Saturday, December 24, 2011

CorrespondAnce: NY< – >DABROWA DOLNA–the edge of the world

It is a great distance between New York city and Dabrowa Dolna, a quiet village situated in central Poland at the foot of the Bald Mountains (Łysogóry), or as Radoslaw (Radek) Nowakowski puts it, “maybe the oldest mountains in Europe, who knows...” Time and place, encounters, brushes or immersions with them influence what we do. I met Radek in 2006 when four of my Moleskine books with drawings had been accepted for International Book Art Festival VIII edition Łódź, Poland; curated by Alicja Slowikowska. Soon thereafter came an opportunity to visit Poland. In early 2011, began a new thread in our on/off correspondence resulting in CorrespondAnce, a book written, designed, and produced in all aspects by Radek at the Liberatorium, with my drawings of dance(rs). 

4th Sheffield International Artist’s Book Prize

CorrespondAnce by Radoslaw Nowakowski & Venantius J. Pinto (Poland/India - joint runner-up)

To understand another human being you have to gain some insight into the conditions that made him what he is. 
—Margaret Bourke-White

In early 2010, an opportunity to observe and draw dancers presented itself. The venue was the Fiorello LaGuardia High School of Music and Art & Performing Arts, in the Graham Technique class conducted by Elisa King. Dance as a conduit of phenomena fits into my concerns with consciousness, sexuality and religion.
My relationship with dance and dancers has been most variegated: regularly attending performances; designing graphic organs with  Sandy Graff for dance companies; painting bodies for Celeste Hasting’s Butoh Rockettes; and reading on dance. Although I have drawn performances seated in the audience, this opportunity at LaGuardia High was different. It brought me closer to  and into the world of getting to observe dancers as aesthetic objects in the making. “Aesthetic objects? Dancers may become that in the public mind. And we may further wonder if the dancer will eventually evolve into that which bears the full status of a work of Art.” (Friedman, James Michael 1980. Dancer and Other Aesthetic Objects. pg 108. San Francisco, Ballet Monographs, Dance Unbounded). Movement although it stirs within us, much of it is learnt through a praxis of a lived aesthetic and imbuing techniques. 

It pleased me that Micky–Michelle Mathesius, the Vice-Principal approved my presence at class, and I embarked to get a sense of the core of dancing via drawing. And draw I did — a few hundred drawings. 

For a dancer to dance requires a combustion of motivations within ones core. (vjp) 

I felt I had to share those drawings out to those who matter to me. On March 30 of this year I shared some of those drawings with a few friends, among them Radoslaw/Radek Nowakowscy. Radek responded suggesting a CorrespondAance! 
CorrespondAnce begins with text written by Radek which reveals how the book came about: One day I saw on my monitor sketches; or sumi-e paintings, Venantius had made at a ballet school (Dance Dept. class, Fiorello H LaGuardia HS of Art & Music and Performing Arts, vjp). The very next day I saw in my mind a book. This was a big surprise to me because I have been involved in some other projects. Because I am not a dancer. I am a drummer, writer, translator, designer, and whatever else, but I am not a dancer. My head is full of ideas and visions in no way related to dancing that have been waiting patiently to be completed sooner than later and there should be no space for anything unexpected. Nevertheless the next day after that “very next day” I wrote to Venantius and asked him: Would you like to correspondAnce with me? He answered immediately: Yes, I would. So, he would, I would, we would: Good. And?

Speaking for myself, I was happy to see those drawings would have life in a book designed and written by Radek; certainly of a kind I could not have envisaged for them. In the next few days I sent him more and then stepped back. And waited. In equanimity, I waited.

Radek continues:
Well, it looks like in my case the process of making a book is a reverse of making an ink sketch. The brush is like a lightning, but before it strikes, heavy dark clouds must gather. A book, entirely ready, appears in my min as fast as a trace of brush dancing on paper. Yes, just a flash, and it’s ready. There, In my head. Now, how can I get it out from there? Oh, this takes much more time and effort than to imagine it…

Yes, there is the ocean of water, of culture, of tradition, of experiences between us. But it’s not that bad: thrice upon a time I was in New York, five years ago Venantius visited me and spent in Dabrowa Dolna a few hours – what a visit it was! as intensive and colorful as his paintings are, as precise as his carvings. What does it mean? Does it matter? Dance it matter?

