External Commentary

I showed my work to George Szirtes  who, as well as being a friend, is an award winning poet. He also trained as an artist and was Head of Art at a secondary school before going on to teach Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. His comments are very thoughtful and go beyond the usual commentary of what people do or don’t like about a piece of work, instead posing a series of probing questions. I’ve highlighted his comments in blue below followed by my response to the questions that he raises.

The Cyanotypes are in some ways the simplest to deal with. The process produces a kind of lunar, haunted beauty, as if we could find moonflowers by moonlight. The process determines the product. It brings home the otherness of flowers.

It is satisfying that George considers that the series “brings home the otherness of flowers”. It is also interesting that he considers the images to have a kind of “lunar haunted beauty” given that they were produced from the effect of sunlight on the cyanotype chemicals. I can see, however, what he means; the predominant bluish hue from the cyanotype process is a colour more associated with moonlight and the hazy, diffused focus of the flowers is closer to less intense evening light than the harsh glare of sunlight. The question this poses for me is whether it affects my original intention of using the images to portray global heating and its consequent effects. Does the lunar beauty negate the intended portrayal of the dangers of a warming planet? I think that the cyanotype process still stands as a metaphor for global heating given that it uses the Ultraviolet rays of intense sunlight to produce the main image. The names of the coloured pigments used in the titles of the images (Baked Earth, Hot Red, Red Earth etc) are also intended to signify heating and some of the effects of climate change. Perhaps this shows that, when exhibited (physically or online) I should emphasise the associations between climate change and the cyanotype process and the image titles. As a consequence of this I have changed the Cyanotypes page of floremis.com website to place these associations first and foremost on the page.

 


The Pesticides make a more complex set in that the effects produced involve material that already has a significance. We have a natural (or is it learned?) distrust of pesticides. Whether the images – especially the runny images – might have been produced in another way has become secondary. We know it is pesticide so the irony of the image is an aspect of what we already know.  The questions asked by the images are: Can we have beauty borne of poison? Must poison produce ugly images? Dannie Abse had a fine poem (‘Pathology of colours’) about the beautiful colours of tumours. 

Given that the title of the series is Pesticides, George is correct in saying that “the irony of the image is an aspect of what we already know”. Personally I think that we probably have a learned distrust of pesticides rather than a natural one, in recent times pesticides were initially seen a saviour, enabling vastly increased food yields. But then the discovery of the negative effects of DDT and many other pesticides changed opinion significantly. While pesticides may still have a useful role to play, many people are drawn to organic produce, perhaps as a result of this distrust of pesticides. It is true that the indiscriminate use of pesticides can have a hugely damaging effect on plants (and us all) not least through the reduction in the numbers of pollinating insects. I do, therefore, therefore think that it is significant that the final image has been produced by the application of a pesticide on the print even though this may have become a secondary aspect to the viewer. The more challenging questions that George asks are “Can we have beauty borne of poison? Must poison produce ugly images?” He references Dannie Abse’s poem Pathology of Colours, the first stanza of which reads:

I know the colour rose, and it is lovely,

but not when it ripens in a tumour;

and healing greens, leaves and grass, so springlike,

in limbs that fester are not springlike.

I think that Abse goes some way to answering George’s question in that he is describing how colours can be beautiful in some settings but awful when associated with others. It is not the colour itself that is beautiful or ugly but its association with the setting or condition that renders it so. This is relevant to the Pesticides series in that the images may be seen as ugly by some or by others as beautiful. As with colours it is the association with pesticides that will perhaps determine the ugliness or beauty rather than the image itself. So it would seem to me that we can have beauty borne of poison, if the association with the cause of the beauty is lessened or discounted. If the association is over-emphasised, then perhaps poison will produce ugly images in the mind of those who concentrate on the poison side of the association rather than the image side.

To me it is not so important as to whether the images are regarded as beautiful or ugly, what is important is the impact that is made and the distortions caused by the application of the pesticides being symbolic of their indiscriminate use.

