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    Photogravure etchings at https://kamprint.com/ and https://kamprint.com/xpress/

    Photogravure etchings at https://kamprint.com/ and https://kamprint.com/xpress/

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    Photogravure etchings at https://kamprint.com/ & https://kamprint.com/xpress/

    Photogravure etchings at https://kamprint.com/ & https://kamprint.com/xpress/


1. Relatedness by geography and subject

Why do some selections of art, people, or surroundings feel right, while other options seem jarring or simply irrelevant? The hundreds of decisions we make every day are influenced by a wide range of experience, preference, and observation. On-line merchants use ‘big-data’ algorithms to peer into our likes and dislikes, but these algorithms typically miss the quirky, serendipitous, unpredictable nature of personal choice. With art, as with any intuitive response, relatedness transcends conventional reasoning, and cuts across the standard categories of selection. In this way it expands our vision beyond customary bounds, into unexpected realms of discovery. What follows is a look at the components of relatedness, and how they affect our preferences.

Where we live, our daily geography, is a pervasive source of connectedness. Pictures drawn from one locale possess an inherent similarity, appealing to those familiar with it. But even the most inveterate travelers consider someplace ‘home’. Globalization has not abolished local tastes, preferences, connections; it has merely made them more accessible. The Japanese furusato, meaning hometown, has acquired a renown well beyond its borders. Shirakawa, for example, with its hand-thatched roofing in gassho-zukuri (prayer-shape) style, is known world-wide as a typical Japanese rural village. An overview of the village, together with a closeup of the communal re-thatching (Roofwork), celebrates the harmony-fantasy of traditional village life.

Shirakawa-mura ・ 白川村

Shirakawa-mura ・ 白川村, 47 x 38 cm photogravure etching, Peter Miller (2006)
The Kamakura Print Collection ・ kamprint.com kamprint.com/xpress/

It’s the Japanese version of the pastoral fantasy in Western art, which appears in Arcadian scenes of rural peasantry, grazing cattle, a Roman or Greek ruin, and a majestic mountain in the distance. Such scenes became models for landscape gardens, depictions of Alpine wilderness, and for explorations of exotic foreign destinations — including Japan, where the Western pastoral fantasy comes full circle.


Geography and nationality also mold artistic style. National academies teach and preserve certain traditions central to their own histories and identities. When these styles become passé, an ‘avant-garde’ rises up to develop a radically different style more attuned to the future they foresee. Such was the Impressionist rejection of history-painting in favor of enjoyment of the present moment, the radical simplification of Baroque ornamentation by the Bauhaus aesthetic, the discovery of multiple perspectives, and the liberation of art from subject-matter. These innovations then became the new foundations of national style everywhere, their influence reaching countries far beyond their origins. In addition to French Impressionism, we have British, Dutch, American, Russian, Japanese, and other variants of Impressionism.

Subject-matter is another key element of relatedness, particularly with media that seek documentary realism. A documentary photo might show how Gare St-Lazare looked at 12:10 pm on a certain day in, say, 2005. Yet the same subject by Monet shows the grand obscurity of travel, the transformation of self in the course of passage to distant lands. Bridges and roads can be seen as works of civil engineering designed to facilitate traffic flow. At the same time, as pathways they enable, as Braudel put it, ‘the conquest of distance’. As such they symbolize the personal transformations people undergo in their passages from place to place. My Pathways Series taps into this experience.

Gare St-Lazare

Monet, Gare St-Lazare

A common subject might mean different things to different people. In Japan and China, bamboo is a symbol of longevity, its cathedral-like groves evoking reverence for Nature. For Westerners, bamboo symbolizes the ‘exotic orient’ where a species of grass towers over people and yet has the benign presence of a shelter. Three Friends refers to the Chinese grouping of bamboo, plum, and pine, green or flowering in winter, promising re-growth in spring. In Hokokuji, sunlight appears to be emanating from the ground under a deeply shaded bamboo canopy. The snow-covered roof in Bamboo Story suggests the deckled edge of washi used for printing these etchings.

