mark rothko

Shoji Ueda on the Sand Dunes

 

It never crossed my mind that photography could be such a good medium for surrealism, but here’s Shoji Ueda (植田正治).

ueda_shoji-hat

Hat, 1980

At first, I walked pass “My Wife on the Dunes” painted on the exterior wall of a building in low resolution, and thought the human figures were photoshopped onto the landscape. The composition was interesting so I took a picture of the wall. A few days later when I visited the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, there was a series of prints by Shoji Ueda on display, and I realized “oh, that’s what it was”.

That being said, it’s a fair question to ask: If it’s the same image, does it really matter whether the human figures were real or photoshopped? I think it does. When we see an image, the sense of vision elicits emotions and thoughts. But it’s not just the sense of vision, we also take into account the story behind the image. The viewer’s response is different depending on the story, so I’d say the story is part of the artistic expression in this sense.

ueda_shoji-my_wife_on_the_dunes_1950

My Wife on the Dunes, 1950

The sand dunes near his home are his stage to pose family members and friends. For me, the most fascinating aspect of Shoji Ueda’s works is the creative use of space. I can’t put it into words so I’ll quote Mark Rothko from his essay “Space”:

If one understands, or if one has the sensibility to live in, the particular kind of space to which a painting is committed, then he has obtained the most comprehensive statement of the artist’s attitude toward reality. Space, therefore, is the chief plastic manifestation of the artist’s conception of reality.

This explains why different art lovers go to different artists to satisfy themselves. Some prefer Raphael, some castigate them. The same is true of Giotto and Titian and the thousands of other masters who were so plentifully produced in those great times. In the case of none of these masters are the opponents unaware of their great qualities. These castigations are simply the result of differences of spatial faith.

Peace of Mind in Horizontal Lines

Maybe visiting art museums is like some sort of religious devotion. This thought occurred to me yesterday when I was alone in a roomful of Yamazaki Hiroshi (山崎 博) photographs.

Yamazaki Hiroshi

Yamazaki Hiroshi’s “Horizon” series

Yamazaki Hiroshi (1946 – ) specializes in shooting sunlight on the sea. His individual photographs didn’t mean much to me on their own, but looking at hundreds of them together in a row was a different immersive experience. For a moment I forgot about time and forgot about lunch plans with my friend, as if nothing else existed other than the sea and the sun.

I had a strong déjà vu feeling when I stepped into the gallery, and it took me a while to realize that the déjà vu must have come from Mark Rothko.

rothko room in moca

Mark Rothko room in MOCA

Mark Rothko’s paintings are meant to be seen up close, so close that the painting dominates the entire field of vision. When I stand in front of a Rothko painting, a voice inside the painting is calling me, and I have a strong impulse to walk into one of the color blocks. Strangely, it’s always very clear to me which of the two or three color blocks I want to walk into, without any ambiguity.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living between a mundane world and a “spiritual” world, even though I’m agnostic and not religious. Art is one of the keys to the “spiritual” world, and so are music and literature and other things. In that sense, visiting art museum is a way to constantly remind myself of the “spiritual” world, so it’s like going to church.

For this reason, I’m always fascinated by the ideas behind the Rothko Chapel and Tadao Ando’s Church of Light, despite not having been to either place in person. The Rothko chapel in Houston is “the world’s first broadly ecumenical center, a holy place open to all religions and belonging to none”, with fourteen Rothko paintings inside. The Church of Light near Osaka is a Protestant church, but I love it as art.

church of light

Church of Light by Tadao Ando

Last week a professor recommended Rothko’s essay collection “The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art” to me. Maybe I’ll update this post after reading the book.