 

More complexity in Surinomo. Image and text are related of course but lead their separate lives. Anne’s poems are lovely both as poems and as texts arising out of quite specific views of certain flowers. The Surinomo tradition is itself culturally rooted so we are aware of adaptation. It is interesting to think how far – if at all – the Surinomo tradition can be visually related to Baroque still-life depictions of flowers. How do flowers appear when isolated against a very dark or very light background? How far do we consciously enter the realm of another culture and what does that entry involve? And, putting culture aside, how far does the text come to dominate, or determine, the visual reading of the image? These are huge questions of course but fascinating ones.

There are a number of interesting points here. First of all, the question as to whether the Surimono tradition can be visually related to Baroque still-life depictions of flowers. I think that George is referring here to my images in the Surimono series rather than the Japanese traditional series. I hadn’t thought of this comparison when I first took the photographs, but can see some similarity, mainly the use of the black background. George must be referring to Dutch and Flemish still-life painters of the Baroque period, where floral still lifes were popular.

An example of such painting is Jacob Vosmaer’s A Vase with Flowers which dates from around 1613. Vosmaer was “an early if not pioneering specialist in the painting of flower pictures” (Liedtke 2003).  

The similarity with some of my photographs in the Surimono series is with the highlighted blooms against a dark background (although, as with my own images, Dutch still-life pictures were also set against lighter backgrounds). I think that the similarity ends there though, the Dutch floral still lifes presented as bouquets where “the artists, although portraying genuine flowers, depicted them in impossible arrangements: blooms from all four seasons were shown at once” (Making, Meaning and Market s.d.). This contrasts with my images of single blooms and where there is no arrangement or holding vase.

To me the more intriguing question is around entering the realm of another culture and what does the entry involve. My Surimono series stems from my Research project which looked at the influence of Japanese art on the floral images of Vincent Van Gogh, Odilon Redon and Edna Boies Hopkins. Studying Japanese art, and particularly woodblock printing, I came across Surimono, an art form that combined poetry with an image in a single print. Working with a published poet I produced a combined image of photograph and poem into a single image. This was undoubtedly an appropriation of the Japanese art form. But cultural appropriation has been happening for centuries, Millington (2018) considers that “many of the world’s most celebrated art movements and objects are the result of it”. Young (2008) sets out five distinct types of cultural appropriation: object, content, style, motif and subject appropriation. In my Surimono series I have appropriated the style of Surimono but produced an image that is culturally and aesthetically very different from the original. It is at this point, therefore, that George’s questions “How far do we consciously enter the realm of another culture and what does that entry involve?” become pertinent. The title of the series, Surimono, is culturally distinctive, but I prefer to think of the images as influenced by the concept of Surimono (combined picture and poem in a single image) rather than a simple copy of a culturally distinctive genre. To continue with the title Surimono does perhaps infer unnecessary cultural appropriation, but I believe that it gives due recognition to the inspiration behind the series and , hopefully, encourage people to find out more about a fascinating Japanese art form.


The Grave Flowers group is chiefly about the relationship of real to artificial flowers in the specific circumstances of mourning and memorial. This could take us back to Baroque art in its depictions of mortal or ephemeral things as a kind of moral lesson, as in the Vanitas tradition (bubbles, butterflies, flowers). The question would seem to be whether we should employ flowers by gravesides as emblems of mortality, and, if so, should we keep refreshing them as emblems of renewal or resurrection, or whether we may regard artificial flowers as an extension of the stone monument as an emblem of permanence. Certainly there is something a little gaudy about most artificial flowers but one might argue that gaudiness is an aspect of celebration to put beside the gravity of stone. 

The main question here asks whether we employ flowers by gravesides as a symbol of mortality (fresh flowers symbolising transience and perhaps renewal) or as an emblem of permanence (artificial flowers) in a similar way to the monument or headstone. My series explores this and I have written on it in more detail as I explore the iconography of the images (Coe 2020). From that work I note how Barkham (2011) quotes the The Rev Geoff Stickland “The metaphor of flowers is the beauty that weathers and decays. That is why we always put real flowers in the churchyard where they are associated with funerals. Plastic ones don’t decay, so the metaphor gets lost”.

