March 22, 2019

Rising from the East

While many would like to think that art is purely the free expression of creativity, it isn’t. There are always constraints – of budget, of ability, of medium. The most basic constraint in painting, however, lies in the canvas. Painters seldom stray from the rectangle or the square. When was the last time you saw someone painting on a circular canvas?

In his “Kimono” series at the Farnsworth Art Museum, Belfast artist Harold Garde takes these restraints a step further. He confines his subject matter to the basic “T” shape of a kimono, exploring the infinite possibility in a single form. In this collection of strappo (dry acrylic transfer) prints, larger composite prints, altered monotypes and acrylic paintings on canvas and paper, Garde strips the kimono down to its most elemental form and starts building from there.

These aren’t the flowing, patterned robes traditionally worn by Japanese women. They aren’t soft or silky or delicate. Garde’s kimonos are bold, bright and boxy – some are about form, others are about color. They float like faceless angels with their wings spread, bathed in a wash of color or scratched with a series of crosses.

Of the series, Garde writes in his artist’s statement: “Many things about the shape of the kimono please me. There is the garment itself. It has history. With many adaptations and variations, it is worn by a wide range of people – men, women, children. And, beautifully, kimonos are a form of canvas on which art is expressed.”

Garde turns the kimono into his own canvas, decorating it not with flowers or stripes, but with deft strokes of vibrant, beautiful color.

There are plenty of kimonos to be seen in John Wissemann’s “Japanese Transformations,” in a gallery adjacent to Garde’s works. At first, they look more traditional, as they should. Wissemann used centuries-old woodblock prints as a starting point, then he gave them his own spin.

He takes familiar figures from these Japanese prints – bathers, geishas in flowing kimonos, warriors – and enlarges them, simplifies them, and creates stencils from his master drawings. Then he copies the images onto paper, hand-colors them with watercolor or colored pencil, and then surrounds the images in a swirl of pattern.

The imagery is stunning and mesmerizing. With an eye for detail and the utmost care, Wissemann creates a dizzying mix of perfect patterns. It’s hard to believe these were done by hand, with colored pencil, not only because of their precision, but because of their size – each is about 3 feet tall.

With a patch of batik here and a scrap of plaid there, Wissemann stitches together rich, vivid quilt like images – with a steady hand, of course.

Harold Garde: “Kimono,” and John Wissemann: “Japanese Transformations” will be on exhibit through June 3 at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. To complement the exhibit, a Japanese film festival will take place at the Farnsworth’s auditorium. Films include “Floating Weeds,” directed by Yasujiro Ozu, at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 25; “Ikiru,” directed by Akira Kurosawa, at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 29; and “Late Chrysanthemums,” directed by Mikio Naruse, at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 20. For information, call 596-6457.

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