Tastes change as do preferences and it is quite clear that my recent artistic subject matter has primarily focused on the far eastern cultures. It has become a muse to me as I become more familiar with the histories and traditions of the region through my research into the pictures I draw. I guess it all really started many years ago when I heard the lyrics “Pictures of Jap Girls in Synthesis….”from David Bowie’s song “Ashes to Ashes”. The line must have triggered some imaginary response because I always envisioned the graceful performances of the Geisha whenever I heard it, and the spectacle of immaculately presented dancers in refined environments performing to the audience through beautifully timed choreography is a captivating sight and an inspiration to any artist.
With time I began to truly appreciate the dedication a dancer from any culture devotes to performing their art. The years of rigorous training and practice to perfect their choreography is something I can only begin to understand and admire, which in turn inspires me to express in capturing a moment of their performance. This epiphany only started while attempting to draw the Spanish Flamenco Dancer some years ago as I began to research the subject prior to starting the project. It continued with the first Apsara Dancer drawing and both pictures became two parts of a loosely-based concept, contrasting eastern and western cultural styles: The impassioned movements of the Flamenco Dancer to the understated elegance of the Apsara. Needless to say, both performances are a wonder to behold but I became drawn to the exotic and somewhat elusive world of the Apsara and their cultural heritage.
Shortly after completing these pictures I moved on draw several more pictures based on the Far East, beginning “Nyai Roro Kidul (Queen of the Southern Ocean)” a Javanese sea deity inspired by the local legends I had heard about when visiting Indonesia. This was followed by “Chinese Girl with Parasol” depicting a young female courtier during the 10thCentury Imperial Chinese period and was directly inspired by the film “The banquet”, a lavish tale of courtly intrigue, betrayal and revenge within the royal palace of a Chinese Emperor. Two more Apsara pictures followed; one showing a group of dancers and the other setting those dancers within Angkor Wat in a quasi-landscape piece.
My latest work depicts pair of Balinese dancers in full regalia, performing the “Legong” in unison. Famed the world over for their complex and expressive performances, the Balinese style of choreography and presentation differs significantly from their Khmer counterparts. Indeed, the intricacy of the Balinese Legong dancers costumes far exceeds that of the Apsara and drawing them is an exercise in observing detail.
Yet despite the apparent differences between the two styles, subtle parallels do exist and are a direct legacy of Hindu cultural influence throughout South East Asia. Both have origins to royal courtly entertainment and the performances are a form of story-telling. Aesthetically, the use of gilded armbands, belts and headdresses augmented by flowers as well as the floral style of ornament used in their costumes is also noted and common to many other visual styles around the region.
As a result of the studies into the Far Eastern subjects I draw, I begin to see the deeper historical connections that they share and appreciate (perhaps from an anthropological point of view) the spread of ideas and thought as populations interacted with each other over the centuries. It is incredible to think that during that time, mighty empires have risen and fallen and entire civilizations have come and gone but their influence is still glimpsed in the cultures we recognize today. We see it within the arts, customs and architecture and I have found that the very process of initially being inspired to finally completing a picture is an educational experience. Consequently, my awareness of the world around me has expanded and I have come to realize that in order to understand who we are and what shaped our present, we have to understand our past and where we came from.