THE WAY I SEE

Through this project comprised with a series of portraits, I attempted to explore the meaning of contemporary portraiture. It was held as a touring exhibition in 2013 supported by Arts Council England; first at the Sugar Store Gallery, Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal followed by the installation at the Japan House Gallery, Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation in London. 

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   This project is based in the English Lake District, one of the most famous natural landscapes in the world, which was recognised by the Romantic poet William Wordsworth, who wrote about the relationship between people and nature, and tried to stem the tide of modernisation occurring through the Industrial Revolution, and later conserved in large part due to the efforts of people such as Beatrix Potter, the writer and illustrator who was also a well-known conservationist, and who donated land and farms purchased with the proceeds of her picture books to the National Trust. During the tourist season, many tourists from around the world, including Japan, visit the Lake District, but at the same time, Cumbria has one of the lowest ethnic minority populations in the UK. Despite experiencing difficulties in the past few years such as flooding and a shooting incident, the area remains one of the most popular and beautiful landscapes in the UK. In this project, as a Japanese artist living and working in the Lake District, I attempted a personal artistic approach to communication on a new level, on the subject of the Lake District.
  Despite the extraordinary progress of information technology, "seeing" has remained the core activity of the human cognitive process from the prehistoric era to this very day and into the future. This evidence could be supported by the fact among colour scientists that 87% of all information taken through human five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch) depends upon the sense of sight. For this project I would explore the potential of the core cognitive process, attempting an artistic approach via seeing, to implement a process from cognition to abstract interpretation through understanding, and through creativity to artistic expression. This visual approach involves a series of portraits of people who I have come to know personally since moving to the Lake District. 
   This project, generously supported by Arts Council England, was initially conceived with the work “dialogue with anonymity” which I created in 2009. It is not a simple depiction of individuals, but my attempt at pushing the boundaries of contemporary portraiture. For this reason, each work is composed in diptych style, one part featuring the person in question, and the other featuring a carpet of fallen leaves, observed in the Lake District, as a comparative image. Furthermore, when the images of this carpet of fallen leaves are put in consecutive order, the whole image will form one large carpet of fallen leaves. I see fallen leaves on a macro level as indicating the "autumn" of civilisation inspired by Dutch historian Johan Huizinga with his work "The Autumn of the Middle Ages"; and at a micro level as a metaphor for the frailty of individual existence. They are also an amplification of the concept of "Memento Mori" (consider mortality), which is seen in the Western art throughout history. This juxtaposition also reflects the idea of Caravaggio who introduced “still life” for the first time as equally sacred as Biblical figure paintings in Baroque era. Hence the image of fallen leaves for this project symbolises the crisis facing us at many levels in the "autumn of civilisation" – political, military, economic, cultural, ideological, religious, philosophical, social, historical and environmental.

     At the same time, they are an attempt to address the root problem of visual images – the fact that the visual image cannot be "negative" as language or text can be. It is not, for example, possible to paint a picture of the statement "There is not a cup on the table". Renee Magritte is possibly the only artist to have attempted to express the negative concept that can be done so easily in words via visual media. Through painting a picture of a pipe, but adding text below it that reads "This is not a pipe", he negates the visual existence of the pipe. In this project, the image of fallen leaves is a metaphor for the negation of the existence of a model, usually required for a portrait. I attempted to express the "negative" by depicting each fallen leaf as an analogy of the vast majority of people in the world who have never been, and will never be, the subject of a portrait. These people are certainly in the “majority", yet so often represent “minority” groups of people. Doing this allows us to consider the possibility of a visual language that questions the true meaning of the vulnerability and dignity of humanity, by bringing the "privilege" of the sitter for a portrait down to the level of nonexistence. This series comprises 12 such portraits, in line with the number used to indicate the basic unit of time, in order to promote the possibility of a more universal conversation. 

...the image of fallen leaves is a metaphor for the negation of the existence of a model, usually required for a portrait. I attempted to express the "negative" by depicting each fallen leaf as an analogy of the vast majority of people in the world who have never been, and will never be, the subject of a portrait. These people are certainly in the “majority", yet so often represent “minority” groups of people.  

     This series, based on the concepts outlined above, was completed by the unique brush hatching technique using Japanese sumi ink and acrylic, which I created in reference to neurological research and the Florentine Renaissance concept of disegno, in a series of painstakingly completed line-based paintings. The use of Japanese sumi ink that I could reach for reflecting my ethnic and cultural roots, and engaging in how to bridge East and West creates the essential style of my art practice. Through my creative practice with this unique technique, I’m questioning how the significance of painting (drawing), which preceded the invention of letters, has shifted and evolved as the core expression of the cognitive process unique to humanity in the context of our contemporary meaning. Hence, this series was realised as part of a creative process of my fundamental attempt to embody the question “What is the meaning of existence?”, through the medium of art. 

Arts Council England
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イギリス湖水地方在住の日本人美術家 | JAPANESE ARTIST IN THE ENGLISH LAKE DISTRICT | UNITED KINGDOM

Hideyuki Sobue's Portfolio | Copyright © 2020 Hideyuki Sobue. All rights reserved.

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