Last weekend I had the pleasure of enjoying invigorating art historical presentations at the annual art symposium organized by the Frick Collection and the Institute of Fine Arts. The Frick is always such a great place to visit, as art and beauty meet here and are amplified manifold in its beautiful surroundings.
PhD candidates representing art historical departments of Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Harvard and other leading universities shared their research findings, which led to intellectually stimulating discussions and sparked my interest in a number of new areas. In particular, I enjoyed the presentation by Mai Yamaguchi, who is researching Chinese and Japanese art at Harvard and proposed that Japanese sumi-e painting evolved from Chinese ink brush painting in the 19th century.
It was interesting to consider the circularity in art, which was observed by Svetlana Alpers in her work on inter-textuality, or in this case inter-visuality, that expanded on Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author. Both Barthes and Alpers proposed that all new developments in art and literature are inspired by other, earlier works, and in that sense present ‘recycled’ ideas and concepts rather than radical innovations.
During Mai’s presentation, I remembered how I was fascinated to experience and explore Japanese ukiyo-e prints during our recent trip to Japan, and looking back, I thought about how they inspired many Impressionists, most notably, Van Gogh, and profoundly influenced their art. Radical cropping, unusual picture planes, multiple point perspective, and status-based scaling of objects that surprised European artists when woodblock prints reached us from Japan in the 19th century shocked and revitalized Western art.
The simplicity and tranquillity of Japanese art have inspired me to start a new project, and I am now learning medieval techniques of applying gold leaf to wood panels, as this material will be at the heart of my new work. It is very exciting to learn to use real gold within the context of painting, and this material makes me feel deeply honored to be following in footsteps of artists like Duccio, Cimabue and Giotto, mixing terrestrial with celestial.
This brings back some wonderful memories from our Southeast Asia trips, where I bought the gold leaf sheets that I will be using for this project at sacred temples in Lao, Cambodia, Burma and Thailand. In these countries, Buddhists purchase gold sheets to apply them to Buddha statues as part of their prayers, devotion and offering.
The opportunities to advance our education and expand our knowledge through travel and events that are available to us today are enriching our lives, and the symposium was another thought-provoking source of inspiration for me. I am also very thankful for the privilege of briefly meeting the Frick’s Senior Curator Ms Susan Grace Galassi at the symposium, who has greatly contributed to the development of the museum and its collections, and as a consequence to the growth of its international reputation.
Once again, my heart is smiling as I am working on my new project that is ‘in statu nascendi’. Thank you all for your ongoing support and encouragement.