Saturday, November 22, 2014

Not Without You

If Picasso was right and art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls, I am dust-free. Immaculate, even.

How could I not be after taking in three shows in one night? Beginning at VMFA, the first was Miwako Nishizawa's "Twelve Views of Virginia," done by the Japanese-American artist in the traditional Japanese woodblock style.

At first glance, the prints could be mistaken for Japanese works, but on closer inspection, no. I found the prints a fascinating look at depicting the state, although less successful when larger figures were involved. The horse in "Colonial Williamsburg" or the statue in "College of William and Mary" had a clunky solidity that I don't expect from true Japanese prints.

But "Skyline Drive," "Blue Ridge, the Priest" and "Hollywood Cemetery" translated beautifully. In any case, the twelve prints are as different a depiction of familiar landmarks as any you'll see.

From there, I stepped out of the gallery long enough to admire the people tangoing below in the atrium before walking to Evans Court, past a group on a Friday tour looking at Byzantine art.

Walking into "Water and Shadow: Kawase Hasui and Japanese Landscape Prints," I was immediately surrounded by exquisite blue/gray walls that called to mind the sea at dusk. Just beautiful. The exhibit was far larger than I'd anticipated with multiple galleries of Hasui's sublime watercolors and prints.

Included were two large two-panel screens that were breathtaking. In "Coastal Landscape," you could see fish drying on a rooftop and people going about their business on the streets of the seaside village. "Lake Towada" was a study in serenity.

I'd learned in last week's lecture that Hasui had created these landscapes as a means of nostalgia, looking back at a Japan that was quickly being replaced with a more modern one. The simple scenes of winding roads, hillsides, boats on water and temples conjure up a simpler time.

You can imagine my surprise when I saw a woodblock print with the jolly old elf in it. "Christmas Card with Santa Claus in Japanese Landscape" was a tad jarring, but in the most beautiful way.

You see Santa from behind, his pack on his shoulder and leaving a trail of deep footprints in the snow behind him as he heads toward a typical Japanese-style house, with its roof and the surrounding trees laden with snow.

East meets west, right there in that one holiday print.

One thing that was apparent in looking at Hasui's work was how influenced he'd been by the western 19th century art he'd studied.

The other thing was that I was never going to be able to pick a favorite because every time I thought I'd chosen, I'd come upon another piece so striking that it became my new fave. Call me fickle (and some will), but if you see the show (and you definitely should), you'll likely find yourself with the same dilemma.

That, and an overwhelming sense of tranquility as you leave it.

Properly warmed up, my next outing was outside in the 27 degree air. "InLight" was being held in Monroe Park this year, meaning an easy walk for me and a fellow Jackson Ward dweller.

It was a shame it was so cold because the park was kind of a cool location for InLight - contained, but full of natural and man-made elements.

The first thing that caught my attention was "Not Without You," which used volunteers to don props - rabbit ears and a fox mask - and ride stationary bikes behind a lit screen to create a shadow play. One couple conspired to use their hands to shape a heart, eliciting an "ahh" moment from the crowd.

Did I mention it was 27 degrees?

Projections were being shown on the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, and in looking at them we noticed the open doors. Coming through the vestibule, I saw the cathedral was lit only by candlelight. Inside, I was given a small votive and further down the aisle it was lit for me.

The entire effect of so many tiny candles near the altar was stunning, gorgeous even, and I stopped long enough to take it all in. A man near me had his head bowed in prayer while many people knelt in front of the mass of candles. Some sat in pews and so did I for a minute.

I imagine the effect was similar to that of attending church at night in the time before electricity. It was easy to feel like a small part of something much bigger. Hell, it was almost enough to make a heathen like me think about religion. Almost.

Next door at the Episcopalian church, I found some sort of service going on in the tiny chapel, but nothing InLight-related. That was okay mainly because the vaulted ceiling and wooden buttresses were so impressive, they made it worth going in even without a light show.

Walking in as I left, a girl asked her companion, "Is this part of InLight? What could be in a church?" Her companion shot back, "Jesus." So, there was humor (and heat) at the Episcopal church at least.

On the far side from that, the neon tree house was noteworthy because its framework had been constructed around a couple of the large tree's branches, so we could see limbs against flashing blue neon. Appropriately, a neon ladder hung from it.

But my first thought when I saw it was that it owed a debt to the Jackson Ward house installation at InLight several years ago. Same idea, just smaller and higher off the ground.

And speaking of trees, a huge, old magnolia tree had been given a cluster of magnolia blossom lights - made of heavy coated paper - hanging from its branches. They were lovely, evoking the real thick-petaled blooms of the magnolia with the only thing missing being the smell.

Unfortunately, the brightest thing at InLight was that gaudy Mosque Landmark Altria theater marquee. Too bad because the projections of shimmering water on to the front of the theater were so well done. The artist had even planned it so that the projections were only on the flat parts of the facade and not on the recessed arch.

The problem with tonight's sub-freezing temperatures was that I wasn't motivated to stand in long lines to see a couple of installations such as the one with the shack over the ice hole. Curious about it? Undoubtedly. Willing to stand and wait and freeze (even in velvet pants over tights)? Not so much.

There was even a topical installation about Monroe Park. You asked a question about the park into a microphone and the screen showed someone talking about that subject. It was kind of amazing how quickly the program pulled up a local person's sound bite on the subject. Ah, technology.

But at the end of the night, my most vivid memory was of the cathedral lit by candlelight. No technology, no computer, no projections. Just light in a beautiful space. Art.

Soul dusting of the highest order.


  1. sounds nice...wish i had been there.


  2. It was. You would have enjoyed it.