Saturday, September 26, 2009

Kudos to Annie Bissett!

This just in...

I am very pleased to announce that a print from Annie Bissett's recent body of work exploring the experience of the American Pilgrims, has been accepted for the 2009 Annual Exhibition at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York. The exhibit was juried by David Kiehl, Curator of Prints at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The exhibition will coincide with the IFPDA Print Fair and New York Fine Art Print Week coming in November. A big congratulations to Annie Bissett!
Here is the third and final portion of my email conversation with Binky Walker, my thoughts in gray, hers in black. The exhibit of her drawings, ukiyo-e: pictures of the floating world continues at Cullom Gallery through October 31st.

The pun is literally your floating ukiyo - clouds - and the pictures (the 'e' in ukiyo-e) you have produced of them. But further, the ideas you have turned around in your mind are much the same as those originally attached to ukiyo: the beauty found in sadness. The coming awareness that we and all things are temporary. You are finding peace with this I think. And certainly you are finding beauty in these ideas and teasing it out for all of us to consider.

Seems you teased out not only the title for this show and its reasons, but something more subtle. That these drawings reflect a contemporary interpretation of ukiyo-e as a re-appropriation of the original intent of ukiyo: to remove the profanity and experience fully the profound beauty and underlying sorrow of our own transience.

The moments (days, months, years) drawing the clouds I rested in a state of intense awareness of that sorrowful beauty. Both the sorrow and the beauty were almost more than I could bear. Simply looking into the sky brings me to tears, knowing what I see will only happen this once in all of eternity. It felt a blessing and responsibility to have been chosen by the clouds to bear witness. This intensity is overwhelming and brings a desire for the profane . . . for "stylish pleasures." To escape what I cannot escape, to disregard that I am bound to the floating world.

The twisting of the ideas of ukiyo that occurred during the Edo period in many ways makes a mockery of its original ideas. By the 18th and 19th centuries it had come to mean a blend of hedonism and laissez-faire. And the contrast between its old & new meanings I think, only heightens the poignancy of the idea in its nascent form; in the heyday of ukiyo-e, the period saw incredible growth of urban centers, industry, politics, and a refinement of decoration and pleasure seeking. In the end these are just gaudy diversions from the true beauty of impermanence.

Your last sentence says it all so beautifully.

Friday, September 18, 2009

More conversation with Binky Walker

Here is the second installment of my conversation with Binky Walker, whose graphite drawings are on view at Cullom Gallery through October 31, 2009 in the exhibit, ukio-e: pictures of the floating world. Her words are darker, mine are lighter. One more installment will follow tomorrow. And a reminder that Binky will be speaking at the gallery tomorrow, Saturday, September 19th, at 3:00 pm. Please join us and bring a friend. Cullom Gallery, 313 Occidental Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104. 206.919.8278. map.

At a certain point in my work I left narrative, emotions, and even representation and became interested in series, meditation, and looking more deeply at what is here. The discipline necessary to accomplish a project like the clouds is in fact a years-long meditation. Working in this way opens my mind to enter other levels of consciousness, other ways of knowing what is here. I like to be here because it is a very peaceful place and also seems a more truthful experience of existence. My hope is that someone looking at the work can enter that same realm from the other side, through the act of surrendering their attention.

My artistic trajectory prompted an exploration into Buddhism and the mystical branches of other religions. The truth explained in these readings often reflects similar observations I make during the course of my drawing meditations. Japanese Buddhism, its focus on enlightenment as coming through nature and the natural world, closely resembles my experiences as an artist. I do not consider myself a religious person, however I am a very spiritual artist. I also read a lot in science, which I find in its deepest sense to be grappling with issues of spirituality.

I had to chuckle at the literal pun that comes to mind when I consider your personal process along side the century's-old turn-of-phrase that came to define much of woodblock print making and the zeitgeist that predominated in the major Japanese cities from the 17th century to the turn of the 20th century, that is ukiyo, or 'the floating world' and ukiyo-e, the popular 'pictures of the floating world' that were born out of (some world say the twisting of) this phrase.

The floating or sorrowful world . . . the singularly human recognition of my own transience here and the fear I feel face-to-face with the prospect of (imminent) death. Death itself having no more permanence than winter summer spring fall, another season of an existence I am forever part of, as I disperse from this bodily form into other forms. Like clouds, I have no discrete moments. To hold this in awareness: being here sublimely beautiful, and supremely cruel. Ukiyo as you explain it encompassing the whole of these seeming contradictions, existence one sorrowful beauty. More sorrowful for being beautiful, more beautiful in the sorrow that the death of each moment brings.

"Ukiyo in early Japanese poetry is the floating, transient, idle world. As originally used in Chinese poetry, the term is resonant with the pessimism and melancholy of Buddhist philosophy." – taken from a text on ukiyo-e.

Only our human minds – not the conscious universe – find the death of the body more real than death of a moment. The discrete divisions of past, present, and future are human constructs upon which to rest a continuously changing present. The definition of time as the ancient Jewish mystics saw it: the measure of difference as perceived from our human eyes. The truth is, we are eternity: perpetual motion of form to form, with no end to a transformation we are forever part of. Seen in this light - the Buddhist light - transience is permanence, optimism in this beautiful sorrow. The clouds taught me this.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

New Ideas at SAAM

This summer, I have been excited to learn a little bit about the formation of the Seattle Asian Art Museum's new, Center for Asian Art and Ideas. Spearheaded by recently-retired director of SAM, Mimi Gates, the CAAI, will offer program-based opportunities for dialogue on a broad range of topics related to Asian art and culture.