This is one view of the function of flowers at a graveside and is not a view that everyone would agree with. I believe, however, that my Grave Flowers series explores this issue

 

 

 

References

 

Abse, D. (1968) A Small Desperation: Poems. London: Hutchinson.

Barkham, P. (2011) ‘Should fake flowers be banned from cemeteries?’ In: The Guardian 12/01/2011 At: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/jan/12/cemetery-ban-for-fake-flowers (Accessed 24/07/2020).

Coe, R. (2020) Grave Flowers. At: https://floremis.com/grave-flowers.html (Accessed 27/05/2021).

Liedtke, A. W. (2003) Still-Life Painting in Northern Europe, 1600–1800. At: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/nstl/hd_nstl.htm (Accessed 19/02/2021).

Making, Meaning and Market (s.d.) At: https://dutch.arts.gla.ac.uk/still_life.htm (Accessed 19/02/2021).

Millington, R. (2018) Art History | Cultural appropriation & the art of the steal. At: https://ruthmillington.co.uk/the-art-of-the-steal-cultural-appropriation-art-history/ (Accessed 18/11/2020).

Young, J. O. (2008) Cultural Appropriation and the Arts. Oxford: Blackwell.

Reflective commentary on the course

My final body of work shows significant development from my early submissions. Tutor comments from Assignment 1 suggested a strong theme that needed a clearer outline.  The most significant comment was “Allow experimentation and process to uncover a working practice rather than – as it seems – much overthinking of the links before making images”.

Three of my series resulted from this encouragement – Pesticides, Cyanotypes and Surimono. Another tutor comment referred to the need to contextualise my work within artistic traditions. This helped me to progress the Pesticide and Cyanotype series within a surrealist tradition and develop the Grave Flowers series as a typological study.

 

Pesticides

My pesticides series came out of a discussion at one of the regular OCA Google Hangouts we have for Level 3 Creative Arts students. We were discussing how to convey my topic of the threats faced by flowers and plants. Someone suggested spraying my photos with pesticides. I tried this on several images on different photographic papers, but none of it worked the image stayed fast. It was only when I tried it on a thinner Rice Paper did I get the sort of effect I was looking for. Even then it turned out to be accidental, or as Andre Breton would put it ‘Objective Chance’ as I had previously returned the paper to the box the wrong way round, so I was printing on the untreated side of the paper. Having realised this, I experimented with different papers, sprayers, sponges, brushes etc. to achieve different effects.

Crocus


Cyanotypes

My Cyanotype series stems from looking at the work of Anna Atkins, but also from the work I was doing on my Creative Arts Research module where I was looking at the influence of Japanese art on the floral images of some European and North American artists. In this research I came across Aizuri which are monochromatic Japanese woodblock prints. I was struck by the affinities with Atkins’ early cyanotypes and made my own version of flowers. But the big change came when I was looking at the work of Betty Hahn. She uses many types of photographic images, cyanotypes, Van Dyke prints, photolithographs and adds to them with watercolour, pastels even stitching. This set me off looking at ways of adding to my own cyanotypes – I tried using watercolour and pastels on them, which was interesting to do, but resulted in vastly inferior copies of what Batty Hahn did. I experimented with adding pigments to the cyanotype chemicals and using watercolours on the paper but none of it worked as the colours washed out. Again, it was during a Google Hangout with fellow students that provided the breakthrough when someone suggested I use Derwent Inktense. I used these sticks to add colour to the paper before coating with the Cyanotype chemicals. This was giving the sort of result I was looking for. Further experiments, with two or more colours, and using artists’ ink with droppers gave the images I was trying to achieve.

Sunflower – Burnt Umber, Red Earth


Surimono

My Surimono series also owes its origins to my Research study of Japanese art where I came across the concept of Surimono which is where poets would commission an artist to illustrate their poetry to give a final integrated image of woodblock print and poem. I was fascinated by this as in virtually all the combinations of text and photograph that I had seen the text was beneath or alongside the photograph. This was true of all the photopoetry books that I could find. So I embarked on a collaborative project with a published poet to produce an integrated image of poem and photograph, influenced by the concept of Surimono. While it was my research of Japanese art that led to my discovery of Surimono, it was looking at the work of Karl Blossfeldt that influenced the way I photographed the flowers – looking at the form and detail of flowers rather than trying to find the ‘perfect bloom’. I use flowers that were before or after their peak to convey the sense of threat that they face.

