japonisme: 3/9/08 - 3/16/08

15 March 2008

japonisme in the land of the pueblo (etc.) V

(click images to enlarge)

"Where are the blossoms of those summers!
-- fallen, one by one;
so all of my family departed,
each in his turn,
to the land of spirits.
I am on the hilltop and
must go down into the valley;
and when Uncas follows
in my footsteps there will
no longer be any of the
blood of the Sagamores,
for my boy is
the last of the Mohicans,"
Chingachgook spoke to Hawkeye.

winold reiss grew up in germany poring over the tales of james fennimore cooper.

While Hawkeye and the Indians lighted their fire and took their evening's repast, a frugal meal of dried bear's meat, the young man paid a visit to that curtain of the dilapidated fort which looked out on the sheet of the Horican. The wind had fallen, and the waves were already rolling on the sandy beach beneath him, in a more regular and tempered succession. The clouds, as if tired of their furious chase, were breaking asunder; the heavier volumes, gathering in black masses about the horizon, while the lighter scud still hurried above the water, or eddied among the tops of the mountains, like broken flights of birds, hovering around their roosts. Here and there, a red and fiery star struggled through the drifting vapor, furnishing a lurid gleam of brightness to the dull aspect of the heavens. Within the bosom of the encircling hills, an impenetrable darkness had already settled; and the plain lay like a vast and deserted charnel-house, without omen or whisper to disturb the slumbers of its numerous and hapless tenants.

(from the last of the mohicans)

winold reiss's young heart was captivated, and he decided very early on that he would go to america to see the indians for himself, and to paint them.

and he did, but not before he developed a monumental career for himself in the arts. this cover which he did for a magazine which he helped found places him directly in the japonisme moment.

we see all of the familiar signs of the times as we have seen in the german posters we've looked at in the last few weeks, and at the american ones they inspired, and the japanese portraits of actors which had in turn inspired the germans.

the outlines, the bold patterns, the flatness and outlines, the blocks of color; the diagonal structure is not utilized, but had that moment of japonisme not happened, winold reiss would not have designed this cover the way he did.

In common with many other German boys whose imagination had been stirred by Fennimore Cooper's novels, Mr. Reiss had a romantic interest in the North American aborigines. He wanted above all else to paint them. But his romantic imaginings were tempered by an artistic training which demanded accurate observation of character.

And so he decided to come to America in 1913 for the express purpose of studying the North American Indian in his native habitat and also to introduce modern decorative art, which, although a flourishing and accepted style in Munich and Vienna, where it had its origin, was practically unknown in the United States. The Crillon Restaurant, which Mr. Reiss decorated in 1920, was the first demonstration of the decorative possibilities of the new style. Since that time Mr. Reiss has been one of the outstanding pioneers in introducing a modern decor which should harmonize with American architecture and express American taste. 1

The career of Winold Reiss was congruent with the seeds of the Arts and Crafts and Applied Arts movements. Both employ bold lettering and simplified forms, large expanses of flat and contrasting colors, and strong lines: the distinctive attributes of the German Poster Style.

While the first M.A.C. cover was self-consciously sophisticated and represented a tour-de-force of the lithographic art, the tenth (ca. 1917) shows us another, quite different, side of his artistic personality, the love of primitive natural motifs and the ability to reduce and simplify them to essential patterns of form, line, and color. The bird and flower motif becomes a signature in much of Reiss's later work small design sketch whose strong lines, squarish grids, and punctuation of broad flat surfaces with simplified decorations recall the work of Josef Hoffmann and the Vienna Secession. 2

(sounds like japonisme to me....)

cont. on page later

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14 March 2008

japonisme in the land of the pueblo (etc.) IV

(click images to enlarge)

at first i figured it probably was more evidence that the american indians were descended from travellers from asia. well, the dna does uphold this evidence, but does that explain the art?

this migration was something like 50000 years ago 1; does that explain in any way the relationship between this fritz scholder, whose grandmother was luiseno, but who considered himself an american from missouri, from around 1979, and the utagawa toyokuni from about 1779. and anyway, those migrations covered most of the planet, but there is no other culture whose art so resembles one the other.

i also wondered abut the idea of 'primative cultures' creating similar arts. well, as tonto would have said, 'who you calling primitive, white woman?'

what i was to learn was, as my old friend artie rausch used to say, 'neither that simple nor that complex.'

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japonisme in the land of the pueblo (etc.) III

(click images to enlarge)

about 30 years ago i took a book out of the library about american indian paintings. (and please, let me say here, that though it makes absolutely no sense to me that after hundreds of years of realizing that north america was in fact not india, we still call them that -- except for in wee pockets like berkeley, where i live, in which on october 14th, when many of the rest of you in the states are 'celebrating' columbus day, we're observing indigenous peoples day -- the native americans in fact call themselves indians, which is easier than naming all the nations every time one wishes to refer to them... but still -- that's why i use that word).

i loved the images in that book (which i haven't yet been able to find again. but i'll keep trying). what i loved about them, i came to learn as i learned more about japanese art and japonisme, were the same things i loved in those: simplicity with a direct freshness: art stripped to essentials, with absolute grace. and that line.

now to be truth- ful, i'm not altogether sure any of these images are the ones i saw; funny what decades can do to memory. those, in the past, were more lustrous and fluid, like music on paper, and all that. yeah sure -- i'll report back when i find the book.

but still, the relationships between the ancient japanese through to the present-day indian images are striking. How could this have happened?

(andy tsihnajinnie is navajo, chikanobu is japanese, simon bussy is french, allan houser is navajo, quincy tahoma is navajo, rick bartow is Wiyot, toshi yoshida is japanese, robert bonfils is french, and c. szwedzicki is the french publisher of works by american indians. a compilation is here.)

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13 March 2008

japonisme in the land of the pueblo (etc.) II

(click to enlarge)

look at these four images. immediately we see some similarities: of course the red blanket and the white hat, the horses or implied horses.

looking further we might notice that, compared to, say, vermeer or renoir, the images are simplified. we also see outlines and flat plains of color.

we have winold reiss (vee-nold rice), he's german. stanley c. mitchell is navaho. maynard dixon was born in fresno, california, and hokusai is, well, hokusai.

what is there to be learned here? much. installment III tomorrow.

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