Riffing off of yesterday’s post about fluidity. Again an image by Shinichi Maruyama, now compared with one by a 19th century Japanese artist, the master Utagawa Kuniyoshi.
Maruyama says that images such as this were traditionally made in Japan using animal glue, gold leaf and natural pigments. In this series he uses “all organically photographed ‘real’ pictures that have been recomposited together to produce the desired result.” He sees this series as an homage to ancient Japanese sensibilities.
Now look at how wonderfully he handles the spume, the water’s froth. Then see how Kuniyoshi has rendered the same thing.
from Shinichi Maruyama’s Nihonga series (copyright the artist)
Keyamura Rokusuke under the Hikosan Gongen waterfall
What I want to point out here is Kuniyoshi’s less realistic treatment of the foam. In this blog I’ll use the term designwork when I want to refer to the misty boundary where naturalistic forms begin to stylize. I don’t mean abstraction. Maruyama’s work is an abstraction of sorts, not a photograph, not a studious landscape painting. But with designwork I mean for example where Kuniyoshi creates motifs of foaminess and then rings the changes on them, varying but repeating them around the figure. Those wild white spitting shapes are designwork.
Something wild, chaotic, natural is visually tamed. Rules are imposed but not the rules of nature — you toss water up, gravity pulls it down. These are aesthetic rules, rules that simplify and order. Ideas of geometry get stronger — box, triangle, circle. Individual nuance softens as regularity emerges. It’s not just abstraction, it’s design.
With a snip from Kuniyoshi’s foam we can follow the idea of designwork far enough to arrive in the world of pattern. In me, pattern is the antithesis of pulsing life and motion. Pattern traps motion, requires it to repeat. And repeat.
Doomed to reiterate and not stray away from the same again, again.
Here’s different example. Start with a no-kidding realistic painter like the great Louis Agassiz Fuertes. His study of a kingfisher seeks to record its truth. Below this we see a lively kingfisher made by Thomas Poulsom.* His medium is Legos, which pretty much guarantees the form is simplified and that elements are repeated.
Visual rhythm is in us as indelibly as the musical kind.
Louis Agassiz Fuertes’ Belted Kingfisher via Wikimedia Commons.
from Shinichi Maruyama’s Kusho series (copyright the artist)
Fluidity. Flow, gush, meander, mingle. There’s something about freedom in a lazy curve. Water – like air, earth, fire – is an element recognized by the ancients. Yet orange juice and motor oil are also fluids. Different viscosities, different flows. You slosh either around in a bowl and watch it move in signature fashion. Fluidity is interesting on its own.
Above is an image by Shinichi Maruyama. A friend sent me this artist’s website in response to my post on Ruslan Khasanov (May 17) and I was rapt moving through his work. I urge you to visit his site and watch Water Sculpture Movie. The gesture as he sculpts the water, the way the camera holds the moving water in jellied time. Look at the stills on his site as well — my shrunken jpegs here don’t do justice to the beauty in his work.
from Shinichi Maruyama’s Water Sculpture series (copyright the artist)
I don’t know why I have such connection with the notion of fluidity. Maybe because I grew up within sight of the sea. Until today I’ve thought the connection was with motion. Period.
But it’s organic motion I love. The fluctuations in how a certain amount of water flew through a certain roomful of air. Science could no doubt plot just how those air currents were purling, whorling: the door opening into the room, a body approaches the table, loads hands with water, flings. The follow-through of his hands is a dancer’s.
Science can enumerate conditions, connections, particularities. I love it for this reason. But science can’t have the emotion of beauty. For this reason I love art.
Heinz Maier also photographs fluids with stunning results. Compare this one with Maruyama’s at the top. High speed cameras, similar fluids, both O shapes, unalike. One’s about energy that comes from the shoulder and back, the other’s about a delicacy that it takes a macro lens to see and that a pinprick could kill.
Bubble in the Hat by Heinz Maier (copyright the artist)
And how different the fluid motion here.
The New Way by Heinz Maier (copyright the artist)
In these images we actually see the language of fluidity. Drip, splash, spurt, slosh, all verbs. The actions of an inanimate substance of a certain character. Organic, not pre-programmed. Intentionally reactive with the circumstances of time and place. Where I grew up there were oil derricks seesawing updown updown, squeak and groan. Not what I love in motion. A woodpecker’s rat-a-tat-tat includes the suchness of the tree, the sun’s heat, and how long it’s been since he last ate.
Lastly, how artists work. I love that brash and brazen motion can conjure beauty the same as a lab set up to study a tiny scale of things. Beauty is all around us, both artists have found a remarkable way to see it. That finding is the artistry.
In this launch of the Green as Sky blog I welcome you to all I find fascinating — and hope that you’ll find delight here too. I’m a seasoned artist, a geek, a lover of small evocative facts, the way animals move and how artists make what wasn’t there before.
This splendid d makes a great starting point for the blog. It’s by Ruslan Khasanov, a Russian artist whose creative process should make you grin. Particularly if you’re an artist.
He was painting letter forms, ink on wet paper, trying for a melting-away look. When he went to clean off his brush he painted an idle d in the sink and there it was: the beauty of a liquifying form. He was savvy enough to grab his camera and a surprising alphabet was born. We start with Khasanov’s d because I want this blog to celebrate the human impulse to create.
Think of it: you’re at the sink to wash a brush. And you make a playful gesture. Which is rooted in your curiosity about letters, wetness, ink. This is a perfect artistic moment — the hand tries something it wasn’t there to try. This is the creative spirit.
And Khasanov’s d gives us another equally important lesson in creativity. He knew what he saw when he saw it. He didn’t just see ink dispersing, he discovered beauty and value in it.
Lesson number three is that he was moved to act. Art in the brain (Aha, then nothing) isn’t art. You have to capture it. He might have reached for paper, tried to blot or make a print. Khasanov grabbed his camera. What you see above is an animated GIF, a compilation of numerous rapid camera shots. It’s a brilliant answer to, How do I capture my insight and make it art? Still photography and digital knowhow. We see how a real artist can make them potent — far more wild and affecting than straight video.
I keep trying to imagine how he drew letters with one hand and triggered bursts of unwobbly photos with the other. But of course he improvised. A practicing artist already has tools and knows how to get results with them. This isn’t part of the impulse to create — its a fruit. The confidence you earn, your bag of tricks, the means to act.
Ruslan Khasanov’s ephemeral letters are superb. Beautifully crafted, gorgeous and satisfying to watch as they lazily cycle. Typography is in something of a Renaissance as digital screens expand the possibilities. What once was a floridly embellished initial capital can now dance — or disappear.
I also love this d because it’s cryptic. It starts in your verbal brain: d. It transmutes into wordless shapes and flows away. Your nonverbal brain also gets to participate and be fed. I trust cryptic. Isn’t that what illuminated letters are about?