Friday, November 16, 2007

"Japanese Art"

I’ve been spending so many hours lately in the company of some great Japanese and Asian Art--for example, the okubi-e prints of Kitagawa Utamaro. It would be strange if nothing whatsoever of that rubbed off on me.... Here are a few things where the influence has, hopefully, been favorable. --I post them with some hesitation, for clearly there is still a long way to go.

These are all variations on a theme, wet-folded from paper of various kinds. Actually, I’ve been wanting for some time to branch away from foil-paper folding, my main medium for face-work. Foil-paper is a beautiful & rich medium unto itself, which is either a department of or a field adjacent to origami; but there are certain paperfolding values that foil manipulation just can’t capture. And in any case it was high time I learned how to wet-fold.

More is coming.

I’ve held off doing figures that are viewable 360 x 360, not because that is not a desirable result in itself, but because I wanted first to be sure I have a technique which preserved clean surfaces in the face, so that it would not invariably be grimacing, grotesque or “fantasy-oriented” as it is with some of the others who work onhuman figures. Now that I have such a method I can proceed to the rear and work down to the rest of the body, if need be. But I am in no hurry to get there. As I see it, the technical problem to be solved is not how to go all the way round or get all the way to the toenails. It is how to assure that each step does not “injure the paper”, to adapt a quaint concept from Yoshizawa.

The last few works are less “Japanesey” but still perhaps “Asian”: I may have had in the back of my mind (I certainly wasn't directly copying anything) some Tang Dynasty sculptures with the clump on the top of the head and that beautiful air of disarming tranquility, that you can make with a dollop of clay. That is possible with origami too. And since it is possible---it is necessary.


Smell of a Bird Base

Been having trouble lately with my Birds. Partly this is nature’s fault: Many birds have at least three colors, rather than two: a topfeather color, an underbelly off-white, and red or brown for foot & beak. That’s not even counting the black of the eye. With origami you’ve got two basic colors to work with plus a pseudo-grey from shadow-pockets—not quite enough for this particular job.

One could, I suppose, bite the bullet, and add another sheet with one or two new colors. Joseph Wu has gone in this direction with his elegantly-marked Frigate Bird. And I seem to remember Nicolas Terry doing something similar to get a multicolored frog.

An option for those of us stuck, religiously, with single-sheet color-faithful origami is to confine ourselves to those birds that do follow a 2-color scheme. Pigeons, for instance, which run the gamut of gray-scales and blended patterns, sometimes come in an all-gray or all white body plus reddish feet. Likewise there are quite a few avian species in which the females, who tend to be interested in crypsis rather than showiness, keep their color-numbers to an origami-manageable minimum. (There are, of course, always reasons why an animal has the color numbers it has.)

Another problem is idiosyncratic---or maybe just personally idiotic. A long time ago (20 years… sheesh!) I convinced myself that a standing bird is fundamentally a four-pointed creature, from which it follows that it should be designable from a bird base (5 points: hide one). If you want to use the fancy techniques that have since come on line, to add complexity or detail---open a beak, pry apart toenails, start the wings a-flutterin---this ought to be doable optionally at the last minute, modifying extremities to taste, rather than by designing complexity in from the outset or inventing new bases as I believe Roman Diaz once argued is necessary. All the above poses a certain challenge, since to date I have not been able to pull this off entirely successfully.... Roman in a recent letter even claimed that “The smell of a bird base is difficult to disguise on a model.” But what to do? I happen to like the smell of a bird base.

So here's where we are, on a cold November night.