To that end, CAAI has announced their first lecture series, "Saturday University: Asia in Focus." Here is the run down. A one-hour Asian exercise class (yoga, tai chi, etc.) at 8:30 am is part of your ticket (but not required), then lectures start at 9:30 until 11 am. Tickets by phone: 206-654-3121 or by email at boxoffice @seattleartmuseum org. Hope to see many of you there!

October 3
India and the World: Ancient to Modern Times
Anand Yang

October 10
Trysts with Destiny: India After Independence
Sunila Kale

October 17
Contemporary Art in India and Its Global Futures
Sonal Khullar

October 24
China in the 21st Century: Everything Changes, Everything Stays the Same
Stevan Harrell

October 31
China and the World
Madeleine Yue Dong

November 7
Why is Calligraphy the Most Respected Art form in China?
Haicheng Wang

November 14
Why Has Japan Only Had One Dynasty?
David Spafford

November 21
The Troubled Spirit of Modern Japan
Kenneth Pyle

December 5
What's Art and What's Not in the History of Japan
Cynthea Bogel

December 12
Roundtable discussion

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

About the process

In lieu of an artist's statement for the exhibit, ukiyo-e: pictures of the floating world, the artist, Binky Walker, and I prepared excerpts from our correspondence leading up to the show. We felt that it might be interesting for those not involved, to have a glimpse into the collaborative process engaged in between gallery and artist: me, toward an understanding of her artistic process; she, toward an awareness of her indirect connection to centuries-old Japanese ideas; and for both of us, through this back and forth, an intriguing acknowledgment of a convergence of ideas, across cultures and centuries. I will post segments of our conversation to this blog over the course of the next week.

Why do I muse on clouds, or attend to what is fleeting?

The impulse of my mind is to grasp onto what I believe will not change, transfixed by what I hope will never leave me. Impermanence is too frightening: I cannot fathom a self this precious and so determinate. Yet in comparison to the billions of light-years that are but a moment in the heavens, my human life is more fleeting than I experience the clouds.

what I believe will not ever change
what I hope will never leave me
interior resonance

determinate - what does this word really mean?

precisely determined or limited or defined;
not continuing to grow indefinitely at the apex;
being final or conclusive

All our human measures are determinate - years into seasons into days into hours into minutes into seconds - subdivided infinitely to make smaller and smaller measures of permanence. Clouds defy language, remain unfixed in their beauty. Despite these increments and measures, clouds cannot be pinned down in time. Perhaps it is a condition of humanness to be shocked by mortality.

Is this your struggle? It seems to me that you have found peace in your exploration, in the real self of the clouds, and your real self.
Are you still struggling?

When I understand muself as part cloud...there is nothing to struggle against -- only peace. But my mind does not rest here. Even with all this evidence, even in peace.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

ukiyo-e: pictures of the floating world

Binky Walker. Triptych no. 3, 2008. Graphite on paper. Each panel: 8 x 8 inches on 15 x 15 inch paper

Cullom Gallery is pleased to present ukiyo-e: pictures of the floating world by artist Binky Walker, a series of 15 graphite drawings in the form of triptychs, each of which chronicles a brief passage in the ephemeral life of a cloud. Walker’s contemplative process and resulting drawings conjure the 16th century Buddhist idea of ukiyo, or floating world: the stark and sorrowful beauty experienced as we become aware of our transience in this temporal, or floating, reality.

Over the course of two years, Walker performed daily meditations through the act of drawing. Contemplating on paper the minute shifts of clouds, she bore witness to the infinite differences that occur within their slightest movement, allowing an instant to suspend itself across the long duration it took to complete each image. These quiet, exquisitely rendered drawings question Western notions of time - our absolute belief in divisions of past, present and future - and beckon viewers to deeply consider their place in the
ukiyo of a perpetually changing present.

By the mid-17th century in Japan, the meaning of ukiyo strayed from its austere Buddhist origins and came to define the decadent urban vitalization of the Edo period, marked by a ubiquitous pursuit of fleeting pleasures such as the kabuki theater, or the company of celebrated courtesans. Ukiyo-e, or pictures of the floating world, became the common name, still in use today, for the popular woodcuts that recorded the myriad amusements of the nouveau riche merchant class.

With this exhibit, Walker offers a contemporary reinterpretation of the centuries-old Japanese tradition of ukiyo-e by re-appropriating the original intent of ukiyo from the trivial. Her reverent treatment of the ephemera of clouds makes palpable the beauty and underlying sorrow of our own transience, summoning the viewer to experience the profound intensity inherent in every moment of this temporary, floating existence.

The exhibit, ukiyo-e: pictures of the floating world is on view September 3rd through October 31, 2009. Cullom Gallery will also host an artist’s talk and discussion with Binky Walker on Saturday, September 19th at 3:00 pm.

Cullom Gallery, located in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood, focuses on the tradition and influence of Japanese woodblock prints and works on paper. The gallery is open Tuesday through Thursday, and Saturday from 10 to 5, and every first Thursday until 8 pm.

Cullom Gallery

313 Occidental Ave S

Seattle, WA 98104


Binky Walker. (detail) Triptych no. 3, 2008. Graphite on paper. 8 x 8 inches on 15 x 15 inch paper