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"Ancient Cities of Belgium by Wandering Artists"
The Fruits of on Odyssey
-Ancient Cities in a Foreign Land-
Takeda Atsushi
Art curator,
President of Japan Association for the Promotion of Art and Culture
  Two years ago in autumn four veteran artists with backgrounds in Japanese and Western painting, took off on a trip to the ancient cities of Belgium. Their itinerary was not long but they stayed in Brussels and Ghent, and visited several ancient cities. Regardless of their age, people often make full use of all of their body, soul, and senses when traveling. I image that these artists made full use of their time and had a fulfilling experience during this trip.
  As a representative of the sponsor, I would Like to reiterate how the Trip came to be. This project was proposed by the Japan Association for The Promotion of Art and Culture(JAPA) to support artists from various schools and styles. As you all know, this association has successively introduced productive projective in Japan as well as over seas such as awarding artists with the Commemorative Award of Saburo Miyamoto and sending lecturers to talks on Japanese traditional culture at Harvard University.
  Of the four artists who joined this trip, although Hiroshi Okutani was a director of this association, the other three artists, Tomoyuki Takizawa, Eibin Otsu and lzuru Seki, were not members at the time this project was proposed. After being nominated by the board of trustees the association, these non-members agreed to participate in this project and thereafter joined the association's management team. This exhibition, which displays the fruits of this project, is an exceptional case where the exhibitors are a combination of artists who are directors of this association. In all, it is still interesting to see an exhibition showing the competing works of art by successful artists that evolved by visiting ancient cities in a foreign country.
  These four artists differ in style from a landscape artist who is always on site to study the material. These artists draw in styles which are known to combine or reconstruct images, or tend to abstract expressions. They would only visit sites out of necessity because of a longstanding background and connection in their life. On this trip, the artists had the fresh experience of encountering new landscapes and sights which had no relation or ties to their lives. However, this trip, which was not based on any of the wishes or intentions of the artists, may be compared to an encounter similar to a blind date where unfamiliar sceneries brought new and fresh impressions with which the artists felt quite comfortable. I am surmising that a profound curiosity must have budded in the artists' minds with expectations for the unexpected to occur.
  I myself had the opportunity to visit some cities in Belgium in the spring of last year. Although I must admit that it was very nostalgic as I had not visited Belgium for more than ten years, I was also moved by the cities and sights which were so unexpectedly fresh and new to me while wandering about the cities. Especially, I was often attracted to the buildings in the cities of Ghent and Bruges. For example, the brilliant designs on the facade of the row of buildings with the gabled roofs were fun to observe since it was like being in fantasyland. On the other hand, there were expressionless wall-like buildings that suddenly appeared before me. They were mainly covered with dark-brown stones or bricks and stood out like a sore thumb. No windows or doors could be seen, and there were no signs of human beings. They were ominous with an overwhelming authoritarian feel, as if they were the guardians of the site. Although the greenery of trees and the blue sky were the same as in Japan, I found that the scenery can have a completely different expression with just a small change such as the way a building stands, its style, or color. To be honest, I was amazed to realize that the architecture was instrumental in creating a totally new world, a new scenery which Japanese senses could not comprehend, regardless of the style, such as the typical Middle-Aged European style architecture, Gothic styled architecture, or the buildings in Ghent and Bruges that seemed strange to me.
  It was an extraordinary experience to wander about the foreign cities, and it truly felt like being in another world. It is fun to imagine the everyday lives of the local people, and I can imagine that many have experienced a different and vivid insight with a little bit of historical and cultural knowledge. Strangely enough we are not aware that our eyes and ears are refined through those experiences. It is just like walking in a beautiful fresh green forest with transparent rays of sunshine. The four artists must have felt the same way when they wandered around the ancient cities of Belgium, stopping at times to absorb the sights that resounded in their minds. I can surmise that the innate sensitivity that each artist had possessed was awoken and stimulated their creativity, and that they unconsciously conceived a unique and alien landscape through their eyes and mind.
  In addition to Ghent and Bruges, there is also the harbor city of Antwerp. Antwerp is renowned as the city of Rubens with the Rubens House. Brussels, on the other hand, immediately reminds me of Paul Delvaux rather than Rene Magritte. Belgium has many masters of art that lived in an dimension different to the ordinary. Delvaux represents one of the many artists that lived in Brussels from childhood to his later years in life. Wandering about Brussels and Antwerp, one can rediscover how rich they are in the character, history, and traditions found in ancient cities. I tend to connect Brussels with Delvaux because of the galleries, in other words, the impressive fine shopping arcades that that often appear in his works.
  Actually, I had an opportunity to meet him in 1988. Of course I was accompanied with another colleague and a French interpreter but I was asked to interview Delvaux who was, at that time, ninety years old.
A one hour train ride heading north from Brussels will take you to Ostend, a port city. As you all know, Ostend is the city where James Ensor spent his entire life. It is also a city that is associated with Delvaux in his later years. There is a Paul Delvaux Museum in Koksijde, which is near Ostend. Paul Delvaux came to his favorite restaurant by himself while we stood by the table to greet him. Delvaux walked slowly with his walking stick but had piercing eyes and a strongly built body. He answered each question on light and shadow, on females and the moon, and on station houses and lights. While speaking in a matter-of-fact tone about the secrets of figurative art, he had no problems in finishing his full course meal. He then poured whisky into a glass, and spoke to himself while gazing into space. With glass in hand he said, "Let's imagine a painting with two female figures. Each female model has her own life. It is not necessary for both lives to intertwine with each other." Delvaux said that the daytime stimulated the imagination, and painted in hours of midnight. The four Japanese artists did not foot in Ostend on this trip, but it is one of the important cities from the perspective of Belgium art.
  I was able to see some photographs of the painting of the ancient cities of Belgium by these four artists. While the artists were painting the ancient cities of Belgium, it is as if they were also using these as a point of focus and expressing their feelings. In other words, their own interpretation of the ancient cities. This was most interesting.


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