Ever since I was a little boy I’ve been fantasizing about how I might illustrate Lewis Carroll’s poem, Jabberwocky. There’s something about the darkness, humour, and incredible imagery of that work that begs multiple interpretations in the visual art world. Fast forward to January 2019 when I’ve finally completed the first of a series of ink drawings that will bring to life my own version of Carroll’s classic — Japawocky, a poem of my creation that combines the wondrous lunacy of the Carroll original with the macabre folktales taught to me by my Japanese Canadian mother: stories of shapeshifting kitsune, doom-foretelling hinotama, and sinister kappa. The poem itself is yet to be released publicly (read: I’m still editing it), but I’m quite happy with how this ink drawing sets the tone for some monstrous shenanigans, all viewed through a Japanese Canadian lens.
Sometimes, the television really is the world’s best babysitter. I vividly remember being a young child, alone for whatever reason, and stumbling across a late-night airing of an animated psychedelic film. I recall very little from it other than 1.) understanding absolutely none of the spoken dialogue; 2.) being shocked at seeing animated nudity for the very first time, and 3.) being overwhelmed by the incredible imagery — blue humanoid aliens, walking through surreal landscapes of plants and flowers that looked way more sexual than vegetal. It was years later, thanks to the internet, that I learned that the film was La Planète Sauvage (The Fantastic Planet), a 1973 French film by René Laloux. Images from that film haunt me to this day and, upon a recent re-viewing, I’ve begun to realize how much they’ve informed the way I paint.
Halcyon (2017) was commissioned by the Canadian composer Jocelyn Morlock as the cover art for her forthcoming album on Centrediscs Records. Her previous album, the award winning Cobalt, also used one of my paintings, specifically A Garden For Saint Anthony (2011), and I wanted the new image to have some connective tissue with the older one while setting off in new directions. This painting continues an exploration of traditional and popular Japanese art and culture: the large flowers recall the shapes of Shinto and Buddhist sangaku puzzles while the “flower carpet” is reminiscent of the pop artist Takashi Murakami. But Halcyon also (and perhaps for the first time, consciously) pays homage to the 1970s psychedelic art I was exposed to in my childhood: La Planète Sauvage of course, but also more G-rated fare like Sesame Street’s Pinball Number Countdown.
Congratulations to Jocelyn on her forthcoming album! Looking forward to seeing and hearing it.
This painting, entitled Mujina, was the image used for the Powell Street Festival‘s 2016 event “Spatial Poetics XV”. This event featured newly commissioned interdisciplinary works by Linda Uyehara Hoffman, Eileen Kage, Kisyuu, Jay Hirabayashi, Barbara Bourget, and Stefan Smulovitz — all curated by me! The theme this year was “ghost stories”; early on in the process, Jay, Barbara, and Stefan had mentioned that their piece would be inspired by the traditional Japanese tale, “Mujina, the Faceless Ghost”. This truly creepy folktale tells the story of a Tokyo man who was following a road at night when he encounters a weeping woman along the wayside. Stopping to see if she needs aid, the man was frightened to discover that she had no face. In fear, he races further up the road until he sees the dim glow of a lantern in the distance. He sees that it is a food vendor known as a soba. Grateful to find another living soul, the man explains his experience to the vendor, but he stops short of explaining her face exactly, being still too frightened to recall the experience. The soba man, moving from the shadows into the glow of the lantern, asks if perhaps she looked like this. To the traveler’s horror, the soba man, too, has no face. Suddenly the lantern is extinguished and the man is alone in the night with the faceless Mujina.*
The image features three Mujina, accompanied by cherry blossoms and birds… I suppose I assumed that the Tokyo man ends up becoming a faceless ghost as well, which may not be entirely correct (do Mujina recruit? I don’t honestly know).
Barb Yamazaki beautifully took the image and created the poster for Spatial Poetics, which can be seen below. Mujina joins Kendo Bird as an ongoing exploration of my Japanese heritage. Hopefully more will soon follow!
*Courtesy of the blog “Strange State”, which can be accessed HERE.
It’s always a delight when my “visual artist life” finds expression in the music world. Composer Emily Doolittle (a product of Halifax, NS; recently relocated to Glasgow, UK) recently released a CD album dedicated exclusively to her chamber music entitled All Spring. The cover design (as well as the interior) features a piece of mine from 2010 called Koinobori (image here). This watercolour was one of four pieces exhibited as part of the installation “Shiki”, a collaboration between myself and composer Yota Kobayashi at the Nikkei National Museum. Doolittle’s album sounds gorgeous. Her music is incredibly evocative and she uses the instruments at her disposal in colourful and inventive ways — there are hints of Aaron Copland, Barber, even early Ligeti. All Spring is available through Composers Concordance and iTunes.
This is the first work from a series called “Kendo“. Inspired by my interest in exploring my Japanese Canadian heritage (an interest that has been fuelled by my recent posting as artistic director of Powell Street Festival Society), this painting/ink drawing was originally conceived of as a poster design for an interdisciplinary arts event called Spatial Poetics XIV, scheduled to take place on July 9th, 2015 at the Vancouver Japanese Language School. This event, curated by Makiko Hara and featuring artists Cindy Mochizuki, Maiko Yamamoto, Stacey Ho, and Julia Aoki, takes the culture of Edo-period Japan as their point of departure — specifically kendo (the Japanese martial art of swordsmanship) and sangaku (Japanese geometrical puzzles displayed in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines). While working on this image, I was particularly enthralled by the opportunity to reacquaint myself with kendo — a martial art that I practised as a boy in Steveston BC, taught to me by my grandfather, Rintaro Hayashi. It was fascinating to revisit the iconic elements of kendo from a purely visual perspective: the bamboo sword (shinai), the armour (bōgu), as well as the intense ritualism of the movements. It’s a theme that I expect to explore further throughout the summer months.
