Saturday, 6 June 2009

Culture vulture

This week has been so much better. I've made it out of the house to actual fun things instead of hospital appointments.

On Thursday I managed to get a ticket to the dress rehearsal of Phedre at the National Theatre, thanks to the lovely Craig at Iknit.

While the play itself wasn't my cup of tea it was a superb production, from the deceptively simple set design to the shear tour de force that is Mirren on the stage. The rest of the cast were equally good. I don't know much about acting but Phedre seems a tough play to perform with long tragic monologues and little natural conversation. The prose, adapted by Ted Hughes, is beautiful with some evocative lines (all of which escape me now) and is skilfully brought to life by the cast.

I'm not a fan of tragedies. They make me want to march onto the stage and talk a bit of common sense into the foolish characters. Maybe that's the point but I dislike coming out of productions feeling irritated, don't get me started on Romeo and Juliet. Having said that this was two hours well spent and it has inspired me to read more Greek legends. If you like Greek Tragedy this is the play for you.

One of my post op goals was to make it to the Kuniyoshi exhibition at the Royal Academy before it closed. I'm a big fan of Japanese arts and crafts. Ikebana, Habu knitting yarns, Hiroshige, Origami, stone and moss gardens, Hello Kitty, Zen Buddhist aesthetics, the films of Miyazaki, the list goes on and on. There's something in Japanese arts that appeals to me. Maybe it's the unfathomable wabi sabi.

Kuniyoshi was a prolific wood block artist at the same time as Hiroshige and Hokusai. He specialised in images of warriors and many of his pieces have a very Manga-esque feel to them. I found myself making fighting noises in my head while viewing some of the Samurai pictures. As well as finished prints the exhibition displayed some wood carving tools, finished blocks and some sketches. This image of a Samurai fighting a tiger was one of my favourites. The photo below isn't great as it's from the exhibition catalogue but I hope you can make out the delicate line work. Imagine carving that in cherry wood, then printing it. Exquisite.

Several of the works contained demons which will look familiar if you have seen Miyazaki's Spirited Away. As well as warriors and fantastical tales Kuniyoshi drew Kabuki (Japanese theatre) actors, landscapes and women. This series of beautiful ladies were mesmerising. I spent a while taking in the kimono prints, sakura (cherry blossom) and detailed images in the background of these prints.

When I visited Kyoto in 2007 there were several places offering to dress you as a Geisha. My friend and I thought about it but didn't think the Japanese aesthetic would work on our gaijin faces and we'd look more like drag queen clowns. I'll stick with coveting Japanese art.

Given the Kuniyoshi Manga connections I wasn't surprised to see a real life Simpsons Comic Book Guy - balding long ponytail, tracksuit, beer belly, Simpsons t-shirt, lack of social skills - blundering round the exhibition. It was life imitating art. Brilliant.

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