Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Finnish school teacher

I've been assembling a web page -- and blog entry -- on Finnish sculpture --
because it turns out --

I like it --

a lot.

But in the meantime, I ran across an octogenarian Finnish grade school teacher,

Raili Mikkonen

who's one of the great living sculptors of Finland (or anywhere)

No -- she wasn't just a fussy school teacher who took up sculpture in her spare time -- she was the student of another great Finnish sculptor, Essi Renvall (1911-1979) a woman whom I'll discuss later.

And you can tell by the above drawing, she went to a serious art school, can't you ?

Or... try this drawing .... a little more expressive ... a little more Finnish.

That's the thing about all this Finnish work -- it feels just a little different from sculpture from the other Baltic countries.

(note: she did a lot of cute stuff -- which doesn't thrill me -- so I'm showing a small part of her oeuvre that might not be considered representative)

As you can see above -- she's not sloppy in designing her surrounding space --
which is what distinguishes *sculpture* from toys and taxidermy.

And she even has a vision for *Woman* -- as well s *Cat*) --
(and how I wish these jpg's were 10X larger !)

These are proud, determined, strong young women
(and I don't even think they know they're naked !)

And one more thing about my favorite school teacher....

These two pieces above were made in the late 1990's--
i.e. the artist was about seventy -- and seemed to be stronger than ever...
as opposed to so many of her countrymen who radically changed style to accommodate the contemporary art world.

Raili seems to have left the art world after she left art school.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Amour II

Yoshiwara Impromptu (1797-98)

One of my projects at the A.I.C. is to photograph all the Utamaro
prints as they go on rotating display in the Buckingham Gallery

Because I'm a hopeless Utamaro fan --
and every print - for me - is like a big slice of chocolate cake
(not the Betty Crocker kind -- but the flourless, intense super-chocolate kind)

The above processional is no exception -
and I'm helpless with the way he drives that design over all seven sheets.

I've seen and enjoyed this piece before --
But what I didn't know -- until I read the label yesterday

is that this represents one of the historically famous processions of Korean ambassadors

except that all the participants are Geisha from the Yoshiwara pleasure district parading in the annual Niwaka Festival.

(isn't that horse a bit outrageous ?)

And these banners, although historically accurate
have characters that read "clear the way"
but are also homophones with
"grottoes damp with passion"

(while Korea was an important supplier to the Yoshiwara district
of what today would be called "Male Enhancement products")

This is, of course, a very different concept of "Amour"
than that presented last week by Maurice Denis.

"old love, new love, everything but true love"

There's just not a whole lot of idealism here --

(and don't those pointy-hatted girls above
remind you of that Angelic Houston movie
about the convention of witches )

Run for your lives, little boys, they'll turn you into mice !

There's something just a little overdone, ridiculous, and maybe a little sad about them

But this piece is so gorgeous !

This is the kind of design that only Lori could put in a photograph

and it's so much more sharply defined than the prints by Denis
-- where the misty romanticism is right on the edge of fading away

Saturday, March 17, 2007


"Amour" 12 Lithographs by Maurice Denis (1892-1899)

Yes, I've discovered YET ANOTHER way to waste time -- setting up a 'Google Alert" for topics of interest -- in this case -- blogs that were discussing the:
"Vollard: Patron of the Avant Garde"
exhibit at the Art Institute.

I mean -- the Art Institute does have 90,000 members -- are any of them blogging about it? (other than myself)

So far - the answer seems to be -- mostly not.

But I did find Cam's Commentary -- which was, actually, more than I was hoping for -- since here was a post that drew attention to one part of the exhibit that I'd ignored -- and on top of that -- devised a poem in its honor ! (that included the titles of all twelve lithographs in the volume -- the sort of game that, accompanied by much drinking, must have consumed many evenings in ancient Kyoto.

Anyway -- after no small efforts-- I've finally assembled the entire album
-all dedicated to his young wife (they married in 1890)


(dreaming about love ? Crowned with the garland of availability?)

Les attitudes sont faciles et chastes

(but what are flowers for ?)

