Conversation with Ruskin

A Celebration for the Bicentenary of John Ruskin's Birth 

2019 is the 200th anniversary of John Ruskin’s birth. An artist, art critique, writer, social thinker, the Oxford Professor founded the Ruskin School of Art, Ruskin was known as the first critique to find Turner’s innovative painting and established his name, led the Gothic Revival, provided an ideological foundation for the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts Movement. He was one of the most influential figures in Victorian England. For celebrating his legacy, I was privileged to organize my touring art project; first at the Blue Gallery in Brantwood (Coniston), where Ruskin chose to live until his death, then John Ruskin's academic centre The Ruskin in Lancaster University (Lancaster). This project is supported by Arts Council England.

2019年はジョン・ラスキン生誕200周年の年。美術家、美術評論家、文筆家、思想家、オックスフォード大学教授を兼任、同大学のラスキン・スクール・オブ・アートを発足、ターナーの斬新な画風を最初に評価して画家の名声を不動のものとし、ゴシック・リバイバルを牽引し、ラファエル前派やアーツ&クラフツ運動の思想的基盤となった、英国ヴィクトリア朝時代の巨人。その偉業を讃えて、ラスキンが晩年、終生の住まいとしたブラントウッド(コニストン)、次いでジョン・ラスキン研究の殿堂ランカスター大学内のThe Ruskin(ランカスター)にて巡回アートプロジェクトを開催することになった。なお、本プロジェクトは、英国芸術協議会(Arts Council England)より助成を受けて実現した。

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Self-Evaluation Final Report



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.



以上を踏まえて、本プロジェクトの主要な作品としてジョン・ラスキンの肖像画を制作した。この偉大なヴィクトリア朝の思想家を描くに当たり、ボクは二つの同一肖像を平行軸にオーバーラップさせた複視画として完成させることを構想した。同一肖像間の距離を綿密に計算して丹念に描き上げることで、鑑賞者に錯視を促し、あたかも単一の肖像画像がサポートから浮上して見えるような効果を狙った。脳の錯視効果を狙うという、一見逆説的な試みだが、それを通して可視・不可視、物質・霊魂といった、人間のみが持つ抽象概念の間にある隔たりについて問いただしてみたいと考えた。こうして、人間の心/魂/霊は存在するのか、あるいはそれは単なる人間の脳の電気的・化学的プロセスに過ぎないものなのかという問いかけを俎上に載せることを試みた。それはまた、ラスキンの信仰上の精神的葛藤も映し出している。ラスキンを、現代が孕む自然環境および人間の存在論的危機を前に、湖水地方からあまねく世界に呼びかける先見者(いにしえの預言者)として描くことに努めた。そういうわけで、本肖像画を『Conversation with Ruskin (Ecce Homo)』とした。

この肖像画に合わせて、自然をテーマとした一連の作品も制作した。ラスキンは生前、自然観察から学ぶことを創造性の基礎に据えていた。ラスキン研究の一環として、ランカスター大学のThe Ruskinにてラスキンの手になるドローイングを幾点か観せてもらう機会を得たが、描く対象とした事物や風景はいずれも、その本質を貫き通すような眼差しが見て取れ、非常に印象的だった。彼のドローイングは巧みな美術家の手による作品であるばかりでなく、広範な学術研究の一端を示すもので、その発見は大きなインスピレーションとなった。また、彼の事物に鋭く迫るような描写には、日本の伝統美術の様式との相似が見出されて興味深かった。さらに、そのドローイングから表出するラスキンの眼差しには、日本の伝統美術のうち自然をテーマとした作品が持つ、自然の事物を可能な限りミニマルに構成して描きつつ、大きな思想的枠組みの全体像を視覚化する様式に相通じるものがあることに思い至り、非常に感銘を受けた。それらを踏まえて、ボク自身の湖水地方での日々の暮らしの中に見出される自然に焦点を当て、この固有の地において人と自然とが織り成してきた歴史や暮らしぶりを一連の作品として発表したいと考えた。このシリーズは単なる自然主題の作品に留まらず、個々の作品がラスキンの自然への愛と環境保護への情熱を醸し出し、かつ過去・現在・未来へと連なる時の経過を示す記号論的な意味を内包した作品群となるよう構想した。とまれ、生きとし生けるものへの愛惜と賛歌を声高に謳いつつ、その自然を自らの手で破壊する存在者こそ人間にほかならない。その圧倒的自己矛盾は、第1次産業業革命の荒波に抗ったラスキンの苦悩に比例する。ボクたちは今、第4次産業革命に直面している。



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