“Japonisme” (Americanized to “Japanism”), just in case you don’t know, is an art movement that took hold in the late ninteenth century. As the name implies, it is the incorporation or emulation of Japanese styles and subjects into Western art. While some pieces deal with Japanese subjects (kimonos and gardens and the like), most simply use the traditional Japanese composition method of being minimally ornate and creating spacial tension through the use of a lot of implied line and implied form. (As text-booky as that description is, it’s about the most “human” description that I could come up with.) One of my favorite examples is “Arrangement In Black And Gray”, by American expatriate James Whistler. Yes, that’s the painting’s true title, and, yes, that’s the artist’s mother pictured.
Just look at how very deliberately the sparse piece is arranged. Cover any one shape in the composition and the whole piece loses its delicate balance.
But enough with that. This is one of the few that I sketched-out in its entirety before starting to paint. Now, I ran this by a friend whos wife is from Japan, just to make sure that it could not be mispercieved as being not “politically correct”. It seems that she got a giggle from me even thinking that way! So this is my new twist on the movement.
Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, is blocky yet swoopy, especially at its southern end where it meets the island of Honshu, but seems awkwardly unbalanced by itself. By multiplying it by seven , or by shichi in Japanese, the shape became vibrant and almost pulsating, and by filling the spaces between the seven with (almost) contour lines, a nearly electric, “too-much-vibration” effect was achieved. (Please note that the only element of “pure Japonisme” in the finished painting is the delicate unfinished contour fragment furthest from Hakkaido’s western shore.)
The ring of dancing Hokkaidos needed to be calmed and countered, in both form and color. I decided on a central red circle with rays, hinting at the old flag of Imperial Japan, an intentional spoof. In keeping with the rest of the composition, the “flag” was made to have seven rays in stead of eight, and were painted a silver-gray color, though the “rising son” itself remains red.
But, alas, ’twas without a title? I previewed it to a select few and asked for suggestions. The strongest contender was “Camillia”, and with a little bit of padding, so it is:
“HOKKAIDO CAMILIA x SHICHI”