Sunday, June 26, 2011

Extracts from a masterpiece, the hare with amber eyes - from a ceramic perspective.

The cover, the hare with amber eyes,
a biography by Edmund De Waal.

Yesterday I spent the entire day rapped up in the warmth and comfort of my bed. Yes it was very cold, it was after all, the first day of the winter recess. Yes, there were many welcoming reasons to get up, get out and pursue more enticing options. What kept me in bed, was a fascinating read, Edmund De Waal’s book, The hare with amber eyes - a hidden inheritance. I was mesmerized by the engrossing narrative, but more importantly was the feeling of synchronicity; fondest memories and associations with my own creative experiences, transcribed in amongst these pages. I therefore share it with you here, in the hope that you will purchase a copy for yourself, to read and enjoy as much as I did. 

'A story as durable and elegant as this is a rare pleasure.....Like the netsuke themselves, this book is impossible to put down. You have in your hands a masterpiece'. Frances Wilson - Sunday Times, as cited on the cover of the book, the hare with amber eyes..

Our inexhaustible curiosity. 
My students once made me respond to a few questions which in the end defined aspects of my personality. One distinguishing quality or characteristic stood out for me - I had the curiosity of a three year old kid.
De Waal’s curiosity to unravel the memories (history and significance) behind his netsuke collection, is defined as follows in the preface of his multi award winning biography.
‘...........and I am not interested in thin, I want to know what the relationship has been between this wooden object that I am rolling between my fingers - hard and tricky and Japanese - and where it has been. I want to be able to reach to the handle of the door and turn it and feel it open. I want to walk into each room where this object has lived, to feel the volume of space, to know what pictures were on the walls, how the light fell from the windows. And I want to know whose hands it has been in, and what they felt about it - if they thought about it. I want to know what it witnessed’. 
Adventures and aloof 
I have always been described as being aloof and adventures. The fact that I am one of three children, three sons in fact, the youngest and the creative one and therefore entitled to run free, is also alluded to by De Waal, when he describes the young Charles Ephrussi and himself. 
'Charles is free do what he wants. I want to think this is because he was the youngest  son and the third son and, as in all good children’s stories, it is always the third son who gets to leave home and go adventuring - pure projection as I am a third son.' 
the hare with amber eyes, netsuke, collection
Edmund De Waal, as cited on his website.
Defining our obsession with things tactile.
These tactile qualities inherent in netsuke is fully understood to be a key factor in the appreciation of ceramics the world over, and or any other crafts form for that matter - it is a key ingredient in the joy of making. De Waal aptly defines this expressed view as follows,
 - all this matters because my job is to make things. How objects get handled, handed on is not just a mildly interesting question for me. It is my question. I have made many, many thousands of pots. ............I can remember the balance of a pot, and how its surface works with its volume. I can read how an edge creates tension or looses it. I can feel it has made at speed or diligence. If it it has warmth. I can see how it works with objects that sit nearby. How it displaces part of the world around it. ...........But some objects do seem to retain the pulse of their making. This pulse intrigues me. There is a breath of hesitancy before touching, a strange moment. If I choose to pick up this small white cup with its single chip near the handle, will it figure in my life?
Netsuke, rats. collection De Waal
as cited on his website.
Our intrigue with Japonisme  
This book brought back fondest memories of countless visits to Musée Guimet in Paris (during my three months stay at the Cité Internationale des Arts). The Japanese collection alone amounts to 11000 works.  Being a Fine Artist my intrigue with artefacts, des Arts Décoratifs and everything oriental started here. Just as it did then for Charles and Louise Ephrussi (first owner of De Waal’s Netsuke collection - late 19 century) including Emile Guimet. They were ‘neo- Japonistes. 
Japanese art was a brave new world during the late nineteen century. De Waal states that
 “ introduced new textures, new ways of feeling things........This was an epiphany of new material: bronzes of a depth of patina that seemed far greater than those of the Renaissance; lacquers of an unequalled depth and darkness; folding screens of gold leaf to bisect a room, throw light. ....An there were objects that were unlike anything else seen in Western art, objects that could only be described as ‘playthings’, small carvings of animals and beggars called ‘netsuke’ that you could roll in your hands”. to view the collection follow the link above - netsuke. 
the cardinal and the queer.
collection artist, Hon 2009.
Christ, netsuke,
Musee Guimet.
see details below.
Objects made for digressive conversation, made for distraction.
My ceramic sculptures / ornaments have always been imbued with an alluring tactile quality and a variety of decorative surfaces to draw-in the gaze of the viewer, to exercise the power of fascination and lower certain defenses. The eye isolates and follows the decorative patterns and textures of the design (tattooed rats) before seduction subsides and the symbolism provokes the viewer to respond and engage the underlining meaning (often confrontational).

Netsuke image above, Christ on the cross, Edo period, 17 - 18 century.
The persecution of Christians after the decree banning Christianity in Japan in 1613, contributed to the use of “hidden” objects such as this netsuke, which enabled the continuing dissemination of Christian artistic themes. as cited at Musee Guimet website.
De Waal describes his inherited collection of netsuke as perfect for the life of Charles and Louise’s salon during the late nineteen century in Paris. 
The golden Louise opening up her vitrine of Japanese things, fishing, handing things out to be looked at and handled, to be caressed, shows that Japanese things are made for digressive conversation, made for distraction. These netsuke add something very particular to Charles’s way of living, I think. They are the first things that have connection to everyday life, even an exotic everyday life. They are wonderful and highly sensual, of course, but they are not princely like his Medici bed or his Marie Antoinette lacquers. they are for touching. Above all, they make you laugh in many different ways. They are witty and ribald and slyly comic. 


Clementina van der Walt said...

I loved this book - made me re-assess the meaning of objects entirely....

Tyron Hulley Jewellery said...

Ordered my copy. This will make for an interesting read in my spare time. Awesome posts Eugene!

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Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Eugene. I am so enjoying this amazing book.
- Rhonda