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Shibusa: An Artist's Perspective
Chapter 5: Smashed Pianos and Dysfunctional Brushes
by Pip Dickens
Extract (with kind permission of University of Huddersfield Press)
|Figure 5.5 Dickens, Composition #7, Shibusa series – , 2011, |
oil on canvas, © Pip Dickens
In the Shibusa series of works, references of blurring and shadow evolve from darker realms contained within earlier series of works into ‘lighter’ forms. Blending and gradation of paint create quiet spatial transitions against which entities that traverse across it are thrown dramatically into sharp focus, like particles of dust passing in front of the eye in a half-lit room (see Figure 5.5). The aim is towards the sensorial rather than the drama of my previous works, such as the Film Forensic paintings (see Figure 5.6) and the dark charcoal drawings: Space Race, Elephant Man and the Femme Fatale series. In these earlier works a sense of disaster, danger or extinction pervaded, both through the subject matter and the use of phenomenological entities such as fog, cloud, blurring and evaporation. The inclusion of greys in these new works – the colour of limbo, neither darkness nor light, and so a floating colour – also aligns with some aspects of shibui and, perhaps, ideas about restraint and also reflection. Tanizaki’s memories of childhood are a paradox of light and shadow – a compelling dramatic greyness when reminiscing on how women dressed in those days (1890 Tokyo):
Grey is often perceived as neutral, dead, old and unemotional, yet it is a colour mix that can produce endless tones and hues. It can be warm, cool, hard or soft. Grey acts like a ‘switch’, illuminating the quality of brighter colours placed in its vicinity. It is probably the most useful of all colours, because it is comprised of many. It is a colour of transition – a facilitator.For a woman of the past did indeed exist only from the collar up and the sleeves out; the rest of her remained hidden in darkness… Most of her life was spent in the twilight of a single house, her body shrouded day and night in gloom, her face the only signof her existence. Though the men dressed more colourfully than they do today, the women dressed more sombrely … their clothing was in effect no more than a part of the darkness, the transition between darkness and face … the Tokyo townswoman still lived in a dusky house …when they went out it was often in a gray kimono with a small, modest pattern.
Recent works by British painter Estelle Thompson utilise grey and its relationship with other colours to astonishing effect. The works Thompson exhibited at Purdy Hicks Gallery in October–November 2009 were substantial objects constructed from MDF and paint. The picture plane is divided horizontally and vertically to produce rectangular sections of independent colour fields. Such compositions are not new in abstract painting, but in Thompsons’ paintings the mind of an illusionist is at work. The grey sections have a bright burnished, metallic quality – their surface showing signs of abrasion-like brushed aluminium. The painting Head in Hand (see Figure 5.7) comprises a grey upper panel and a lower panel divided vertically, producing two coloured panels: to the left a magenta, the other a madder red/pink of soft gradation that is at its most intense at the top and bottom – the middle section ‘bleeds’ into the lightest pinks of a young rose. The overall impression is one of quiet activity – the secret life of colours – with each panel creating its own atmosphere through weight, brilliance and saturation. The panels are rigidly demarcated yet actively conversing with one other – quietly ‘on the move’ within their own boundaries. Though the sections of the painting are hard and exacting, their confluence creates exciting contrasts and lyrical exchanges. These qualities exist both when standing in close proximity to the surface of the works and at a distance, yet they are experienced in different ways. The blended ‘pink’ panel appears to articulate, as if it were made of card bending outwards at the centre to catch the light. The upper grey is more akin to architectural, polished aluminium sheets, blended by light and surface- scratched, yet it is curiously lightweight and exudes the shimmer of a summer’s day by the sea. The equatorial line in the centre of the painting, though precisely engineered and exacting, somehow emits a contradictory haziness.
The resultant series of works is a successful paradigm shift between the convention of hard edges in abstract painting and a softness that articulates – the antithesis. The panels appear contained in their own ‘atmospheres’ of colour, calling to mind a natural landscape and the joy of colour expressed – not a traditional solidity of even-handedness and sameness, but the endless tonal and chromatic capabilities of colour. The use of blurring here is less about concealing or restricting vision but rather revealing what colour is.
[End of Extract] This Chapter has in-depth review of Estelle Thompson's paintings, the works of Fuyuko Matsui, the concept of Shibusa/Shibui, Junichiro Tanizaki, the colour grey and shadow and how clock-time changed painters' colour palettes toward the end of the 19th century]
Shibusa - Extracting Beauty
Edited by Monty Adkins and Pip Dickens
Size: 280 x 210mm
Number of images: 97
Images in colour: 89
published by University Huddersfield Press
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