There is an ocean of language between us. Which and what language? He does not understand at all my mother tongue. I don’t understand his mother tongue. He doesn’t understand my father tongue. I don’t understand his father tongue.  He doesn’t understand my brother tongue. I don’t understand his brother tongue. He doesn’t understand my uncle-and-aunt tongue.  I don’t understand his uncle-and-aunt tongue. He doesn’t understand my cousin tongue. I don’t understand his cousin tongue. And so on. Up to friend-and-enemy-of-ours tongue …… to the acquaintance-tongue which we share to some extent …… or rather the acquainDance tongue …… Tongue or tango? Or maybe T’ang…Oh! Language is the most crazy dance ever.

To create bokuga (ink drawings/paintings) requires an understanding of unique relationships — of ink to paper, viscocity of the ink, transparency, and layering. One works fast; and in drawing dancers almost as if one has to get ahead of oneself. I knew that this medium and approach would complement my absorption of movement and rhythm — allowing me line and tone, the possibility for traces of the brush to show, as well as well bleeding ink into paper — essentially a broad idiom, along with the spontaneity developed over the years.

Manifestations are visions of  separate elements coalesced into a unified experience: a totality of meaning. (vjp)

The opportunity to travel to Poland in 2006, was a flash out of the blue. A friend who worked in security for Ogivy NY. had won two round trip tickets to Poland in a raffle from a Polish bank in Williamsburg, NY. Freddy offered them to me for the price of one! Thus Cecilia and I made it to Łódź, Poland and hand delivered my Moleskeine books that had been accepted for IBAF VIII ed. Radek played a huge role in facilitating the interaction, and then extended us an invitation to visit him. That was essentially a liberation, moving into unplanned territory and getting to hear about his Liberatorium. I guess he saw that we were easy-going, and wiling to take things as they come! This opportunity brought us to Kielce and Dabrowa Dolna to Radek and Krystyna’s home. It was a splendid meet up, essentially “at the edge of the world.” At his home/studio he shared his love of books, the books he makes, his polymath being, and the entire process of producing a book that resides in his mind out in the open as a physical entity.

Collaborations come about in various forms. Often the intent is not at all to collaborate, but things happen—and what seems as a collaboration is not such. I see ours as a concert, an alliance — indeed a cor-respondence, a correspondence, a correspondAnce from a number of factors, beginning from our interaction in 2006. I see correspondAnce as stemming from shared kinship and respect with Radek. CorrespondAnce-Sein is a level of consciousness, different from what I experience/d when drawing the dancers. That difference became apparent upon reviewing the text and design which lent the book its nature! Some collaborations are very involved, there is a lengthy back and forth; others are reflections; in some collaborations the material is hashed over, reworked and peered at closely, argued and integrated towards a comfortable whole; yet others strive for a more precarious balance until both/all parties feel they are on the same page. In our case it was a correspondence by virtue of a particular brand of trust. Two individuals who take their own skills and modalities seriously, and respect the same in the other(s). Is that not what a part of dance is also about; about hitting one’s mark, about not being dropped, about being supplemented with counter energies that complement  as well as provide tension to one’s own movement in space?

To my knowledge, CorrespondAance is in the collection of the University of Poznan, Poland, Joicy and Johannes, in 2013 six copies were bought by 
Fiorello LaGuardia High School of Music and Art & Performing Arts…

To purchase a copy:

Or contact Radek Nowakowski at Thank you. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Learning form, accepting the path

 March MMXI. An assignment for Nihon Shuji although it was not graded. Rendered with the brush dipped four times from start to finish. First dip to write 9 characters and subsequently 4, 5, and 10. Very interesting to write while the brush is losing ink; but in the hands of the really adept such writing takes place at a very heightened pace and rhythm. Perhaps I will get there in few years, yet I am glad I went for it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Conscience meets Crucifixion

The Rejected, 
Ink on Kozo paper, 38.5"x72", 2000.
Let us look at the question Chris Hedges asked recently in Liberty Square in New York City “as part of an appeal to Trinity Church to turn over to the Occupy Wall Street movement an empty lot:” 
Where were you when they crucified my Lord?
The above should be seen as an exhortation towards self-examination. The examination of ones conscience. A self examination which prepares one to respond to the question when it is encountered in ones being. The crucifixion is a two pronged metaphor: the injustices that people face, as well as those who subject others--their bodies, minds and indeed the souls to strife. Everything else follows from here. 

A crucifixion in Christian thought happens every time a grave injustice is done; injustices where dignity is stripped away, wills are forced: rapaciousness, and mayhem is loosed upon the weak—those with less reach. It happens daily. The conscience asks this question of the Christian every time ones core becomes aware that something egregious had come to pass, and ones place in that injustice. The core can be ignored but the question comes up—it is always asked.  

The conscience also asks the same question of others, and I presume on the following lines: In your being and knowing, did you not see their plight? 

