artists & their work

Finding inspiration: where to start?

A great thing about being in art school is that you’re exposed to so many great artists of the past and present.

From all sides and in all mediums, I’ve been thrown the names of artists by my teachers for future reference or to become potential inspiration for my work. And as a student, I want to learn more about them and their work, but it can be a daunting task to explore all of these artists and feel overwhelming.

I’m in the second year of my BFA and I’m majoring in Sculpture and Installation. I have no idea what kind of media I want my work to be represented. Is it metal or is it plaster? Is it bronze or is it textiles? Do I want objects to speak for my ideas or do I venture into performance art?

In a way, it’s OK that I don’t k now. I’ve just started my major and I’m still figuring stuff out. And I’m certainly not alone in this journey. However, I don’t find a lot of comfort in that.

Right now, I’m taking various classes that are required by my program along with electives in subjects that interest me. I’m taking a course where we look at the study of semiotics, and the study of the body and of the physical space that surrounds us. Another class focuses on 3D technology can help build our sculpture by using technology and non-traditional materials. Another class focuses on theory and practices in contemporary art. My fourth class is probably the most fun in which I’m learning about textiles and its various practices like weaving and basketry.

And I’m really enjoying all of my classes. I like how I’m learning different practices from different artists across the large spectrum of sculpture art. Sculpture isn’t one medium but it’s a whole bunch of mediums. But I have no clue about which artist can inspire me. Up until now, my inspirations have been mainly photographers because I have identified myself as a photographer for many years. Now, I’m an “artist” or “multidisciplinary artist” which sounds vague and can mean many things. Which artist or artists will provide me with some sort of inspiration in my art practice? Where to start?

My solution to this dilemma is explore all of the names of artists my teachers have mentioned, and the ones I have found on my personal explorations. I want to write a post about them and their work, or perhaps one of their works, as a “get to know the artist”. It’s the only way that I can learn my practice, and the only way that my practice can evolve is to study other artists. Instead of getting overwhelmed, I’m going to focus on one artist per week and go from there.

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I’ve already created a list of the artists that come to mind. Fifteen is a good number to start with. Already there’s other names that are coming to mind. I will see what happens after this project hopefully, all good stuff!

Utamaro Kitagawa

Young woman applying make up, woodblock print. c.1795 (Source: wikipaintings.org)

Beauty in Front of Mirror Beauty in Front of Mirror

Another artist of the Japanese ukiyo-e genre whom I considered for my project is Utamaro Kitagawa (1750?-1806).

Utamaro was considered one of the great printmakers of the genre. Like many other printmakers, he experimented in subjects like landscapes to animals to kabuki actors, but it was his focus of women that made him well-known and solidified his reputation.

His representations of beautiful women (bijin-ga) showed his respect and his admiration towards them. His models ranged from the lowest class of prostitutes to high-class courtesans such as geishas. His prints focused on their everyday life, how they prepared themselves before a day’s work to their interactions with their peers. Even though his women were idealized in their features such as elongated torsos, large heads, and slim bodies, he undoubtedly found an interesting subject to concentrate his entire career on.

“Lovers in an upstairs room” from series, “Poem of the Pillow”, woodblock print, 1788 (Source: British Museum)

As with Kuniyoshi and other printmakers, Utamaro’s work also dealt in erotica, or shun-ga. His best known series of shun-ga is “Poem of the Pillow”. The image above is one of my favourites. The picture is very sensual. What is striking is that the woman’s leg is raised, open for the invitation. We don’t see the lovers’ faces, only that they are focused on themselves. It’s a private moment that is loving and tender. The British Museum has a great description of this piece, along with the poem that accompanies it. I would love to own a reproduction of this print one day.

Kuniyoshi

The Strong Woman, Okane, from Omi Province. 1831-32

The Strong Woman, Okane, from Omi Province. 1831-32

High Noon at Kasumigaseki. 1830

High Noon at Kasumigaseki. 1830

Women Walking in the Snow

Women Walking in the Snow

The Night Attack, Act 11, from the series scenes from the drama Chushingura. c.1830

The Night Attack, Act 11, from the series scenes from the drama Chushingura. c.1830

Tamatori-hime at the Dragon Palace. 1853

Tamatori-hime at the Dragon Palace. 1853

Even Though She Looks Old, She is Really Young. 1848

Even Though She Looks Old, She is Really Young. 1848

Fashionable Cat Frolics series, 1847

Fashionable Cat Frolics series , 1847

Reading Week is almost over and I’ve spent the last few days researching for my printmaking project. We have to find a printmaker and do a five minute presentation. This research took me a little longer than I had anticipated only because there were so many great Japanese printmakers that it was hard to pick one. I finally made my choice and it’s Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861), who is considered one of the great printmakers in history, and one of the leaders in the ukiyo-e genre. Ukiyo-e means “pictures of the floating world” which depicted beautiful women, historic tales, warriors, flora and fauna, and erotica.

Kuniyoshi covered a lot of themes in his artwork, ranging from kabuki actors, beautiful women (bijinga) and landscapes, but he was best known for his warrior-themed diptych and triptychs based on Chinese and Japanese folklores and tales.

I liked that he was attracted to various subjects and experimented with his style. You can see this in his landscape print, The Strong Woman, Okane, from Omi Province, which was influenced by Western art styles like chiaroscuro. I like that he took risks and tackled satirical themes and comic portraits of people who’s face make up of body parts. It shows that he had a sense of humour so I appreciate that.