Cucurbita pepo


Grave Flowers

My final images are the only ones not to have been greatly influenced by my studies of Japanese art.  They resulted from the first Coronavirus lockdown where we were only allowed out once a day for exercise. When walking through a local cemetery I noticed the differences between flowers left at the gravesides. Where natural flowers had been left, they had withered and not been replaced due to the lockdown, whereas the artificial flowers were mainly in the same condition as when they had been left. This seemed to me a metaphor for the for the replacement of the natural with the artificial. With the encouragement of my tutor, I prepared the photos as a typological study. I have also undertaken an iconographical analysis of some of the images in another section of this Learning Log.

Grave Flowers 1

Grave Flowers 2

 

 

Photopoetry

Nott (2018:25) describes the origins of photopoetry from the mid-19th century. He considers the most engaging works “combine the visuality of photography and the textuality of poetry to create multisensory sites reliant upon the independence and interdependence of text and image”. Nott also categorises photopoetry into collaborative and retrospective; collaborative is where a photographer and a poet work together on a project, whereas retrospective refers to instances where a photographer makes images to accompany an existing collection of poems (often some time after the poems were written, and rarely the other way round with a poet writing verse to accompany an existing collection of photographs). Retrospective work was more common in the 19th and early 20th century whereas collaborative endeavours became the most common type from the mid-20th century on.

Nicholls & Ling (s.d.) give a good overview of published photopoetic work, with examples of retrospective books such as Leaves of Grass (Weston & Whitman 1942) where the photographer Edward Weston’s 1941 photographs illustrated Walt Whitman’s poems from 1855. One of the better known more recent examples of collaborative work is Elmet (Hughes & Godwin 1994), a book published by the then Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and the well-known photographer Fay Godwin.

It is interesting to note that among the many examples of photopoetry shown by Nott (2018) and by Nicholls & Ling (s.d.) very few have the poem as intimately integrated with the image, as is the case in Surimono. In the overwhelming majority of cases the poem is printed on a facing page or underneath or alongside the image. This is quite understandable when the poems are too long to incorporate alongside the photograph, but even when the poems are short, such as in Haiku: The Mood of Earth (Atwood 1971) nearly all the poems are on a white background next to the photograph.

References

Atwood, A. (1971) Haiku: The Mood of Earth. The Haiku Foundation Digital Library. At: https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/omeka/items/show/2365 (Accessed 25/01/2021).

Hughes, T. and Godwin, F. (1994) Elmet. London: Faber & Faber.

Nicholls, J. and Ling, K. (s.d.) PhotoPoetry. At: https://www.photopedagogy.com/photopoetry.html (Accessed 21/12/2020).

Nott, M. (2018) Photopoetry 1845-2015, a Critical History. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. At: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=HjNWDwAAQBAJ

Weston, E. and Whitman, W. (1942) Leaves of Grass. New York: Limited Editions Club.

 

Pesticides 2

In my previous post I described how, by chance, I developed a method to produce the pesticide prints using Hahnemuhle Rice Photopaper and a pesticide spray and intended to “experiment with different ways of applying the pesticide (brush, sponge, spray)”

It has since transpired that the element of chance was even greater than I had originally described. I discovered that the effect on the Rice Paper had been due to the paper having been returned to the box upside down. I was printing on the wrong, untreated, side of the paper. This explained why the effect did not work on the other photo papers; equally when I tried spraying images printed on the treated side of HM Rice Paper, I could not achieve the same effect as previously.

Having discovered this, I tried printing on a range of papers e.g. plain card, water colour paper, untreated sides of different photo papers. Each gave a different result, some more effective than others.

 

Innova Decor Watercolour Inkjet paper - treated side

 

Innova Decor Watercolour Inkjet paper - untreated side

 

Hahnemuhle Bamboo Inkjet paper -untreated side

 

Eventually I decided that a range of effects could be obtained from printing and spraying on Hahnemuhle Bamboo Mixed Media Paper (from their Artists Papers series).

