After Japan 

I didn’t realise how coming back home from my art residency only a few weeks before Christmas would impact on my work flow. At the time there was a real lag in my energy levels, not surprising given that day to day life and concerns were back in my face again. 

With the new year comes the need to get moving on making new work. I aim to pick up some of those ideas that came, as always, in the final days of my residency. In particular I am working on having a more direct interaction between the photographs I have taken, or have found in old books and my stitching. 

Stitch experiments on old photographs

This process has been assisted by another activity I am currently participating in, the 365 day handstitch challenge (on Facebook and Instagram), where participants undertake to stitch one thread every day of 2017. I’ve chosen to work with fabric and thread that I took to Japan,  but didn’t use. To make sure that my work stays loose I’m working with a favourite technique ‘stitching with my eyes closed‘. As you can see the challenge is having an impact on my other work.

Drawing the exhibition – Venetian Renaissance Paintings 

OK I haven’t tallied up just how many exhibitions I saw in my two months in Tokyo, but it was quite a lot. I did try and sketch, where possible, various bits and pieces of works that caught my attention.  

The first exhibition I saw was of Venetian Renaissance paintings from the Gallerie Dell’Accademia in Venice. If nothing else visiting this exhibition made me realise that there is much to learn from any period, and it can be relevant to a contemporary art practice. I suppose the most important thing is to have an open mind. 

The first thing that struck me was realising just how I often make ‘realism’ the compositional basis of my work. In the early rooms I encountered Bellini’s Virgin and Child (Madonna of the Red Cherubs) a piece of Surrealism if ever there was one! What was this man doing? Chanelling more of the medieval approach to compositio than I anticipated, yet painting with a Renaissance appreciation for portraying realistic people and a depth of field.

Giovanni Bellini, Virgin and Child (Madonna of the Red Cherubs), 1485-90, oil on panel

Want to get more of the story into your picture, but don’t have enough space on the canvas? Easy stick God and the Holy Spirit framed in a window. Well that what Giovanni Savoldo did with his Annunciation. 

Giovanni Savoldo, Annunciation, c. 1538, oil on canvas

Detail of Savoldo’s Annunciation, c.1538. Pencil sketch in the gallery, with watercolour added later.

This approach might seem a bit old-fashioned, then what did I see today, at The National  Portrait  Gallery (Canberra), but William Robinson’s double self portrait, Town and Country, 1990, where he uses the just the same device to portray different aspects of his life.

In contrast to the dramatic gestures of many works, intended to evoke and reflect religious devotion, one of the strongest works I saw was a painting based on the simplest formats. Attributed to  Francesco Bissolo, The Redeemer’s Head, 1500-10, is a symetrical, frontal portrait painted in an very limited palette.

The Redeemer’s Head, 1500-10, attributed to Francesco Bissolo, original tempera on panel. My version pencil with added watercolour.

The highlight of the exhibition was Titian’s Annunciation, from the Church of San Salvador,  1563-65. The large 4 metre plus high oil on canvas was full of interesting details, sure to keep the easily distracted occupied during mass. I sketched two details, firstly the key subject the painting, the angel visiting the Virgin Mary (who has coyly raised her veil to hide herself).

Detail, The Annunciation, 1563-65, Titian, original oil on canvas. My sketch a ‘blind’ drawing in pencil trying to capture the dramatic posture of the angel’s wing.

But I  couldn’t resist the  cherubs skittering around in the upper portion of the painting. 

Detail, The Annunciation, Titian, 1563-65, cherubs. My sketch pencil

Imay have seen just one too many Virgin and Child’s in this exhibition, but I did learn a thing or two.

First week in Tokyo

You may be thinking that Japan is the land of rickshaws and ninjas but that’s only in the tourist areas.


A rickshaw passes as the ninja watches from above. Asakusa is tourist central in Tokyo!

Out here in the suburbs life is quite different.

I am on a two month Asialink artist’s residency in suburban Tokyo. That means I get to make art, whatever art I like, and go to exhibitions, lots of them, in one of the most interesting cities in the world. My partner is also here and we are ready to explore the city!

I’ll just do a little introduction to our part of town. We are in Suginami-ku, a city in it’s own right, which has been swallowed up by greater Tokyo. Suginami-ku is 15 minutes by train from Shibuya, you know the place with the busiest pedestrian crossing in Tokyo, the one that you see in all the movies. 

Out here the pace is slower and there’s not much by way of highrise buildings. At the corner of our street is a small shrine with a number of jizu statues. Jizu is a (Buddhist) being who chose to help people on the earth after attaining enlightenment. He is considered to be the protector of many people including travellers, pregnant mothers and, in particular, very young children who have died prematurely. As one of the most popular Buddhist ‘saints’ statues of him are found all over Japan.

shrineoncornerJizu statues on the corner

Ours is a pretty normal street. Quite narrow by Australian standards with a narrow footpath indicated by the white line painted along the side of the road. ourstreet
The powerpoles are masterpieces of contemporary installation art, draped with wires and additions sprouting from every direction. powerpole

The powerpole outside our window

Our building was in a former life, a sanatarium for tuberculosis patients. It has now been repurposed as an arts residency that houses artists from Japan and around the world in a number of studios. There are another two adjoining buildings in the complex housing two more studios. On the ground floor of this building is another space which currently houses two young Japanese artists. Youkobo

My studio and our living space occupies the entire top floor of this building. There is plenty of light and space in the studio. the living section is more compact, but not bad compared to other places we’ve stayed in Japan.

The biggest difference we are finding here is in the amount of noise and light. Our place back home is on a quiet street so while our the studio looks like it’s on a back street this actually a main route to a nearby station. The traffic is busy! Plus we have a large primary school next door. Yesterday I realised I was hearing the school assembly, which sounded just as long and boring as any I sat through as a schoolkid. The single light pole outside our house has been replaced by 5 or so as this building sits near two intersections and apart from the living space the studio has virtually no window coverings (the glass is frosted). These aren’t complaints rather it just shows what we take for normal until shown otherwise.

Nearby are restaurants, quite a good supa (supermarket) an electronics and a hardware store. There’s even more interesting shops a short bus ride away. It’s quite a dense landscape compared to an Australian suburb, but the locals are friendly!Friendly local