What began as a hurried trudge through yet another reading assignment for last semester’s art history class turned into an enjoyable experience, an essay that embodies several of the ideas that shape my world. It was Junichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows.
I enjoy Tanizaki’s poetic almost rambling style and the rich images he creates with words (perhaps that’s due in part to Seidensticker’s translation.) Many phrases struck me so significantly that I’m compelled to quote them. His ideas of inhabitation, full descriptions of traditional Japanese architecture, music, paper, pottery, and jade, etc. are worth consideration.
Tanizaki describes Japanese aesthetic preferences, the elegance of age, the glow of grime, the beauty of Japanese lacquerware with its “colors built up on countless layers of darkness” and silverware and metal with dark spoke patina, “the tarnish so patiently waited for,” and the traditional Japanese reverence for shadows and compares them to Western preferences such as the desire to drive out as many shadows as possible.
As a painter who has explored light and shadow for some time, I really appreciate Tanizaki’s explorations in shadows and darkness. His description “how the gold leaf of a sliding door or screen will pick up a distant glimmer from the garden, then suddenly send forth an ethereal glow, a faint golden light cast into the enveloping darkness” captures something I strive to show in my painting. His ideas that “we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates” and we “create a kind of beauty in the shadows we have made in out-of-the-way places” give words to the concepts I’ve been working with.
I identify with Tanizaki’s humble, Buddhist sensibility: “we Orientals tend to seek our satisfactions in whatever surroundings we happen to find ourselves, to content ourselves with things as they are; and so darkness causes us no discontent.” I also battle the “evils of excessive illumination” (how fluorescent light alters the beauty of things) and I lament the loss of trees for the sake of building more highways, retail locations etc. “To snatch away from us even the darkness beneath trees that stand deep in the forest is the most heartless of crimes” exemplifies how I feel about the unnecessary removal of so many trees I see around us.
Give it a read and let me know what you think!
At the beginning of the my independent study in painting this semester I was asking myself: What do I want to paint now? What do I want to say? Do I want to paint a variety of subject matter, maybe a landscape and a self portrait, things I don’t typically paint?
While I stressed about subject matter, my wise professor, Roy Nydorf, told me, “Just be painting; all the other questions will take care of themselves.”
I decided I wanted to illuminate little, overlooked objects, vintage toys, random things. I got lost in the details of the things I was painting and the relationships, or possible interactions between the items.
While I enjoyed the details and the suggested narratives, I also enjoyed just what I could do with paint now. I started painting with the idea that it didn’t matter so much what I was painting as how I was painting it.
As I combined various objects and painted them, stories began to form, memories were evoked. I thought about specific memories and how to reproduce them in paint and what viewers might see, what they would identify with, and how my vague suggested memories might ignite the viewer’s personal memories. I explored the relationship between vision and memory and experience and how these things shape how we see the world, the space or discrepancy between what we see and what we remember, and the pictures in our minds versus the outside world’s images and how they can spark our memories.
So, this body of work turned into combinations of vintage toys in secret little environments, sometimes little pockets in nature, evoking nostalgia and wonder. I found that viewers would look, and smile and/or laugh and say things like: “Wow. That’s weird!” and “I had one of those when I was a kid!” and “You and your creepy dolls!”
I wondered about the role of nostalgia in my work.
What is evoked for you?
I love to paint objects. The still life paintings I create for myself include antique and vintage, sometimes kitsch, sometimes creepy, sometimes random, items. These are the things I love to look at, the things I collect and surround myself with. On canvas, I surround them with abstract elements, exploring personal connotations and meanings of the objects and their history.
My love of things, arranging them, lighting them in a way that highlights the intricacies of the item, creating shadows that interest, that could capture some other mystery, makes me also want to capture other peoples’ objects and immortalize them in oil paint. Do you own a cherished heirloom item or items that you’d like to share with other members of your family? All of you can’t have the same clock on your mantel, or your grandmother’s babydoll on your shelf. I could compose these items in a significant and sentimental commissioned work just for you! So someone in your family can own the cherished object and someone else can display the unique painting of it.
This past summer I painted for my step father. I looked around his house and selected items that said “Moe.” A metronome, an hour glass, his grandfather’s pocket watch, his mala beads, I combined these things with a small clay vase of fresh roses in rich red to add the vibrancy of life. And a bug crawls up the front of the table, just for fun. I call this painting Time for Moe.
No intention. Movement. Make a mark. Meditative but spontaneous, energetic, allowing. Step back and look. Feel. Respond. I let go and let things happen and accept and interpret later.
A flame emerges, then a figure behind it. Light requests to be present on the second canvas. The same colors start to appear in both canvases, a tiny echo of one in the other. Lots of layering and light and dark colors create depth and space. Bold brushstrokes and palette knife marks contrast with subtle detailed areas.
And I get lost in the marks I’ve made – masses of of smooth color and the interaction of the colors.
Two paintings. One darker, almost ominous, visceral. One lighter, earthier, greener.
A misappropriated menagerie of items: a puppet, a porcelain doll, a sewing box, a brass bell, an iron parrot – remnants of my childhood where dysfunction is the family heirloom. These objects are combined with abstract elements, integrating still life and abstract expression, recreating childhood scenarios.
I work on both the abstract and the representational alternately in order to help them harmonize, to create a transition between these elements that is both convincing and dysfunctional. I invent still life environments on the canvas, emphasizing light and shadow, with disjointed plains, to foster feelings of dissociation. Abstracted items convey a lack of object constancy. Are these environments real? Are people or objects consistent, trustworthy, reliable? …Questions a small child ponders while learning to navigate in the world and realize their place within it.
These works encourage you to question the validity of your own perceptions, and also to reminisce. Whimsical clowns and a coquettish kewpie doll instill a sense of childish playfulness, asserting that there is still good among the wreckage.
Conjuring the melancholy of past desires, embers long grown cold, abandoned objects ask me to paint them shadowed by the lives of the people who loved and left them. Embodying triumph and tragedy, the objects are all that’s left of those who have gone on. They haunt me, taunt me, remind me of what slipped through my hands by a rope thrown over a metal beam, pulled taut, constricting breath, a magnificent life no more. They are the last vestige of stories lost once voice is stilled. https://guilford.digication.com/kellytaylor/Thesis_Work/published