Different results could be obtained by spraying direct from the pesticide bottle or by using mist sprayers. Tilting the paper caused the inks to run and produced different patterns. None of the methods are entirely controllable and the end results contain a significant element of chance. This is in the tradition of the surrealist movement whose members “embraced the element of chance” (Lebowitz 2018).

Hahnemuhle Bamboo Mixed Media

 

Reference

Lebowitz, R. (2018) 8 Surrealist Photographers You Should Know, from Dora Maar to Man Ray. At: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-8-surrealist-photographers-dora-maar-man-ray (Accessed 26/11/2020).

Surimono 5 – Publication

We have now produced 15 images, and it is encouraging that my poetry colleague wishes to continue the collaboration beyond my needs for this course. She is keen to produce a book length collection of images.

Twelve of the images have been published on the Plants, People, Planet Facebook account (Plants, People, Planet (Facebook) s.d.) and their Twitter account (Plants, People, Planet (Twitter) s.d.). Plants, People Planet is “a cross-disciplinary Open Access journal, owned by the New Phytologist Foundation, focusing on the interface between plants and society” (Plants People Planet 2020)

This has given useful feedback on the individual images albeit from a very specialist audience. On Facebook the three images with the most ‘Likes’ and ‘Loves’ were:

 

Whereas on Twitter the three images with most ‘Likes’ and ‘Retweets’ were:

Together with Iris as shown above.

 

References

Plants People Planet (2020) At: https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/25722611 (Accessed 01/12/2020).

Plants, People, Planet (Facebook) (s.d.) At: https://www.facebook.com/plantspeopleplanet/ (Accessed 02/12/2020).

Plants, People, Planet (Twitter) (s.d.) At: https://twitter.com/plantspplplanet?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor (Accessed 02/12/2020).

Surimono 4 – Development

Our second piece of collaborative work is called ‘this ambiguous dancer’. The title refers to the form of the flower, the twisted petals, but also to the fact to the unknown identity of the species of flower in the photograph. It was a flower from the garden and I did not know the name of the plant and efforts to identify it, particularly from the photograph supplied, have been difficult. Hence the ambiguity in the title.

 

For a third collaboration I wanted a different background colour for a couple of reasons, firstly the next subject, a dark tulip, would not show up as well against a black background. Secondly I don’t think it would be appropriate to have a black background for every photograph, variety would be good. 

The third subject was a tulip, ‘Queen of the Night’. The flower itself is striking, but the name also has connotations e.g. to Mozart’s opera. I was reminded of a sculpture in the British Museum also called ‘The Queen of the Night’ and which is thought to depict the Mesopotamian god Ereshkigal (Collon 2005). The poem references the story of the descent of the god Ishtar to the underworld which is ruled by her sister Ereshkigal.

 

The story relates how Ishtar has to pass through seven gates, discarding an item of clothing at each one. After the seventh gate she is naked and has lost all her power and is killed by Ereshkigal.

 

Reference

Collon, D. (2005) The Queen of the Night. London: British Museum.

Grave Flowers – Iconography

My Grave flowers series were photographs of natural and artificial flowers left at gravesides. They were taken in a cemetery during  the first Coronavirus lockdown. Thee photographs  strike the viewer in two different ways, those where natural flowers have wilted or withered (quite common during the Coronavirus lockdown) – and those where artificial flowers had been left. The artificial flowers are very bright, sometimes garish, often in contrast to the faded headstones.

These photographs of flowers left in a cemetery strike the viewer in two different ways, those where natural flowers have wilted or withered (quite common during the Coronavirus lockdown) – and those where artificial flowers had been left. The artificial flowers are very bright, sometimes garish, often in contrast to the faded headstones. 

