The Legion of Honor: “Japanesque”—So Picturesque!

Before Xmas my husband and I saw an unbelievable art exhibit, “Japanesque”,  at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco (see flyer below).  It is such a beautifully organized exhibit of Japanese ukiyoe woodblock prints, from the Legion’s own Achenbach collection. I hadn’t seen such an exquisite collection in one place since a similarly conceived show at the Marmottan  Monet’s Academie des Beaux Arts (www.marmottan.com)  in Paris about four years ago (Les Estampes Japonaises De Claude Monet,  February 2007). The organizing and conceptual strength of the exhibit–“Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism”—is the wide range of 18th and 19th century ukiyoe prints, which influenced European Impressionist artists so much that a tiny duplicate of either the original woodblock print or the Impressionist painting or print is juxtaposed next to each item in the show.  Perhaps the closest facsimile, almost a duplicate of the original Hiroshige (1792-1858)  plum blossom print, is the one by Vincent van Gogh in 1887.  The composition is almost identical to Hiroshige’s print, with Van Gogh  striving to duplicate even the Japanese kanji writing along the sides of his painting. One of my favorite sections of the exhibit, however, is the lesser-known “shunga” style of ukiyoe woodblock prints.  They are “spring paintings”, an oblique allusion to the erotic subject matter of these secretive, but highly prized, depictions of sexual scenes from the courtesan quarters of Tokyo and Kyoto.  My absolute favorite is the famous 1814 woodblock print, “Tako to Ama”,  by Hokusai (see below).  The detail of the original is fascinating and, unbeknownst to many, was featured in episode 3 of the first season of “Mad Men”, the popular TV series of 1950’s Madison Avenue advertising executives and their scintillating private lives.  In one episode—if you blinked, you missed it—was the ukiyoe woodblock print “Tako to Ama” on the back wall of Bert Cooper’s office, the CEO who loves Japanese culture and art.  I thought: “OMG, who would notice the shunga on the wall?!”  Well, guess what?   There is a cult following of shunga, as validated by a recent article, in ArtInfo’s online journal featuring the Hokusai iconic woodblock print. and a specific website dedicated to the art in the Mad Men series  http://artofmadmen.wordpress.com/. So, for a real treat for connoisseurs of Japanese woodblock art, rush to see this tantalizing exhibit of sublime art, including a video tutorial of how woodblock prints are made.  The exhibit closes on January 9, 2011.

Carmel Rancho Art and Framing Center—Frame Your Memories!

Gift giving is an art form, as we all know!   And so is framing, which may not be so obvious.  But have you ever looked at a framed piece and said that the frame was spectacular…or totally wrong…or even made the art or photo look a little sad or tired?

If you have a favorite original artwork, photo, scrap of fabric from a vacation or special event, children’s achievement award or badge, or a photo you want to preserve and exhibit in your home or give to a friend, the Carmel Rancho Art and Framing Center is much more than your standard framing shop.  The owner, Gayle Saia, has an expert eye not only for selecting the frame but also offers professional advice on what type of framing process will complete the work itself.  This is custom framing at its best! From my own experience working with Gayle, she has guided me to the type of framing—a shadow box, traditional matting or double matted, or floated with or without a mat.  The color of the mat alone can be a major decision and truly can set off the work in a masterful way.  One of my prints,  “Tibetan Ferns”  (see photo), has an orange ink that is not iridescent in the print but the choice of a burnished gold frame not only makes the print glow but symbolizes the gold of Tibetan monks’ robes.  In addition, the selection of a shadow box allows the Tibetan prayer flag fragment to hang loosely, suggesting an ethereal quality to the artwork itself.  This required combing each thread of the prayer flag to lie straight and hang properly.

Gayle’s aesthetic sense is brilliant.  With the visual perspective of an artist, she contributes to the artwork itself with her skills in design as well as in framing and art presentation.  Every frame is done in-house with meticulous attention to detail.  If you don’t have your own work to frame, there’s a wonderful range of reasonably priced original art from Monterey Peninsula College printmakers on display. Stop by and look at the Carmel Rancho Art and Framing Center in the Carmel Rancho Shopping Center (across from Brinton’s) or call ahead (831-626-4013) for directions.

They are located at: 26540Carmel Rancho Blvd. Suite B        Carmel, CA 93923

“127 Hours”: The Instinct to Survive and the Will to Live

My husband and I just saw the movie that brings to the screen the harrowing tale of 23 year old mountain climber Aron Ralston, who literally cuts himself loose from a boulder in a slot canyon in Blue John, a remote area of the Moab desert in Utah, the state with the most slot canyons in the world. (A slot canyon is a narrow and extremely steep canyon, formed by rushing water carving through rock.) To stay alive, Ralston resorts to his keenest survival instincts honed from rescue training in outdoor’s extreme conditions.

Based on Ralston’s autobiography, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, “127 Hours” was written and directed by Danny Boyle, whose tour-de-force last year, “Slum Dog Millionaire”, won Best Movie of 2010. Again, Boyle has hit this one out of the ballpark. You might wonder how a film about one character (Aron Ralston) trapped in a treacherous slot canyon can hold the viewer’s interest for the five days Aron endures the imminent death he is almost certainly facing. But this movie in no way bogs down for a second. With astonishing photography that splits the screen into a triptych of extraordinary canyon scenery as well as close-up facial expressions, Boyle’s decision to film crucial points of the story in split-screen, enhances the tension in Aron’s situation.  The cinematography is brilliant, superbly effective, a masterpiece like no other movie I have seen to date.  The masterful rendering of scene is painterly and stunning.

The story is necessarily about how time is passing very slowly on the one hand, as Aron is determined not to die, with the realization that after five days, his almost incredulous will to live will triumph.  The passage of time is both painfully slow and inexorably rapid, like the sand in an hourglass, depending upon whose time is up.

About 80 percent of the film is of Aron trapped in a slot canyon so narrow that he has to concoct a sling in order to sleep in a vertical position. This challenges the cinematographer to do the best with a very limited set design, but it’s nonetheless riveting.  Camera angles are ingenious.  One example, to film Aron drinking his last drop of water, the camera zooms in on the bottom of his thermos to shoot his dehydrated mouth.  To do that, the scene requires that the bottom of the thermos is cut out so that filming can bring the viewer into Aron’s face.

By now anyone who follows movie reviews knows what is going to happen, before stepping into the  theater.  Let’s just say that this movie is not for the faint-hearted. Yet, that “arm” scene is still unbelievably intense. I am known to be squeamish and was very happy that I did not have a full stomach. The music pulsates to the beat of the “arm”. James Franco, the actor who plays Aron Ralston, has to hold the viewer’s attention by sheer force of his thespian skill, just as Aron had to survive by the sheer force of his will to live. Ralston’s survivor instincts and almost animal determination to live in the face of death are extraordinary, like that of a trapped animal.

But this film is more than a build-up of pressure and suspense, which do indeed drive the film. Through both the director and actor’s restraint, the film is about the arrogance of a young mountain climber who has not been a sensitive human being to others in his life. Canyoneering, a sport in which rock-climbing skills, ropes and gear are used to slide into narrow slot canyons, epitomizes Aron’s overconfidence and sense of immortality.  Now, he’s isolated and considers how this entrapment may be retribution for a selfish and unreflective life. James Franco, in an almost impeccable performance, elicits sympathy from the audience and also relief that he has not only survived but has triumphed from his ordeal.