Tag Archives: Japan

Cinat Paints Light — and Dark — to Explore Spirituality

14 Sep
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Close up of one of Cinat’s paintings; image via Eventsy
The members-only networking club Eventsy invited me to attend a special viewing, co-hosted by CATM New York, of Argentine artist Mariano Cinat’s thought-provoking exhibition “New Works” in The Narthex Gallery of Saint Peter’s Church, located at 619 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, on September 12. From dark and haunting to fluid and ethereal, his work elicited a visceral response, an impulse to examine one’s own beliefs and feelings through the cryptic scenes depicted in the paintings.
Average-sized paintings, the canvases ranged from 12” x 9” to 69” x 48”. During the Q&A, Cinat explained that his work was a particular size by request of the Louvre. He said, “I wish they commissioned me, but it was more like a competition.” Untitled, the paintings felt like a cohesive collection covering three intertwining themes: the Classical world in earthy tones; the spiritual realm in light, bright colors; and a mysterious interior of saturated colors.
Displayed in a gallery situated within a Lutheran church, the paintings took on perhaps more spiritual meaning than the artist intended. This religious interpretation of the artwork was helped along by the press release, which stated:
Be not afraid of spiritual idiosyncrasies but rejoice in the continuity of life. Experience the nuance of a master of color and emotion as Cinat refreshes the senses.
Many of the paintings varied from landscape scenes reminiscent of the Biblical-era Middle East, showing walls like one would envision in Jericho and simple homes in which one would imagine people tucked away breaking bread together, to more dream-like settings suggestive of ascension into heaven.
In one painting in particular, hung on a far wall, an image of a cross seemed to shine over a stone wall. And yet, the artist himself seemed put off that his work might be interpreted through a Christian lens. When I told Cinat of the cross I had discovered, he asked which painting I’m speaking of. He informed me he had not painted a crucifix in any of his paintings and sounded incredulous that I had seen such specific religious imagery in work. He told me:
“I’m spiritual but not religious.”
I suppose we all see what we want to see in art, or what we’re predisposed to see. Interpretation is left up to the viewer. Despite his surprise at my reading of his work, Cinat himself prefers not to explain his art to viewers. He said to the crowd of onlookers:
“Each one of us interprets it in other ways.”
Though he did reveal:
“I have a search for spirituality, and light is an element I use. It’s not a real place.”
His painting of figures seemingly ascending into heaven, then, may just as likely have more to do with a state of mind. The spiritual significance therefore changes from the physical presence of heaven and hell of Judeo-Christian to perhaps a transcendence of one’s mind through meditation in an Eastern religion. It could even be a bodily movement from one dimension into the next through portals. Of course, one may also interpret the work through a more metaphorical lens. In that case, a viewer could see it as impetus for change in one’s life, of moving on from the past and entering a future full of potential.
While those paintings seemed more clearly tied to positive spiritual themes, there were a series of paintings that seemed more secular, more human, but perhaps too almost more sinister. Unlike the other paintings, which used the browns and blues readily found in nature, and which depicted outdoor scenes, these paintings ensconced figures dressed in flame-like red and deep violets in rooms pitched in black. As with the other figures, their poses and placement on the canvases suggested an almost hypnotic state. If taken with the others as a reflection on religious matters, one may view them as agenda-oriented leaders of the Church—whether cardinals or kings—because of the way the figures are clothed in rich colors as they move about an interior that though sparsely decorated is vast and foreboding. These paintings hearken back to the works of Renaissance painters such as Raphael.
Taken to a more extreme secular interpretation, these darker paintings bring to mind the psycho-sexual Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Cloaked identities suggest secrecy and positions of power.
But again, this is just what I personally saw in the works. They may actually be situated in much more real and less portentous places. Cinat said he imagines everywhere from Utah to Japan, as he paints in Harlem.
When asked during the Q&A what inspired him, Cinat said it was opera that had inspired his work. “I went to see The Magic Flute,” he said.
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Clip on Xu Beihong Plus Thoughts on Calligraphy, the Beats, and the Abstract Expressionists

19 Feb

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Burnside published my art post “A Time to Plant and a Time to Uproot” today.

It only occurred to me as I was posting this clip how interesting it is that Xu Beihong’s painting is from 1951. Doesn’t the seemingly traditional shuimohua painting seem much older? Xu is actually known for his Western sensibilities and is considered a forerunner in modern Chinese art.