It is interesting to formally evaluate these images in iconographical terms. “Iconography became the name in art history for one of the discipline’s central, and defining, activities: identifying the formal and symbolic elements in visual representation and then elaborating upon their wider social and cultural importance” (Harris 2006:148). The methodology was first proposed by Erwin Panofsky in the 1950s where “The subject matter or meaning was  … to be established by referring to the understandings of the symbols and signs in a painting that its contemporary audiences would have had” (Rose 2016:198). Panofsky constructed a frame which consisted of three separate levels of visual interpretation (ibid):

Primary    natural      pre-iconographic  

 

Secondary  conventional      iconographic

 

Intrinsic symbolic                         iconological

 

In terms of analysing an image Gbrich (2015) describes them as:

 

Primary 

 

a factual description of the image
Secondary

 

analysis of the meanings of the signs or symbols within the image
Intrinsic

 

how the signs or symbols relate to the period in which the image was made

Primary level

At this level the photographs are of graves within a cemetery with the text on the headstones and there are flowers, some dying, some artificial, by the grave. Some of the graves have other ornamentation such as toys, lanterns, small figurines.

 

Secondary Level

There are a number of symbols within the images. Flowers, particularly when drooping or losing petals, are a typical motif of the transience of life, frequently used in Vanitas still life paintings, particularly in Dutch and Spanish art of the 17th century (Chilvers 2009). Flowers are a symbol of the transience of life when they bloom and die back “Doomed to die almost as soon as they bloom, they wither sadly on the stem in rank disorder, eventually falling to the ground from which they came” (Taussig 2003:118). 

 There are religious symbols within images GF005 and GF006. The cherubs represent angels that “surrounded God in perpetual adoration” (Hall 2008:17) and perhaps also refer to the age of the deceased. The candles are symbolic of the light of faith and are “an attribute of faith personified” (Hall 2008:59).The lanterns in the two images are symbols of Christ the Redeemer most notably displayed in William Holman Hunt’s painting “The Light of the World“.

The leaving of toys at the graves of children, seen in images GF001, GF002 and GF005, perhaps dates back to Victorian times, in the late 19th century “it was customary for the family of a deceased child to leave a doll at the gravesite” (Cherrell 2019). While the leaving of doll likenesses of a child no longer occurs, leaving toys is still a regular occurrence and are symbolic of the young age at which the deceased passed away.

Intrinsic Level

The question arises as to the symbolism of artificial flowers, which don’t wither on the stem. Their colours may fade over time, but only after a considerable period. Artificial flowers are not a new phenomenon, “Immortelles were mass-produced fake flowers used in the Victorian and Edwardian period for placing on graves in lieu of real flowers” (Marriott 2018).

But can today’s mass-produced, brightly coloured, plastic flowers have the same symbolic meaning as natural flowers?  Some religious leaders have enforced rules against them, Barkham (2011) quotes the The Rev Geoff Stickland “The metaphor of flowers is the beauty that weathers and decays. That is why we always put real flowers in the churchyard where they are associated with funerals. Plastic ones don’t decay, so the metaphor gets lost,”

This is just one church leader, however, and not all would agree with his approach, many cemeteries outside church settings do not have similar rules. Artificial flowers have been left for the same purpose as natural flowers, but do they contain the same symbolic meaning. Have artificial flowers lost the symbolic nature of transience (as seen in images GF003 and GF004 the bright colours of the artificial flowers are in marked contrast to the faded headstones) or does our present day culture accept that the representation of a flower (in plastic) still carries the connotation of the transience of life. Is the artificial flower a symbol for a real flower which is symbolic of transience or does it mean that in our present culture the act of leaving a symbol is as important as the symbol itself. 

References

 

Barkham, P. (2011) ‘Should fake flowers be banned from cemeteries?’ In: The Guardian 12/01/2011 At: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/jan/12/cemetery-ban-for-fake-flowers (Accessed 24/07/2020).
Cherrell, K. (2019) The World of Victorian Grave Dolls. At: https://burialsandbeyond.com/2019/01/20/the-world-of-victorian-grave-dolls/ (Accessed 24/07/2020).
Chilvers, I. (2009) The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (4th Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Colberg, J. (2017) Understanding Photobooks: The Form and Content of the Photographic Book. Abingdon: Routledge.
Gbrich, C. (2015) Iconology and Iconography: Describing, Classifying and Interpreting Religious and Artistic Objects. Directed by Gbrich, C. (s.l.). At: http://methods.sagepub.com/base/download/DatasetStudentGuide/art-iconology
Hall, J. (2008) Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. Boulder: Westview Press.
Harris, J. (2006) Art History: The Key Concepts. Abingdon: Routledge.
Marriott, J. (2018) Immortelles and inspirations: a logo for Life, Death (and the Rest). At: https://arnosvale.org.uk/life-death-and-the-rest-logo/ (Accessed 24/07/2020).
Rose, G. (2016) Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials (4th Edition). London: Sage.
Taussig, M. (2003) ‘The Language of Flowers’ In: Critical inquiry 30 (1) pp.98–131.