Three Friends, Hokokuji, Bamboo Story

Three Friends, Hokokuji, Bamboo Story

Gardens in Kyoto are related by both subject matter and place, yet numerous variations among them occur. In Further Reflection, from Saihoji, trees shimmer in the breeze, reflected in a pond, darkly spanned by a bridge leading to a sinuous path. Whether the dream-vision takes place in the mind or in nature becomes immaterial, as the designer Muso Soseki may have intended. If this is a night-dream, then Here and There, from Daikakuji, is a day-dream, of drifting aimlessly on a pond. Interlude, from Tofukuji, portrays a noir version of lotus blossoms. In the same Series is Vanished Stars, which though it looks Japanese, actually comes from Finland.

Here and There ・ 移り行

Here and There ・ 移り行, 20 x 14 cm photogravure etching, Peter Miller (2014)
The Kamakura Print Collection ・ kamprint.com/ & kamprint.com/xpress

Oceans and lakes can suggest a wide variety of emotions, from energy and turbulence as in Furiously Yours, to the tranquility of Bygones, and the Zen conundrums of Pentagram and Mind the Gap. The Seascapes Series encompasses scenes from Europe, Russia, North America, and Japan, related only by immersion, to create a global panorama of mood.

Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap

2. Relatedness by mood

We are all familiar with how dark clouds blocking sunlight, leaves blowing in the wind, or mist affect our moods. For viewers seeking a certain style of expression related to their own experience, a point of entry into a mood or a feeling that they recognize, some link between graphics and mood is required. As difficult as it may be to approach visual experiences verbally, the Xpress site offers a rough set of keywords corresponding to nine moods or feelings evoked by visual experiences:

Dynamic — Exciting, energetic compositions with diagonals seemingly extending beyond the frame.

Reflective — Multiple depths suggesting simultaneous immersion in both the present moment and memory.

Mysterious — Imaginary, other-worldly, beyond ordinary experience, details obscured by mist, unknown presences hinted at, awaiting revelation to the curious observer.

Sensual — Heightened sensitivity stimulated by intense pleasurable engagement.

Spontaneous — Instantaneous response, with an immediacy that bypasses rational deliberation.

Expansive — Visionary grandeur.

Elegiac — Quiet appreciation of the impermanence and fragility of life.

Intimate — Glimpses of inner life, unspoken affection, hidden graces.

Luminous — Glowing, brilliant, pulsing with self-generated energy.

With these keywords it is possible to search and group works at the Xpress site by emotional-plus-graphic characteristics. These can only hint at what one might be looking for, but may be closer to the mark than searches based only on subject or place.

It seems that relatedness for Web-browsing is different from relatedness for placement of actual original prints in interior settings. Aside from the big difference between images that are pixel-perfect on a screen, and those with rough tactile ink-on-paper, the singular engraved image or ensemble concentrates a variety of forms, subjects, places, and ideas in one setting so that they can be absorbed at a glance. This instantaneous awareness may then become the seed of further reflection and inquiry. While Web-browsing provides an overview or quick survey, interior settings — ‘art you can live with’ — demand more concentrated focus on a few images, which may be related in multiple ways.

3. Relating ensembles in interior settings

To put prints together in interior settings, I sought a more organic relation than might be found by keyword-searches. Two or three prints viewed together form a different experience as the eye, and the mind, and the mind’s eye, take in the combined scene. The stronger and more varied the sense of relatedness, the more intense the experience, sustaining notice and enhancing significance with every observation. (Prints encompassing two or more moods are beyond the scope of this primitive classification scheme.)

I wanted the compositions themselves to relate to each other on many levels, beyond subject or place or other external attribute. With Cote Sauvage and Monte Penna, for example, ocean waves breaking over rocks curving in one direction ‘reflect’ a path through the woods curving in the opposite direction. Sea and land merge into an expansive sweep of the wide range of natural experience. And, the two forming a hyperbola, they expand outward infinitely as well as into the far distance traced by each path.

Cote Sauvage with Monte Penna

Cote Sauvage with Monte Penna

The pairing of Winged Fuji with As If creates an imaginary path between Mt Fuji and a misty trail at Ozegahara. The two are also graphically related by their compositional dynamic of triangles in V-shapes. Both perspectives, separately and together, convey an expansive, unlimited feeling. Perhaps for that reason, Japanese and non-Japanese visitors alike hold these places in reverence.