“I have been put on earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind I will never die.” — Bill Watterson
Alright, perhaps that’s a little melodramatic, but it sure did feel like one of those weeks. Work in earnest has finally begun on a new commission. It’s behind schedule (some might even say laughably so) but that is at least in part because of the single stipulation that was given me when I accepted the commission: it has to be corybantic. For the uninitiated:
adjective 1. wild; frenzied
Over the last many weeks I’ve come to realize that “corybantic” is not something that comes easily when I paint. So I’ve been referring to artists whose works are corybantic. And in my mind, the most corybantic of them all has to be Jackson Pollock.
The She Wolf (1943) by Jackson Pollock.
I think Pollock’s She Wolf is one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century (I always felt that if Stravinsky had to paint the Rite of Spring, it would look like this). What blows my mind about this work is the primal energy — it’s simply staggering — but even though it looks like Pollock attacked the canvas in a fit of utter abandon, the formal cohesion is undeniably controlled and premeditated. Pollock is walking that fine line between discipline and chaos.
Next, I looked at an artist closer to home: Jack Shadbolt. Shadbolt was a BC based artist who, after serving in World War II spent two years studying in New York City. It was here that he became acquainted with the works of Picasso and the Abstract Expressionists. Intense colours and motion are signatures of many of his works, but I’ve found myself focussing on a five-panel painting of his that was completed in 1976 called Dog in an Empty Room.
Shadbolt: Dog in an Empty Room, panels 1 & 2.
Shadbolt: Dog in an Empty Room, panels 3, 4, & 5.
The intense energy of these works is heightened, I think, by the fact that the viewer is “trapped” in an enclosed space with a purple canine vortex.
I find myself referring to both the Pollock and the Shadbolt as I begin work on my own painting: the savage yet calculated brushstrokes of the first; the alarming claustrophobia of the second. I’m also seriously working with purple (weirdly, a relatively new colour for me). Shadbolt’s use of purple is shocking and I want to capture that “unnatural intensity”. Needless to say, it feels slightly embarrassing posting what is essentially the first scribblings of my new painting beneath the completed works of renowned artists. And at this point, my work does seem to borrow heavily from the Shadbolt (perhaps the Pollock, too) But for the first time in ages I’ve begun liking the direction the new work is going, and as layers are added I’m feeling pretty confident that it will end up looking less like a Pollock-Shadbolt pastiche and more like a corybantic McGregor.
First layers of “Corybantic”.
Bird Bacharach II (2014), commissioned by Michael Murray.
Done! Done, done, done. Yesterday I put the final touches on a commission for organist Michael Murray, entitled “Bird Bacharach II”, inspired by a drawing you can see here. This morning the ol’ bird got loaded into Jay’s car and driven out to the Silk Purse in West Vancouver where, along with his buddies “The Hideous Birds“, “Garden for Saint Anthony“, and “Where the Wyrm Dieth Not“, he’ll be on display as part of a group show that focusses on what I like to call “double-dippers” — folks who dabble in not one but two artistic genres. To this end, the exhibit also features work by soprano/painter Karen Santos, painter/poet Camille Mehta, and soprano/photographer Michelle Koebke. What’s more, on May 22nd (at 10:30am!) pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa and I will join forces once again to form our duo, Tiresias, and present a recital at the Silk Purse inspired by the four paintings I have on display. Opening night is Tuesday, May 13th (tomorrow as I write this) and the exhibit will be up until the end of the month.
The People United Will Never Be Defeated!: The new CD by Corey Hamm
In a couple weeks or so, two good friends will be co-launching their respective CDs — and, by stroke of serendipitous fortune, both albums feature my artwork! On March 4th, 2014, composer Jocelyn Morlock will have her CD launch concert, presented by Music on Main at the new Fox Theatre (yes, it used to be an old porno theatre). Her new CD, entitled Cobalt, is a collection of her recent orchestral music and features on its cover a detail from my painting A Garden for Saint Anthony (commissioned by Jennifer and Brian Nesselroad). This concert will feature pianist extraordinaire Corey Hamm, who is also launching his first solo CD, The People United Will Never Be Defeated!, featuring Frederic Rzewski’s virtuosic warhorse of the same name. Corey’s CD is the newest release on Redshift Records and sports a painting of mine especially commissioned for the occasion, Where the Wyrm Dieth Not. To complete the circle, Corey’s programme will include a newly commissioned work by Jocelyn, entitled Corybantic (which apparently is a real word). So here’s to seeing you at the newly renovated (and hopefully newly upholstered) Fox Theatre on March 4th!
Cobalt: The new CD by Jocelyn Morlock
Progress continues, albeit slowly, on Michael Murray’s commissioned painting, “Bird Bacharach 2” — the more I think about it, this may end up being a working title. It seems this painting may be more in keeping with the Hideous Birds painting I completed a year and a half ago. My roommate, Jocelyn, came home the other night to find me painting in the kitchen; she took some photos, which I’ve included here.
Bird Bacharach 2 in progress.
Bird Bacharach 2 in progress.
Bird Bacharach 2 (detail).