Painting on water

If you have some old books at home, you might be acquainted with those decorated covers and flaps showing colorful designs that resemble marble patterns.
Paper marbling has very ancient origins, probably dating back to 2.000 years ago in China, even though the technique ultimately took hold in Japan during the Heian period (VIII-XII Century), under the name of suminagashi. The secret of suminagashi was jealously kept and passed on from father to son, among families of artists; the most beautiful and pleasant examples were used to adorn poems or sutras.

From Japan through the Indies, this method came to Persia and Turkey, where it became a refined art called ebru. Western travellers brought it back to Europe where marbled paper was eventually produced on a large scale to cover books and boxes.

Today in Turkey ebru is still considered a traditional art. Garip Ay (born 1984), who graduated from Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul, has become one of the best-known ebru artists in the world, holding workshops and seminars from Scandinavia to the United States. Thanks to his extraordinary talents in painting on water, he appeared in documentaries and music videos.

His latest work recently went viral: painting on black water, and using a thickening agent so that the insoluble colors could better float on the surface, Garip Ay recreated two famous Van Gogh paintings, the 1889 Starry night and the iconic Self-portrait. All in just 20 minutes (condensed in a 4-minute video).

The magic and wonder of this suprising exploit reside of course in Ay’s precise artistic execution, but what is most striking is the fluidity, unpredictability, precariousness of the aqueous support: in this regard, ebru really shows to be a product of the East.
There is no need to stress the major symbolic role played by water, and by harmonizing with its movements, in Eastern philosophical disciplines: painting on water becomes a pure exercise in wu wei, an “effortless action” which allows the color to organize following its own nature, while the artist gently puts its qualities to good use in order to obtain the desired effect. Thus, the very obstacle which appeared to make the endeavour difficult (the unsteady water, disturbed by even the smallest breath) turns into an advantage — as long as the artist doesn’t oppose it, but rather uses its natural movement.
At its heart, this technique teaches us a sublime lightness in dealing with reality, seen as a tremulous surface on which we can learn to delicately spread our own colors.


Here is Garip Ay’s official website, and his YouTube channel where you can witness the fascinating creation of several other works.
On Amazon: Suminagashi: The Japanese Art of Marbling by Anne Chambers. And if you want to try marbling yourself, there is nothing better than a starter kit.

The mysterious artist Pierre Brassau

In 1964 the Gallerie Christinae in Göteborg, Sweden, held an exhibition of young avantgarde painters.
Among the works of these promising artists from Italy, Austria, Denmark, England and Sweden, were also four abstract paintings by the french Pierre Brassau. His name was completely unknown to the art scene, but his talents looked undisputable: this young man, although still a beginner, really seemed qualified to become the next Jackson Pollock — so much so that since the opening, his paintings stole the attention from all other featured works.

Journalists and art critics were almost unanimous in considering Pierre Brassau the true revelation of Gallerie Christinae’s exhibit. Rolf Anderberg, a critic for the Posten, was particularly impressed and penned an article, published the next day, in which he affirmed: “Brassau paints with powerful strokes, but also with clear determination. His brush strokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer“.

As should be expected, in spite of the general enthusiasm, there was also the usual skeptic. One critic, making a stand, defiantly declared: “only an ape could have done this“.
There will  always be somebody who must go against the mainstream. And, even if it’s hard to admit, in doing so he sometimes can be right.
Pierre Brassau, in reality, was actually a monkey. More precisely a four-year-old African chimpanzee living in the Borås Zoo.

Showing primate’s works in a modern art exhibition was Åke “Dacke” Axelsso’s idea, as he was at the time a journalist for the daily paper Göteborgs-Tidningen. The concept was not actually new: some years before, Congo the chimp  had become a celebrity because of his paintings, which fascinated Picasso, Miro and Dali (in 2005 Congo’s works were auctioned for 14.400 punds, while in the same sale a Warhol painting and a Renoir sculpture were withdrawn).
Thus Åke decided to challenge critics in this provocative way: behind the humor of the prank was not (just) the will to ridicule the art establishment, but rather the intention of raising a question that would become more and more urgent in the following years: how can we judge an abstract art piece, if it does not contain any figurative element — or if it even denies that any specific competence is needed to produce art?

Åke had convinced the zoo keeper, who was then 17 years old, to provide a chimp named Peter with brushes and canvas. In the beginning Peter had smeared the paint everywhere, except on the canvas, and even ate it: he had a particularly sweet tooth, it is said, for cobalt blue — a color which will indeed be prominently featured in his later work. Encouraged by the journalist, the primate started to really paint, and to enjoy this creative activity. Åke then selected his four best paintings to be shown at the exhibit.

