When West Meets East & Falls in Love: "Looking East" Exhibit {Monet, Van Gogh & Japan}

The sunrise this morning took my breath away.  (I mean I actually forgot to breathe...) I chose not to photograph it because my iPhone camera couldn't possibly do a vast expanse of color wash in the sky any sort of appropriate justice!

Anyways, back on topic: my solo field trip. Sunday was the last day of "Looking East" at the Asian Art Museum about how Japanese art influenced western artists like Monet, Van Gogh, and others. It was also the week of SuperBowl City so SF was extra busy. I went to work extra early to get off in time to make it before the 5pm closing time at the museum. I really wish museums had hours outside of 10am-5pm so they would be more accessible to working people. To be fair, some are adding an evening event day including the Asian art museum (but only during warmer seasons?)

Clearly thrilled about starting the exhibit and my audio guide... I didn't notice that "Asian" lanyard until I saw the photo later— maybe not the best choice for a lanyard label. I assume they were thinking "deYoung" or another one-word museum name, but in this case "AAM" or "Asian Art Museum" probably would have been better. 

Since Japan had an isolation policy for 200 years, when it was opened to the West in mid-1850s, there was a huge influx of Japanese art and craft in the West. In many ways the goods were used out of context, like a formal kimono becoming a sexy lounging gown with a plunging neckline. 
This topic —the love of Japanese things in the 19th century—is well-studied and is called Japonisme. Since the east to west study is so common, for my Japanese Saint painting series, I took the opposite approach and used western art compositions for my Japanese ink paintings. Perhaps I keep coming back to this topic in some way or another because I relate with it. For grad school, I studied the Japan-Europe interaction (mostly focusing on Catholicism) before the seclusion, about 3 centuries earlier. I'm somewhat caught in between, tied to both but can't clearly define which culture influenced what part of me.
And now I'm a translator/Japanese copywriter working on making an American brand successful in Japan.

The exhibit was interesting, pointing out how Japanese art compositions at the time were very different than western paintings. Van Gogh painted the most directly from the woodblock prints, replicating them with oil paints and his unique Van Gogh hand. Other artists like Monet were less direct, like Monet's Japanese garden with the bridge or his haystack series looking like prints of Japanese rest stops (top right two drawings below)

Quick sketches while looking around

Quick sketches while looking around

I wish I had more than 1 hour but I'm really glad I got that one hour! It's inspiring and refreshing to see different perspectives through artists and history. It never gets old.

Happy Friday! 

8/50 : Art, vocation, and a terrible painting

First, a brief update since I've been MIA for a month:

  • graduated with a Master's in Art History (Japanese Art History emphasis)
  • travelled to Thailand and Cambodia

Now I'm applying to jobs related to Japanese, writing, history, cultural exchange, and art... decisive as usual.

The point of writing about my painting is for exposure- to fight perfectionism. Sometimes, oftentimes, my paintings suck. After writing my thesis for grad school, I see how painting and writing are the same. As author E.B. White says, "A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper." So forget the migraine, the not-helpful single AC unit two rooms away (how dare I complain about having more than 1 room??), and anxiety about an interview on Friday. I'm not a creative genius. No one is, we have to work at it.  It feels like I've never held a brush or used this ink before but it'll get better. My hands will remember how to control the brush and ink.

Working with your hands, or working in general, must be  done with diligence and excellence: Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Col 3:23). In Art and the Bible, Francis Schaeffer expands on this and also writes on how to think about contemporary art:

“What is the place of art in the Christian life? Is art- especially the fine arts- simply a way to bring worldliness in through the back door? What about sculpture or drama, music or painting? Do these have any place in the Christian life? Shouldn't a Christian focus his gaze steadily on "religious things" alone and forget about art and culture? As evangelical Christians, we have tended to relegate art to the very fringe of life. The rest of human life we feel is more important. Despite our constant talk about the lordship of Christ, we have narrowed its scope to a very small area of reality. We have misunderstood the concept of the lordship of Christ over the whole man and the whole of the universe and have not taken to us the riches that the Bible gives us for ourselves, for our lives, and for our culture. The lordship of Christ over the whole of life means that there are no platonic areas in Christianity, no dichotomy or hierarchy between the body and the soul. God made the body as well as the soul, and redemption is for the whole man.”