 

 

Surimono 3 – What is Surimono?

Surimono (literally ‘printed thing’) originally applied to Japanese woodblock printed material generally, but by the Edo period (1615-1868) the term came to be used for “limited edition, single-sheet woodblock prints that were distributed as private gifts rather than sold commercially” (Hanaoka and Pollard 2018:13). They were often of the highest quality, both in terms of the materials used (paper, inks) and the expertise of the printer. They became very popular in the late eighteenth to mid nineteenth century (Siffert 1996). They were not commercial products, but generally privately commissioned by poetry groups. Prints would consist of a poem, or several poems, together with an image; poets or poetry groups would commission an artist to produce an image that resonated with the poems (Kazuhiro 2005:181). The poems were sometimes haiku (17 syllables in lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables) but in later works were usually in kyoka style, sometimes translated as mad or crazy poetry, kyoka are five line poems with the format of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables, (Yamaguchi s.d.).  Hanaoka and Pollard (2018:13) state that Kyoka poets aimed to challenge poetic traditions and subvert the classical poetry form, while demonstrating their own skills, wit and knowledge.

Popular woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) often ran into several thousand copies, but Surimono, being privately commissioned, were printed in much smaller numbers, sometimes just 50 or so. The artists commissioned to produce the image for the sheet were usually well-known professionals, including Katsushika Hokusai, who was “a brilliant innovator in surimono” (Kazuhiro 2005:181). Hanaoka and Pollard (2018:15) report that although surimono contained images, they were not intended for public display, instead they were for close examination in private. Both the images and the poetry rewarded careful study.

Poetry has always been an integral part of Japanese culture and consistently linked with other art forms and the combination of poetry with image is part of a long Japanese tradition combining literature and art (Hanaoka 2019). The range of topics and images contained within surimono is very wide. Many were commissioned to celebrate New Year and the artwork displayed activities associated with the marking of a new year. Other topics included Kabuki theatre scenes, courtesans, landscapes and still life. The still life category included birds and flower images (kachō-ga) although according to Brooks (2017:216) the majority of still life images are of manufactured objects. Nevertheless, there are many beautiful images of flowers incorporated within surimono prints, as shown in these examples from the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Kubo Shunman (1757-1820). He was “a celebrated painter, print-maker and author of the Edo period (1615-1868), as a print-maker, he specialised in surimono” (Kubo Shunman s.d.).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Left) Peonies and Iris and  (Right) Clematis, Bush Clover, Iris, Camellia and Azalea; by Kubo Shunman,1815, Woodblock print (surimono); ink and color on paper, Metropolitan Museum of Art; H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929

 

References

Brooks, K. (2017) Something Rubbed: Medium, History, and Texture in Japanese Surimono. Harvard University.

Hanaoka, K. (2019) Surimono and Poetry. At: https://blogs.ashmolean.org/easternart/2019/03/14/surimono-and-poetry/ (Accessed 18/01/2021).

Hanaoka, K. and Pollard, C. (2018) Plum blossom and green willow: Japanese surimono poetry prints from the Ashmolean Museum. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum.

Kazuhiro, K. (2005) ‘The ‘surimono artist’ Hokusai in the society of edo kyoka poets’ In: Carpenter, J. (ed.) Hokusai and His Age: Ukiyo-e Painting, Printmaking and Book Illustration in Late Edo Japan. Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing. pp.180–215.