Le bouquet matinal, les larmes

(why is she crying ? -- because she is lonely)

Ce fut un religieux mystère

(because human destiny is sacred)

Le chevalier n’est pas mort à la croisade

(enter the gallant young dude - dismounting at a respectful distance)

Les crépuscules ont une douceur d’ancienne peinture

(and I can smell the thick, sweet perfume)

Elle était plus belle que les rêves

(in the eyes of her lover)

Et c’est la caresse de ses mains

(remembering, now, the first time holding hands in high school)

Nos âmes en des gestes lents

(the courtship begins -- she likes music
-- and he knows how to play it)

Sur le canapé d’argent pâle

(her arms are crossed - her body's on fire
- while her soul is in another world)

La vie devient précieuse, discrète

(a sacred union - with credit to Leonardo )

Mais c’est le coeur qui bat trop vite

(you bet that heart is beating fast
-- in one of the great European erotic designs -
worthy of the love cultures of Persia or northern India)

**** And so ends this 12 print series ****

*** but ***

Here's the obvious sequel

(and how beautiful it is !)

Thankyou, Cam

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Endless Sung Calligraphy: Part Two

I'm still sifting through the National Palace Website -- but was having a hard time finding the end of my original post --

so here's Part Two -- beginning with that most lovable of eccentrics, Lin P'u (967-1028)

(style name Chun Fu, posthumous name Ching-Ho)

He lived in seclusion
admiring plum blossoms and raising cranes
never married, never took official position
and people said that:
"Plum blossoms are his wife, cranes are his children"

Palace Website notes added that:

"This calligraphic style of fine thinness and pure strength reflects his archaic loftiness and indifference to seeking gain or pleasing others.
The content of his poetry was rarefied, reflecting his life of seclusion and casual attitude."

What fanciful nuttiness !

I love this guy --
because , of course, it's nutty
but also much more.

and what about these two ?

He certainly did love cranes, didn't he !

And all of these remind me of those
bizarre symbols screeched upon those
enormous blackboards in classrooms
of higher mathematics.
(and I think that's ALL I remember about that subject)

How's this for a charming progression ?
(reminding me of an instruction book in origami)

..or this, even more wonderful progression
as if all calligraphy could be reduced to four dots.

Su Shih apparently wrote:

"this calligraphy errs in lacking flesh
-- outer form is similar to Liu T'ai,
but the thin brushwork and loose characters are quite different"

But as you can see -- he knew how to make a fat letter if he wanted one -
he just didn't need them that often.

and Huang T'ing Chien wrote:

"particularly marvelous in its pure force"

So... what are these ?
Bird tracks in the snow ?


And now we return, again, to the even more beloved Mi Fu

To quote the above linked essay in Wikipedia
(which, BTW, is better than anything I've read there on any European artist)

"He had sometimes difficulty in admitting the values of others and found more pleasure in making sharp and sarcastic remarks than in expressing his thoughts in a just and balanced way."

Yes !!! Mi Fu -- I love you !

And there's a sensuality about Mi Fu
that's so far removed from the Lin P'u shown above

Mi Fu was a man of the world
the son of an emperor (like Prince Genji)

who could devote himself to a full, active life --

*poetry and painting
*holding positions of authority (but probably not having to work very hard)
*siring a family
*entertaining literary/artsy friends
*collecting great painting

And .. couldn't the above joyful confusion depict a full day well spent ?

This is a man who really knew how to have a good time --

but the main thing that seems to have frustrated him

was not the girl that got away (as tormented poor Genji)

but the painting that got away

And this collection of wonderful characters
comprised a letter detailing his profound
disappointment at not having been able to purchase a painting that he wanted

Again -- according to the Wikipedia essay:

There is even an anecdote according to which Mi Fu, once being out in a boat with his friends, was shown a sample of Wang Hsi-chih’s writing and this made him so excited that he threatened to jump overboard unless the owner made him a present of it, which, apparently, could not be refused.

I get the feeling that he didn't feel all that constrained by tradition.
If something seemed to work -- he tried it.

Man playing bongos ?

Two men playing bongos ?

(my favorite effect is very fat next to very thin)

and some of his characters seem like they should be in a sacred, middle eastern text,
like the Talmud or Koran

A clever wit delivering the punch line ?

I want this one for a flag
(if my boat ever goes in the water again)

The latest in Spring Fashions

for the elegant urbanite

man watching three girls dancing ?

The fat-thin-and enclosed space here
is just way too delicious

A contest of wits
(the fellow on the left seems to be winning
but he can't see the low blow that's about to arrive)

This is the kind of sensuality
that would be so foreign to Lin P'u

.. this is a man who loves to run his hand
over full, smooth bodies

What a party this must have been --

that line of characters down the middle appears to have been an afterthought
(i.e. a group of late arrivals)

.. but how well it fits in between the two sides

Complexity for its own sake

.. that's not a bad thing

Prince Genji dancing...
(with two young girls to accompany him)