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Seeing invisible things

Seeing invisible things

An essay published in the Fukui Shimbun-Newspaper, 27 August 2014

Shichio Minato

As a childhood habit, whenever I was at the tableware section of a department store, I picked up any rice bowl or tea cup that caught my eye and checked the stamp or engraved seal on the bottom. This may sound laughable, but I had my own reason. I became aware of somewhat of a clairvoyant power within myself for a very short period of time in my early teens, and wanted to confirm the shapes and letters that I was able to vaguely see on the bottom of the tableware. I think my unusual temporary mental ability just happened simultaneously with chance, but I was able to use my special skill fairly conveniently, such as in being able to see card pictures at will, drawing winning instant lottery tickets at the local shopping area, and finding something my family member had lost.

With one thing and another, it seems that my habit of trying to see invisible things has begun taking hold and exerts a strong influence on my current creation style. Paul Klee, a swiss painter of the twentieth century, said, “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” Likewise, when producing art pieces, I fundamentally try to give a shape to things that are not directly visible but certainly exist.

I had a chance to visit Belgium at the end of June. The Municipal Museums Sint-Niklaas held the special exhibition “HANGA”, and I participated in the opening ceremony on its first day as one of the exhibit artists. I created the six print pieces I presented to this exhibition thinking of “scenes that I may encounter in the future”, so they are different from sketches, and show that imagination and mind’s eyes are important.

To begin with, it may be a very natural behavior for an artist to try to crystallize invisible things, inaudible sounds, and the like. Belgian Symbolist painters who played an active role from the end of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century, too, tried to express the human inner domain of thought and soul. Belgium is a small country with approximately one tenth of Japan’s in both population and land, but it has been an important base in Europe in the field of art and has been proving to have a big impact in art history as well.

Belgium is known as the birthplace of the oil painting technique, and the altarpiece “The Lamb of God” by the van Eyck brothers, supposedly its founders, is one of the most famous pieces in the world.

When I went to see this altarpiece kept in Saint Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent City during my stay there, it was under restoration. It has a fresh, vibrant impression that makes me wonder if it was really painted as many as 600 years ago. However, in fact it has serious damage, and a major restoration work with a five-year plan has been under progress since 2012. As a procedure, the condition of the art piece is first examined thoroughly with cutting edge optical instruments and the like. Recent progress in analysis technology is remarkable. It is said that, when seen with infrared light, even rough sketch lines are clearly confirmed. And, so far it has been discovered that an image different from the painting we usually see is hidden underneath. It is a mysterious piece of art in the first place, but this restoration started producing more mysteries.

One of the joys of appreciating pictures is to solve the mystery built in on the screen, just like a detective. We decode the tricks built in the art piece, exploring clues. There are times when a hint is hidden in the art piece itself, and at other times technique books, history books, and the like become helpful. Similar to when we do not enjoy a mystery novel if we know the true account of what happened before we start reading it, it is better if we do not find the answer soon. Even more interesting is that there is more than one answer. It could be said that art appreciation is a mysterious intellectual game of the highest class.

Photo: Ghent by Night , Summer 2014 © Shichio MINATO

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