Xu studied calligraphy with his father before attending the famous École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts — you know, that Parisian school where Degas, Matisse, Monet, and Renoir studied at. In 1917, Xu Beihong went to Japan to study art. During World War II, he sold his paintings in exhibitions throughout Asia, giving the proceeds to the Chinese whose lives had been upturned because of the war. As a teacher and artist, Xu’s policies greatly influenced the way both colleges and the government respond to art in Communist China. He died in 1953.

Meanwhile, over in Oregon at Reed College in the early 1950s, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen (who served Stateside during World War II), and Lew Welch–who are associated with the Beat Generation–were studying with calligrapher Lloyd Reynolds. Snyder and Whalen later spent time in Japan, where they studied zen. The US State Department initially denied Snyder a passport, alleging he was a Communist.

Asian influences can also be seen in the art of the time period, most notably the abstract expressionist art of Franz Kline, Adolph Gottlieb, and Theodoros Stamos. Note this opening paragraph from the Guggenheim’s article “Abstract Art, Calligraphy, and Metaphysics“:

Following World War II New York City became the center of the avant-garde art world. Artists were working in new ways, and some were exploring the energy of the gesture with loose brushwork that reflected the impact of the artist’s bold movements. The calligraphic brushstroke was an approach to abstract painting that focused on the spontaneous gesture of the artist’s hand and was informed by the East Asian art of calligraphy and popular writings on Zen and its principles of direct action.

The article goes on to say:

In Chinese and Japanese calligraphy the brush becomes an extension of the writer’s arm, indeed, his or her entire body. The artist’s stroke not only suggests the movement of the body, but also inner qualities. Abstract as it appears, calligraphy also conveys something about the essence of the individual artist. It is therefore not surprising that 20th-century American Abstract Expressionists who sought to convey emotion through paint were drawn to it.

Because so many soldiers were stationed in the East during World War II, both the West and the East were influenced by each other.

What I personally find fascinating with calligraphy is the collision of art and literature, the visual and the literal, words becoming art, and art becoming words.

Greek American Film Directory Louie Psihoyos Saves the Whales

7 Jul

Al Gore & co. made it trendy to go green in the millennium.  Back in the mid- to late-19980s, when I was growing up in a small suburb in northern New Jersey, America’s environmental concern was a little more specific.  We all wanted to Save the Whales.  In 1986 the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling.

For photographer and documentary film director Louie Psihoyos, that dream apparently never went away.  Psihoyos’ Oscar Award-winning film, The Cove, uncovers the all-too-real tragedy of dolphin hunting.  (Oceanic dolphins are part of the suborder Odontoceti, toothed whales.)

The film director more recently discovered that the Santa Monica sushi restaurant The Hump was using the meat of protected sei whales in their dishes.  Whale meat is illegal in the United States and was being imported from Japan, which is still a whaling nation (along with the Scandinavian countries of Norway and Iceland and the aboriginal communities of Alaska, northern Canada, and Siberia).  The meat was linked back to seafood vendor Ginichi Y. Ohira, who pled guilty for knowingly selling the whale meat for unauthorized purposes.  He faces arraignment in September.  As for The Hump, it closed its doors, saying:

The Hump hopes that by closing its doors, it will help bring awareness to the detrimental effect that illegal whaling has on the preservation of our ocean ecosystems and species. Closing the restaurant is a self-imposed punishment on top of the fine that will be meted out by the court. The Owner of The Hump also will be taking additional action to save endangered species.

One such action will be to make a substantial contribution to one or more responsible organizations dedicated to the preservation of whales and other endangered species.

It’s nice to know that photographer/film director Louie Psihoyos hasn’t given up the cause of saving the whales.

Psihoyos was born in Dubuque, Iowa, one of the oldest cities west of the Mississippi River.  (Note to self: today publishing is one of the fastest-growing industries in Dubuque, Iowa.)   He is the son of  a Greek immigrant who fled the communist occupation of the Peloponnesos region of Greece during World War II.

Check back tomorrow to hear the story of a dolphin myth from the Peloponnesus!

Σ’αγαπώ: I love you

14 Feb

As a sea captain, traveling the world, my dad picked up words and phrases in many different languages.  “I love you” seems to have been his phrase of choice.  He can say it in practically every language.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the phrase everyone around the world wanted to learn how to say in different languages was “I love you”?

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My dad spent some time docked in Japan when he was young, and he was always particularly proud of his ability to profess his love in Japanese.

A few years ago, I traveled to Tokyo and visited the adorable cafe in the pictures above.  The decorations were all heart-shaped and even the foam of the latte was spun into a heart.  Yum!

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In Greek, the way you say “I love you” is: Σ’αγαπώ, pronounced s’agapo.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!