While I say I no longer believe in the myth of the spontaneous creative genius, my actions suggest otherwise. So it was time to begin painting #2 of my series of 10 Nagasaki paintings. Since it has been over a month since painting and I'm down to my last precious piece of Arches watercolor paper, a practice sketch was necessary. When I practice freehand sketches, I always work from the top left to bottom right. Maybe it's because I'm a lefty. One look at the left and right side of this painting make it very clear what difference a few practice strokes can make:

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Started at the top left with this sloppy cross:

Ended on the right, much different than the starting point:

Moral of the story: KEEP PAINTING.

The drafting table is now raised as a standing table (maybe hard to tell since my height doesn't change significantly from sitting to standing) which makes it much easier to paint!

1/50 : Paint and blog it, 50 times in 2015

Time for New Year's Resolutions 2015! [According to every personality test I'm an "Achiever" to put it lightly so I just can't help it.] First looking back, here are my 2014 resolutions written in pen in a notebook I started a year ago:

{BOLD: Resolution 2014 ------> Italic : Result 2014}

  1. Read the Japanese Bible through -----> [only 1500 more pages to go]
  2. Lift weights regularly----->[Yes]
  3. Paint -----> [Twice, maybe]
  4. Disciple/mentor relationship -----> [Yes]
  5. Become a yogi -----> [Yes... but now recovering with a sore neck from falling directly on my head a few weeks ago]
  6. Teach Page words in Japanese -----> [Somewhat]

Maybe the resolutions were too broad. Resolutions 2015 are for the most part related to last year. (Aside from my core identity and spiritual life) I've pinpointed things I love and am finally not embarrassed to admit them. I'll write more about how I see God's character through them in a later post.

  • Painting
  • Good food (all things related: to cook, experiment, & eat; cookbooks, menus, demos)
  • Learning history (currently, specifically comparative studies between Buddhist and Catholic practice & Japanese Christian history)

There are other regular activities that I don't necessarily love, like exercise. I've wanted to be athletic but I would rather roll around and stretch until I can fold into a pretzel...for what purpose? I have no idea. I work out because I want to use what I'm given (health) to take care of my family as long as I am able. As much as I wish I loved exercise, I don't. But it's just like hundreds of other things that are necessary regardless of if they are fun or not.

Finally getting to the point...almost. I'll finish grad school in May, so the "what next" question comes up often. Answer, as photographed below:

  • Short version-Paint and teach.
  • Long version- Continue large scale ink painting series of Japanese Christian history, using and "translating" Western art compositions of parallel historical events. For teaching, if there are positions available, then teach Asian art history at local community colleges.
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Resolutions 2015:

  1. 50 paint-blog entries: practicing ink line work and "translating" Western art into Japanese style
  2. Use Japanese daily at home
  3. Memorize portions of Ephesians 3 and Colossians 3
  4. Submit proposals for conferences and publications
  5. Finish reading Japanese Old Testament
  6. Continue yoga working toward a press-up handstand

There it is. After the long-winded explanation, this travel blog is reborn now as my 50 paint-blog entry resolution for 2015. Here is 1/50. I'm painting a photo I took in Sintra, Portugal this summer at Quinta de Regaleira. I'm still in love with old walls. (See http://emakubo.com/2011/02/13/more-from-italy/ and http://emakubo.com/2010/04/05/paintings-from-cortona/ )

I don't know why I chose to work on such a giant painting to "get back into it." Perhaps my "Achiever" personality?

Here's the painting in progress and a detail shot. Another aspect of this 50 blog post is to stop being a proud perfectionist by show imperfect things. I'm sure there will be "off" days for drawing but with this concrete goal I have to show it anyways!

...plus some photos of my most recent organized chaos of art supplies and research materials. Apologies for the darkness. I'm looking for how to light up the studio space more. Also I only had my 35mm lens around so please excuse the weird angles and cropping :)

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 Coming next: Process/result of building a stretcher frame with my dad's help for a large oil painting I painted in Italy. We have a building date on Thursday. The neglected painting has been rolled up for 4.5 years!