As If with Winged Fuji

As If with Winged Fuji

Our Gift together with Ryukoji places a rice-field-reflected pagoda, upside-down, next to a more solemn pagoda known to legend as the site of a near-execution of a dissident priest. Rice being the gift of the gods, a pagoda representing the five elements emerging from the earth and ascending toward the heavens ties these realms together.

Our Gift with Ryukoji

Our Gift with Ryukoji

4. Relatedness in Museum and gallery exhibits

Museum and gallery exhibits bring together even more kinds of relatedness — among the 20 to 30 prints in an exhibit, within the venue, and with the locale. For an exhibit at the Ino-cho Washi Museum (いの町紙博物館) in Japan, composed of photogravure etchings on hand-made washi from the region, I selected images that show the texture and semi-translucent quality of washi. These were arranged to flow through the space, and to enable viewers to re-visit an earlier scene in light of a later one.

An exhibit at the Tenri Cultural Institute of New York, entitled Reach For the Sky, explored mountains, skies, and their mutual reflections, in a venue with high ceilings that gave ample scope to viewers’ impressions. The exhibit included a print of New York’s Fifth Avenue from above, Only U, an urban canyon shadowed by skyscrapers.

In Transit, at the St Petersburg Museum of Urban Electric Transport, finds in the everyday experience of riding trams and subways a source of civilization. The earlier development of inter-continental trade routes enabled their fractal replication in cities, tying them to international common culture. Being always in transit, then, is a natural condition. The prints in the exhibit, drawn from several modes of transport in five countries, are variations on this theme.

Junichiro Tanizaki’s 1933 essay In Praise of Shadows (‘In’ei Reisan’) recalls the very different nature of visual experience in an age before electric lights were widespread. Japanese dwellings, alcoves, ink-drawings, interior spaces framed by tatami mats and shoji panels, the dark luster of lacquerware and yokan (a Japanese confection) looming out of a dark background create an appealing presence and warmth. My In Praise of Shadows exhibit in Tokyo emphasized the noir quality of photogravure etching, with its deep blacks, darkly illuminated textures, and shadows within shadows. The darkness of interior spaces, as in Meigetsuin, is brought outdoors in Beyond the Sunset, Pentagram, Vanished Stars, and other works.

5. De-toxifying the mind

Among friends, superficial identities like race, class, nationality, sex, religion, political party, brands, and so forth become less salient. In art, these distractions disappear altogether. Or if they exist at all, they are only peripheral. Relations of form, tone, depth, and composition created by the artwork itself are central. In that light, the fractious categories of ersatz affiliation fade into nothingness.

It takes some effort to remove distractions from our mindspace. One way to detoxify the mind is do as Stanley William Hayter, the founder of Atelier 17, suggests:

I attempt to empty my mind of nonsense and superficial matters: in fact to make it a ‘perfect blank’,… [free] of obvious associations, [with] the emphasis on things present of themselves rather than the symbols of things elsewhere.

It may also help to recognize the pre-existence of forms, tones, compositional arrangements, and spatial depths realized in graphic art. Imagine the world ‘out there’ as it might appear in a picture, and you will see a landscape by Corot or Constable or Monet, for these (and other) artists are the sources of our visual ideas. They have created not only artwork, but the very world we see before us. This is The Life of Forms, as Henri Focillon reminds us:

‘The life of forms gives definition to what may be termed ‘psychological landscapes’, without which the essential genius of the environments would be opaque and elusive for all those who share in them. Greece, for instance, exists as a geographical basis for certain ideas about man, but the landscape of Doric art, or rather Doric art as a landscape, created a Greece without which the real Greece is merely a great, luminous desert.’

Here is one of the greatest rewards of artistic experience: the ability to see through time and space the relatedness of the present moment to the deep past and the approaching future. With every glance, the artwork in one’s surroundings becomes a point of departure for a different journey, relating the world outside to the inner world of one’s own thoughts.

Printed from: https://kamprint.com/views/relatedness/ .
© Peter Miller 2024.

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