Thursday, November 11, 2010

Max Gimblett: The Pop Artist Of Sumi Painting

From Max Gimblett: The Language of Drawing.

Max Gimblett, a bespectacled, mild mannered New Zealander, walks over to his drawers of Asian paint brushes, lifts one and gently places it back into its resting place. He is in no hurry, and simply picks brushes up one by one, feels them and, it seems, silently communes with them. Once he has found the right one--a long instrument, with a careworn wooden handle and a  bulbous head--he walks over to his workbench, places a stark white sheet of handmade paper down and looks at it for a moment. With a sharp cry and one furious and fluid movement, he forms a perfectly imperfect black "O", ink splattering a wonderfully concise counterpoint design across the page. The act itself is what he calls "Poetics with meaning" ex nihilo. If you look closely there is a smile—not of satisfaction as one might imagine would follow such a masterful stroke, but a smile of clarity and peace.     

When Gimblett was interviewed for Japan Society's Nihon New York video series during the opening of his oxherding exhibit (running in conjunction with the Sound of One Hand Hakuin show), he laughed when he recalled, "Thomas McCelvey wrote if I had got to New York ten years earlier, ten years younger, I probably would have been a pop artist."

Well I am sorry to be contradictory to a master painter, draftsman and Rinzai lay monk, but Max Gimblett: you are the pop artist of the sumi ink painting world.

Think about the powerful, deceptively simple and accessible contemporary translation Gimblett achieves with oxherding, or the fusion of Western and Eastern thoughts, philosophies, desires and symbols. He takes these things out of context, isolates them, remixes them, and creates something completely new but steeped in the familiar for the individual to contemplate and enjoy. That is pop art in my book.

What can be affecting and transforming for the viewer can have a similar effect on the artist. When asked about how creating the oxherding paintings affected his life, personally and artistically, Gimblett recalls a time when he was stuck. He remembers telling one of his teachers that he was having trouble with drawing the later parables of the "Ten Ox Herding Pictures". Her response was "Anybody in their body will have trouble with seven through ten. They are not meant to be experienced alive. Act on good faith, and [when] you have done the first six, just proceed. Don’t expect to know the results."

That is what he exactly Gimblett achieves and welcomes the viewer to do the same. The point is not to know but to understand. In Gimblett’s words "You empty the mind and you have no mental activity. You operate out of your body, in the space, in relation to your soul where you are poetic and soulful…HRUMP! And you let it come."

Geared for painters of all levels, Gimblett offers three sumi painting workshops at Japan Society  November 13 [UPDATE: Sold Out], December 18, and January 9. The workshops begin with an exhibition talk and feature a studio session using traditional handmade paper, sumi ink and Asian brushes. The cost is $65/$60 Japan Society members, seniors & students and includes all materials.


1 comment:

Laura said...

This is so gorgeously written!