Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fish Tales

I treated myself to some relaxation time cutting stencils after the big show went up. I am supposed to be getting ready for a trunk show at the close of my Portland exhibit, but stencil cutting is one of the best ways I know to unwind. The images I was using were Asian vegetables and fish, from a Japanese clip art source. The vegetables I recognized mostly, but the fish were so specific that I got out my good Japanese cookbook, organized by ingredient, and when that was not enough I walked over to the OSU bookstore for a fish book so I could look them up. Here is one of the stencils I cut. This is a sea bream, a lovely red rockfish that is evidently as tasty as it is beautiful, and it shows up occasionally in Japanese textiles. I am looking forward to using it and painting the lovely red color. The other six fish in the series are not so brightly colored.

The convention of naturalistic images began during the Edo period, when scientific observation developed. I have a piece of antique silk with wonderful images of sea life, so detailed that I could easily identify porgy, tuna, flounder, and eel plus octopus, clam, and crab. I bought it in a shop in Tokyo particularly for the octopus since that was "my" animal during my research career, but now I am finding the fish fascinating.

Can you imagine wearing a delicate silk crepe summer kimono with this fierce looking porgy on it?

The flying koi banners you see are called koi nobori, carp banners. I was fortunate to be in Japan once during Boy's Day and got to see them for myself. Usually what one sees are carp (koi). Carp can be rather aggressive in the wild and Chinese legend has it that they can swim upward through a waterfall. Therefore they represent striving against adversity, a manly attribute. For this reason there are many textiles and banners for boy's day that depict carp. This is one that I bought several years ago.

I also have a stencil, one of the most intricate I ever cut, that shows carp ascending a waterfall. Susanna Kuo's book Carved Paper, has a similar stencil on the cover. I think I realized I had "arrived" as a stencil cutter when I found I could cut at that level of detail.

More often on women's kimono one sees the more languid and decorative ornamental koi we associate with Japanese gardens. I have a stencil I use for indigo but it is much more interesting when I paint it with my pigment dyes. This fabric panel is very impressionistic. The resist paste defines the image clearly, but I like the way the loose application of color seems to break up the image like moving water.

My own fish art these days is mostly salmon and trout. As an invertebrate zoologist I tended to overlook fish in favor of the bright colors of the tide pool animals I love. When I got to really looking at trout I discovered what flashy little creatures they really are. The three small quilts I did for the most recent show depict Dolly Varden, and Brook Trout with their delicate colored spots and rich red spawning Coho.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

those are really amazing pieces-both your collected silk from the tokyo shop, the stencils you cut, and the trout pieces you did. that little octopus is really lovely-so delicate!
thanks for posting these!