Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Kamishibai man

Continuing on the fascinating theme of Japan after my last foray into art at Zurich's Kunsthaus, there is always something interesting on the display table as you walk into the Children's section of Winterthur Library and it recently featured beautifully illustrated pictures from the book Kamishibai Man by Allen Say, as well as the book itself.

The story tells of how the Kamishibai man rode his bicycle into town where he would tell stories to children and sell candy from day to day. But gradually fewer and fewer children came running at the sound of his clappers, instead preferring to stay indoors watching TV. Finally only one boy remains and he has no money for candy. Years later the Kamishibai man pedals into town (which is now a very different and more unfriendlier place) to tell one more story - his own. And when he wakes up from a reverie of memories he looks around to see familiar faces - the children he used to entertain have returned all grown up and more eager than ever to listen to his stories.

Kamisibai was initially poor man's theatre, beginning in the 1930s as part of a long tradition of picture storytelling in Japan. It flourished at a time when the country experienced extreme financial hardship, due to economic depression. Many people went out onto the streets looking for a way to survive and kamishibai offered storytellers a way to make a meagre living. The kamishibai performer sold candy and told stories in serial fashion so the children would turn up each day to hear the next part of the story.

During and after World war II, kamishibai became an ever more integral part of society as a form of entertainment which could be transported into bomb shelters and even devastated neighbourhoods and at this time was treasured as much by adults as by the children.

By the 1950s kamishibai had become so popular that television was initially reffered to as denki (electric) kamishibai but as Japan became increasingly affluent kamishibai became associated with poverty, eventually disappearing completely. The artists who had made their living with kamishibai turned to more lucrative pursuits, notably the creation of manga comic books and later anime, but they never forgot their roots in kamishibai.

However, kamishibai and storytelling is making a comeback so I am hoping to see a kamishibai storyteller on a street corner sometime very soon.

Friday, 27 March 2015

The Swiss art of découpage

On leaving the house of my German teacher on Tuesday my eye caught sight of a frame containing four beautiful creations of découpage.

The minor miracle that is the art of découpage involves meticulously cutting lace like patterns  into black paper with scissors or a scalpel and then laid onto a white background. The design often depicts a Swiss idyll in the tradition of the two great masters Johann-Jakob Hauswirth (1809-1871) and Louis Saugy (1871-1953) who came from the village of Château d-Oex. Hauswith was a poor woodcutter who gave his cuttings to families as thanks for a meal given in exchange for his daily labours. Ignored for more than 40 years after his death, their artistic value was finally recognised during a chance visit to the valley by a museum curator who noticed the creations hung up on the wall of people's houses. 

The village of Château d-Oex is located halfway between Gstaad and Gruyère in the valley of the Pays-d'Enhaut and over the years earned this corner of the Swiss canton of Vaud a global reputation as a center of excellence in découpageHowever, it has now spread to the whole of Switzerland and the Swiss association has more than 500 members.

There is no school in Switzerland teaching the art so it is often practised by self-taught independent artists, most of which will have another source of income. 

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Inspiration Japan at Kunsthaus Zurich

I greatly enjoyed a recent trip to the latest exhibition at Zurich Kunsthaus - 'Inspiration Japan' which runs until 10th May. And indeed it was inspiring, featuring many pieces from the private Japanese art collections of Monet and his fellow painters. I made lots of sketches (a few posted below) which I hope to shape some of my own artwork.

It was amazing to see how the great artists of the 19th century - in particular Monet, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Degas and Bonnard - were inspired by Japanese art. And Picasso - who is featured in an extraordinary culmination of the show with a comical, rather saucy and very explicit series of sketches by the great man - which I imagine are very rarely seen!

The focus of the exhibition examines the early phase of Japanese art's reception in France between 1860 and 1910, spawning the mania which formed the 'Japonisme' (the term of which was coined in 1872) art movement. At this time, Japan was emerging from more than 200 years of complete isolation and the craze in the West for Japanese Art was spurred by a wealth of imports presented at the world's fair exhibitions, in particular Vienna in 1873 and Paris in 1878.

Admission is 22chf or 27chf for admission to the gallery's entire collection.


The publicity artwork featuring Chrysanthemenbeet, Claude Monet, 1897

Sketch from Père Tanguy, Van Gogh, 1887. This very famous painting is the one you arrive at on entering the exhibition room. Père Tanguy ran the art shop in Paris where Van Gogh acquired most of his materials and they became great friends. Père wasn't too bothered about Japonisme himself but the background instead reveals Van Gogh's love of the artwork. Van Gogh's following piece of The Courtesan (1887) shows how he idealised the Japanese culture and way of life - in a letter saying: 'Isn't it almost a new religion that the Japanese teach us, as if they themselves were flowers? ...we wouldn't be able to study Japanese art without becoming happier and more cheerful...in a world of convention.'

My colour sketch of Chrysanthemum, Keisai Eisen, 1830 in pencil crayons. In Japanese culture the Chrysanthemum is a revered flower, symbolising long life and holding the allegorical representation of the imperial family and this was embraced by the Western artists, as in the marketing poster by Monet above. A few steps on from Eisen's Chrysanthemum is a beautifully delicate painting  - Chrysanthemums and Horsefly by Katsushika Hokusai which was a part of Monet's private collection.

Sketch from Sower with Setting Sun, Van Gogh, 1888

Sketch from La Paresse (Laziness) Felix Vallotton, 1896

Sketch from Inside Kameido Tenjin Shrine, Utagawa Hiroshige, 1857

Detail sketch from Mishima Pass in Kai Province, Hokusai, 1830-31 and bottom, detail of one of a series of Comparisons of the flower arrangements of beautiful women, Kitagawa Utamaro, which greatly influenced the domestic bathing works of Degas.

Sketch from The Tokaido, Utagawa Hiroschige, 1858

Detail sketch from 4' high porcelain vase, Fukagawa manufacture, c1878

Beautiful Japanese inspired bouquet at the Kunsthaus reception 

Monday, 16 March 2015

Stone balancing art at Zurichhorn

I enjoyed a beautifully sunny Sunday stroll through Zurichhorn park recently. I love watching life in this gorgeous outdoor Zurich beauty spot, from the chic dog walkers to the incredibly talented buskers (one of my favourites actually plays a piano!) And on this particular visit I also came across some spontaneous art in the way of stone balancing sculptures. I have seen this once before on the coast in Devon in England where I used to live (oh, how I miss the sea) and even got the bug and began partaking myself! These seemingly impossible balancing acts are amazingly accessible to all. There is something wonderfully simple in the art of finding the perfect position for the stone to stand up all by itself. Try it and see!