There is an obvious, and not oblivious aspect in play here. So the question is a yardstick, a plumb line, a spirit level if you will--towards a consideration for ones fellows. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Seeking lessons from within one’s interior


Helen Pinto’s response to a post by Smita Shah Shetty’s on Facebook brought to mind thoughts on interiority. It may seem like an extrapolation, but some consideration to my thoughts will be appreciated.

Smita Shetty posted the following:
I asked myself how to handle life. 
My room gave me the perfect answer.
Roof said: Aim high.
Fan: Be cool.
Clock: Value time.
Calendar: Be up to date.
Wallet: Save now for future.
Mirror: Observe yourself.
Wall: Share other's load.
Window: Expand the vision.
Floor: Always be down to earth..
Have A Good Day.....

The directness and sincerity of Helen Pinto’s response to Smita Shah Shetty: Amazing is it not - lessons can be learnt so close to home, only if we care to…, struck me as a quality utterly lacking in many of us today. This ability in a response to greet, touch, to celebrate the other at the same time, from wherever we may be—by giving words consideration, seeing the meaning in them is a waning quality. 

Over the years I have seen too many of my compatriots as being less in personhood and more individualistic; where anything uttered from the opposite mouth does not matter and is regarded as inconsequential. Often we but cannot see that it is the simpler conduits that show us where within wholeness we belong. Reason gives meaning to reality, and the power to understand it, alongside the experiences we encounter and attempt to process. 

Only someone who is silent is listening. And only the invisible is transparent. To be sure, a deeper silence than mere abstention from speech and utterance is required. There is also interior speech which must also become mute, so things might find their proper utterance (Pieper, 1991).

Within a more secular frame of seeing: The ability to make analogies is in a way a gift; which of course can be learnt. However, applying any understanding, and maintaining the focus and fortitude to do so—nay, the resolve, is a whole other struggle. It is as though one has little choice but to shape a personal pedagogy (since we tend to slip and we do often slip); one that addresses the need to ceaselessly look within or glean meaning from within. That awareness changes how we see the outside, learn from the surrounds, and mesh ourselves with those thoughts and energies. 
Pieper, Josef. 1991. A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart. San Francisco: Ignatius.
images: In the Distance of Affection; calligraphy: Seikou Kaneko

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Shodoka Michiko Imai: Embrace your treasure/s

When I learnt via FB that the Shodoka, Michiko Imai would have a demonstration at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston—my mind was made up to go to Boston. In the West, there are few opportunities to be in the presence of persons practicing any form ardently and persuasively—breathing it, so to speak. Experience teaches us what is and what is not. Having observed her manner in the virtual world that is Facebook, and having had the opportunity to appreciate her works, there was no hesitation in making a decision: Tat tvam asi (Sanskrit) That thou art.

We had planned to get there early from New York on the 6:50 am bus, and stay the length of the demonstration. I along with Noriko Miyawaki were there for only one reason—to see, meet and greet Shodoka Michiko Imai. Thats still one reason! Unfortunately, our bus was very late (not one but two breakdowns on Megabus). 

But we were glad to get to see her brush three pieces: Sei Shonagon’s, Makura no soshi 枕草子 (Pillow book)/the winter section, in Kana; the charcater Ai  (Love) in Gyosho (semi-cursive); and Ryu (dragon), which is in the zodiac calendar 干支 (Kanshi/Eto) in Sosho (cursive). In the Pillow book piece, Michiko brought out/made extant the sound contained in the section relating to snow very admirably. Shodo has many components, and its Ways may be paralleled with being and existence itself. This becomes evident when one learns to see what a shodoka’s unique ability, and sensibility to manifest consciousness through line, with its two principal attendants—nijimi 滲み (blotting, blurring…) and kasure 掠れ (brush traces) among other inflections, can convey to a character, a line, and certainly to a body of text. In that sense, and solely in my opinion, a Shodoka and the way of Shodo is closer to Iaido and Aikido on the one hand; and Chado/Sado (Way of Tea), Kado (Way of Flowers) and Kodo (Way of Incense) on the other. It is decisive yet deliberate—honed through ones being over time. The mind through all of this is clear and tranquil.

Michiko Imai was born in Nara. Her calligraphy studies began at the tender age of four at the Baikou Calligraphy school; she subsequently gained membership to the Tenshin Kai, and later to the Cho-ko Guild. Her work has been displayed at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Osaka Municipal Museum Of Art, Nara City Museum Of Art and the Kyoto Municipal Museum Of Art; and she “is among the few to have won multiple best of category awards in national competitions (Japan).” More information may be found on her site.

