example there are 22 essays on Japanese art alone. And you guessed it, one of those essays is Seasonal Imagery in Japanese Art.

I also discovered that a few years ago the Art Gallery of New South Wales had an exhibition entitled Seasons: The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art. They still have a PDF online which was part of their educational kit and it includes an essay and images from the exhibition.

With this reading behind me, I started to think how I would use seasons in my book. The classical symbol for spring in Japan is of course the cherry blossom. I am in love with cherry blossom, both the real thing and any sort of depiction of it. In fact, I happen to know I am getting this book for Christmas, but still, I wasn't sure about just adopting it holus bolus. It doesn't really say anything about me, or my life here in Queensland, Australia. I felt I needed to find a more representative plant, perhaps something Australian. But Australian native flora don't tend to be deciduous, and I wanted to use something that would show change in each season.

Fortunately, nature stepped in and offered up the obvious answer. By this time it was early October and Brisbane was starting to turn mauve, as it does every year at this time. The jacarandah tree, while not native to Australia, has certainly flourished, especially in subtropical Brisbane and Sydney. Like just about everyone who has grown up in Brisbane, I love the jacarandah, and try to make it to New Farm Park or the University of Queensland while they are in full bloom.

In the Met essay, the author notes: "A distinctive Japanese convention is to depict a single environment transitioning from spring to summer to autumn to winter in one painting ... In this way, Japanese painters expressed not only their fondness for this natural cycle but also captured an awareness of the inevitability of change, a fundamental Buddhist concept." ( This was pretty much how I was thinking about my book, although the transition occurs over the course of the whole book, rather than in a single image.

I'm really pleased to have started some work with seasons, and I plan to continue on this theme when this book is done. I'm looking forward to reading more about the way it's been used in Japanese art, and coming up with my own works in response.

I've decided to make this my last post for the year, and to have a few weeks break from blogging to mark the Christmas holidays. I haven't been too well this past month and I really feel the need for a break. When you don't go out to a job, it can be difficult to work out what constitutes a break unless you are actually able to go away. Funnily enough, blogging is one of my few commitments in the outside world, and I can actually manage to make myself stressed and guilty when I don't post regularly!

So I'll finish by thanking everybody who has followed my blog this year. Thanks to the new people who have joined recently, and thanks especially to those "old hands" who've been cyber-friends for a while now. Your interest, friendship and support means the world to me.

I plan to take a break till the schools go back after Australia Day, but to make sure you don't all wander off into the blogosphere and never find your way back, I thought I'd let you know some of the things I'm hoping to do in 2010: crank up the new etching press, experiment with my gocco printer, make a return to ceramics with another porcelain book, all of which I'll be documenting here.

I wish you all a beautiful Christmas, a relaxing break and and an inspired and creative new year. xoxox