Kubo Shunman – Owl on a Flowering Magnolia Branch (s.d.) At: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O121416/owl-on-a-flowering-magnolia-woodblock-print-kubo-shunman/ (Accessed 18/01/2021).

Siffert, B. Y. (1996) ‘Surimono in the Clarence Buckingham Japanese Print Collection: An Introduction’ In: Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 22 (1) pp.55–95.

Yamaguchi, M. (s.d.) Hokusai’s printed illustrated books. At: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-asia/art-japan/edo-period/a/hokusais-printed-illustrated-books (Accessed 16/01/2021).

Reflections on Part 4

I feel that my work has moved on significantly over the course of this module. My typological study of grave flowers is finished, subject to final sequencing and editing. I will be able to complete this once I know how many images I will be using from the other three sections.

The Pesticides series has developed, and I have experimented with different types of paper and methods of spraying on to the image. When I first started making these images I would use the original pesticide sprayer bottle which had a large nozzle and therefore deposited a lot of pesticide onto the paper, by holding the paper in different directions you could get the colours to run. Since then I have experimented with different sized sprayer nozzles as well as with paintbrushes and sponges. These all have different effects which means that different types of image can be produced. I have also connected the production of these images to the Surrealist tradition whose members “embraced the element of chance” (Lebowitz 2018). I also. think that these images best illustrate the influence that my Research studies have had on my Body of Work; the asymmetrical composition, areas of colour and use of empty space are all typical of Japanese art, particularly woodblock prints.

I have had a great deal of fun with the Cyanotypes, I think I have been quite creative in the way I have developed a method of adding colour to the final images. Again this process adds a substantial element of chance to the process in the surrealist tradition. The thing that I have found interesting about this process is that the possibilities seem endless, you can create very different images from the same negative by using different colours in different parts of the print. The level of chance involved in producing the image also means that each print is unique as it affected by which colours are chosen and how they are applied.

The Surimono images are something that originated from my Research studies, I had not come across them before I started to look in detail at Japanese woodblock prints. It has been interesting working with another artist in a very different style (a poet) but I think that we have produced an interesting take on the traditional Surimono format. We have produced 15 surimono style images so far and it is encouraging that my colleague, Anne Osbourn, wants to continue the collaboration beyond what I need for this course, and to carry on writing poems for further images.

Following on from the Surimono work I have looked further into the concept of Photopoetry and discovered that there was a long history of such work; “by 1867 some thirteen books of photographically illustrated poetry had been published” (Nott 2018). I had been aware of more recent works of Photopoetry, Ted Hughes and Fay Godwin’s Elmet for example (Hughes and Godwin 1994), but I had not realised that Edward Weston had published photographs to illustrate the poetry of Walt Whitman (Weston and Whitman 1942), although Weston did not seem enamoured of the final product “My reaction to W. W. Book is quite definite: it stinks” (Abbott 2005:82). I will write more on this topic in a separate blog post.

 

References

Abbott, B. (2005) In Focus: Edward Weston: Photographs From the J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Hughes, T. and Godwin, F. (1994) Elmet. London: Faber & Faber.

Lebowitz, R. (2018) 8 Surrealist Photographers You Should Know, from Dora Maar to Man Ray. At: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-8-surrealist-photographers-dora-maar-man-ray (Accessed 26/11/2020).

Nott, M. (2018) Photopoetry 1845-2015, a Critical History. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. At: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=HjNWDwAAQBAJ

Weston, E. and Whitman, W. (1942) Leaves of Grass. New York: Limited Editions Club.

Assignment 3 Feedback

I was pleased with the feedback from my tutor on Assignment 3, obviously there is still work to do and plenty of room for improvement but an opening line of “A significant amount of work and a well-formed and focused strategy for moving forward” is very encouraging.

There are a number of areas where I need to revisit the Assignment and amend it, particularly on the format. I need to break it up into smaller pieces and be careful about the layout so as to make it easier to read and navigate.

There are many very helpful comments on how to improve the work and contextualise it in photographic traditions. I should also consider how best to display the ‘ephemeral’ nature of the pesticide work and allow the flower to disappear, I will consider this as the work develops.