Conversation with Ruskin
Blue Gallery, Brantwood, Coniston
→ 8th August ~ 17rd November 2019
The Ruskin, Lancaster University, Lancaster
→ 23rd January ~ 28th February 2020
2019 is the 200th anniversary of John Ruskin’s birth. An art critic, artist, writer, educator, social thinker and philanthropist, he was one of the most influential voices in Victorian England and beyond. As a Japanese artist based in the Lake District, where Ruskin chose to live for 28 years prior to his death, I have been intrigued by his legacy in art and sustainability, which provided an ideological foundation for the Pre-Raphaelites, the Arts and Crafts movement and the National Trust. Ruskin was also the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Oxford, where he established the Ruskin School of Art.
For this project, I aimed at delving into the spirituality of John Ruskin. His message about the importance of art, nature and human spirituality resounds ever louder in our advanced technological society. I believe that it is appropriate to reexamine these aspects considering the fact that we live in an age of Artificial Intelligence (AI), where the human mind/ soul/ spirit is in danger of being interpreted as merely chemical and electronic processes based on materialism. We, humans, are certain to face a grave crisis of identity as we ask, “What does it mean to be human?” in the era of advanced AI.
Bearing the above in mind, I produced a portrait of John Ruskin as a prime work in the exhibition. I portrayed the Victorian thinker in a horizontal double-vision image, comprising two identical portraits overlapping each other. By carefully determining the distance between two images, I attempted to promote a visual illusion so that the portrait can be seen as a single image in another dimension, emerging from the surface of the support. It is a paradoxical approach, achieved by stimulating a visual illusion. However, it is designed to amplify the mystery of human existence by raising questions about the distance between the visible and invisible, physical and spiritual; the abstract concepts that only belong to humanity. In this way, I attempted to create a platform of conversation regarding whether our mind, soul and spirit exist, or they are nothing but multi-complex electric and chemical processes in our brain. It may also reflect Ruskin’s spiritual conflict with regard to his own faith. I planned to depict him as a foreseer (in a way, like one of the ancient prophets), and as the spiritual guardian of Lakeland and beyond in a period of ecological and existential crisis. Hence the title, "Conversation with Ruskin (Ecce Homo)".
Alongside this portrait, I produced a series of works on the theme of nature, which John Ruskin stressed to learn from for the art practice. When I looked into Ruskin’s original drawings for my research at The Ruskin (Lancaster University), I found myself extremely interested in his penetrating gaze on objects, scenes, and his natural surroundings. It was a profound experience of discovery that his drawings are not only the evidence of his excellent draughtsmanship as an artist but also the glimpse of the broad scope of his academic studies. I was fascinated by Ruskin’s drawing focusing on objects which reminds me of the resemblance in style to the Japanese traditional painting. Moreover, his way of seeing manifested by his drawing seems uniquely similar to the Japanese traditional art on the theme of nature, by revealing the holistic ideology through depicting things as minimally as possible. Bearing this in mind, I produced a series of works focusing on observation on nature, each portraying the essence of what I have personally experienced in the Lake District, looking into the history and life of this unique landscape. They are not a mere collection of nature-themed works but I attempted to assemble a semiotic series of natural subjects focusing on Ruskin's love for nature and his passion for conservation in sensing the passage of time up to now towards the future. After all, it is no other than humans who embrace and treasure all living things, at the same time destroy them by their own hands. This overwhelming contradiction corresponds to Ruskin's state of mind in agony when he resisted the torrent of the first industrial revolution. Now we are facing the fourth industrial revolution.
This project, apart from drawing, was completed in my unique brush hatching method using Japanese sumi ink and acrylic, which I created and have developed over the past 10+ years. It is inspired by the concept of designo, which was established in the Florentine School during the Renaissance, combined with neurological studies, which reveal that the human visual brain perceives objects predominantly by oriented lines. I completed a series of paintings with the gold background using acrylic gold paint inspired by the Japanese traditional painting style, such as Fusuma-e (sliding door painting) and Byōbu-e (folding-screen painting) for enhancing the idea written above. In this way, I attempted to embody the quest for the spirit and legacy of John Ruskin.
This is the final report of my ACE supported art project Conversation with Ruskin. Please click the image for further details.