Even when the true identity of mysterious Pierre Brassau was revealed, many critics stuck by their assessment, claiming the monkey’s paintings were better than all the others at the gallery. What else could they say?
The happiest person, in this little scandal, was probably Bertil Eklöt, a private collector who had bought a painting by the chimpanzee for $90 (about $7-800 today). Perhaps he just wanted to own a curious piece: but now that painting could be worth a fortune, as Pierre Brassau’s story has become a classic anecdote in art history. And one that still raises the question on whether works of art are, as Rilke put it, “of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism“.

The first international press article on Brassau appeared on Time magazine. Other info taken from this post by Museum of Hoaxes.

(Thanks, Giacomo!)

Johannes Stötter

Ceci n’est pas un perroquet.

I’ll confess I’m not a big fan of body painting. But the creations of South-Tyrolese artist Johannes Stötter are enough to leave you speechless.

Johannes studied philosophy at Innsbruck University; born and raised in a family of musicians, he plays the violin and the bozouki in a Celtic folk band. A self-taught artist, he began to develop his artistic skills without taking much inspiration from previous painters: therefore his style was formed, little by little, in a very original fashion.

After officially entering the body-painting community by partecipating to the World Bodypainting Festival in Austria in 2009, he became a worldwide sensation in 2013 thanks to his tropical frog composed with five human painted bodies.
From there on, Johannes’ carreer has known a growing success. Today he’s a teacher at the World Bodypainting Academy and at Yoni Academy.

His best creations are camouflages, and his talent resides in concealing and hiding, rather than exalting, the shape of the human body. Johannes Stötter’s subjects undergo a metamorphosis, and thanks to the use of color their presence is tranfigured or reconfigured. They might disappear completely, fusing with their environment, or give rise to optical illusions that are almost impossible to discern at first sight.

What’s more common and well-known than a woman’s or a man’s body? And yet Stötter’s painting – a real instrument of wonder – succeeds in making us admire it in a different way, showing it as a part of nature. Almost as if our own skin was not actually a barrier, a boundary with the outside world, but a point of contact fusing us with the wonder of everything.

Here’s Johannes Stötter‘s official website.

Ariana Page Russell

Ariana è un’artista newyorkese affetta da una patologia della cute chiamata dermografismo: si tratta di una reazione abnorme agli stimoli e agli urti violenti. Se Ariana sbatte accidentalmente contro un tavolo, sulla sua cute si forma immediatamente un ponfo di colore rosso o rosa acceso che non se ne va prima di mezz’ora. Se si passa sulla pelle un oggetto acuminato, come ad esempio la punta di una matita, laddove alla maggior parte di noi resterebbe una sottile linea bianca che presto scompare, a lei rimane una striatura in rilievo per venti minuti buoni.

Questo tipo di affezione, che non è grave di per sé (a meno che non sia un sintomo di patologie più serie) e si può curare con antistaminici, non provoca né dolore né prurito ad Ariana – l’unico effetto negativo sono questi segni antiestetici che solcano periodicamente la sua pelle. Così la giovane artista ha deciso di trasformarli nel loro contrario, in un esercizio estetico puro.

Nella sua serie di fotografie intitolata Skin, la Russell ha trasformato il suo corpo in una vera e propria tela d’artista, in un laboratorio aperto in cui provare nuove forme e inedite decorazioni. Grazie alla sua peculiare anomalia, Ariana ha la possibilità di testare diversi materiali e diverse “fantasie” su di sé: la reazione cutanea dura più o meno mezz’ora, dandole così tutto il tempo per scattare delle foto e, se necessario, replicare il suo “quadro di pelle” per ottenere migliori risultati.

Le fotografie di Ariana Page Russell, che ricordano una versione ben più innocua delle scarificazioni, si iscrivono così nel più vasto filone della body art, ma con un elemento assolutamente personale; tutto questo, infatti, sarebbe impensabile se non fosse per la sua “malattia”, trasformata dall’artista in un tratto unico e inequivocabile della propria identità e del proprio stile.

A volte, sembrano dire questi temporanei “abbellimenti” decorativi sul corpo dell’artista, sta soltanto a noi decidere se una cosa è venuta per nuocere o meno; cosa è bene o cosa è male per noi; e ciò che per una persona è un problema, un fastidio o peggio ancora un handicap, per un’altra può rivelarsi uno stimolo positivo e carico di frutti.

Ecco il sito ufficiale di Ariana Page Russell.