Her setup for the demonstration was in the Druker Family Pavilion, Community Room 159 at the MFA Boston—a lovely space fronted by glass and open to viewing from the expansive corridor which had some people doing just that while relaxing in lovely chairs. Michiko looked resplendent working on red felts; in a dark kimono, a compact obi, and spotless tabi. Above all she moved well, and in her movement, both in her Sho as well as her artistic deportment, and overall comportment—in turn moved her audience. She spoke about the totality of her art practice (the materials, work and presentation), relationship of space to the brushed characters, a bit about brushes and absorbency; her choice of a particular brush and relationship to paper—for writing the character Ryu. she explained why it is essential for her to mount her own kakejiku (scroll). Ms Imai is also an artisan artist (Hyougushi)—one who mounts/makes scrolls; which she learnt during her apprentice at Mizuno Hyougu-ten, while she also taught calligraphy. The piece she spoke about (see image below) was well constructed and had a unique sense of balance and space dynamics. These are aspects that take years to imbue and I could not stop sharing the nomenclature of the various parts of a scroll with Noriko. That happens when one enjoys such pursuits.

Ryu (dragon) in Sosho


It was also good to see the other pieces around the room, which she has calligraphed earlier, alongside various other study examples. At the back of the room, there were adjoining tables with all seats taken with visitors/afficionados keen on trying their hand at Shodo. The overall energy was very palpable and a credit to Michiko Imai. 

It was soon time to leave. We managed to get an earlier bus back to New York—happy that we had availed of this opportunity. Embrace your treasure/s, thats besides: inkstone, inkstick, paper and brush for sure! Thats what happened, except that it was Ms Imai who graciously reached out and embraced, a hug in American parlance—a circle completed, the line taken back to the Big Apple.

PS: Excuse the poor angles of the images. 
These links may be of interest: 

Monday, December 5, 2011

What is Drawing? Towards wholeness…

Drawing though the agency of line is a vehicle to express emotion: implied or explicit, however fragmented the sensation received from the subject, which gets formulated into consciousness upon contemplation. The outpouring consciousness from the experience seeks expression in its own way, through marks: uneven, thick, thin, curved, jagged, rolling, reluctant or swift lines articulating a particular emotion where the line makes the layers of emotion whole. The experience is memorized as real and the drawing surface harmonizes into a whole; in unity with one’s reality.
To engage with thoughts, and those of others
a larger consciousness. Sympathetic space.
The why of things, occurrences, stirrings, evocations,
the space between one's legs, a visage, the tilt of a head,
Spaces that certain people simply seem to inhabit.

(excerpted from my unpublished essay Speculatio through Drawing. 2011)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Middle Kingdoms keeps playing Oppugner

This may come to haunt me someday, perhaps in getting a visa, or worse perhaps a distant future in calligraphy connected with Chinese calligraphers; but Chinese leaders truly fight some of the most inane battles, now including race issues—and worse on issues related to Buddhism which in any case reached China from what is now India. China with its resilience, its brand of capitalism grafted onto communism as well a highly inculcated sense of patriotism—has so much going for them. But still it continues to oppugn—in a continuum of opposition to India, which is on its own trip anyways.
The Battle for Buddha: The latest Indo-China spat is just another chapter in the ‘Great Game with Buddhist characteristics’, says Ashok Malik
“Beijing tried to convey,” a Ministry of External Affairs official then said, “that China, South Korea and Japan being nations of Mongoloid people were closer to East Asia, while India, Australia and New Zealand were not.” The target was India, which China wanted to keep out of the ASEAN inner track.”

Johnny ML on Ramdas Tadka (1968-2010)

Ramdas Tadka goes Behind the Shadow of Big Bose

An incisive piece that respectfully gets into peering within the persona artists create and pass off as having been integral to their beginnings. It is awesome to see Macwan bring, The Other JJs together to showcase Ramdas Tadka. This is certainly very rare in India, and Johnny ML has also done a splendid take by writing about the book. Johnny ML is compassionate, yet lays bare human/artistic mores, concerns with their individual trajectories—in seeing how the artists invited to speak of Ramdas Tadka essentially use the book, perhaps inadvertently as a platform for themselves. In a sense, I dare add—it succeeds in a very christian and gracious vein in the manner of acknowledging Tadka’s being, drive and hopes, much as Julius Macwan set out to do. The invited artists have all been there, done this that and the other, yet clarity is missing. The reason for their being part of the book seems to be clouded. Essentially success has not eluded them, but something called “Kalatmik manuski” has. Having said that this is not an affront but rather a nod to the survivors an African proverb, “until lions have their historians, the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”