It may sound a bit contradictory, but ¨wasting time¨and being idle are essential parts of being an artist and for stimulating creativity. I have to remind myself constantly of this important principle, because not only is part of my search for balance in my life, but also, because I tend to be too self-disciplined and organised, (a tiny bit of the side of obsessive) and actually if I am changing my life to become an artist, this creative idleness need to be fed and nurtured.
For example, this week I came to the Netherlands for my academic work, and I also thought it would be nice to visit my lovely friends and walk the beautiful cities of this very artistic and trendy culture. That was all right. At the beginning I took solace from walking around, checking the lovely boutiques and visiting art galleries. But also, and because I am doing this MATS creative bootcamp, I felt a bit impatient, wanting to be in the studio for trying to crack on with the assignment.
Anyway, I am here and I then have some time to ¨waste¨… apart of seeing my friends, who are super lovely, I really enjoy to walk around the beautiful cities. Utrecht, for example, has a quiet charm, its architecture is atmospheric and beautiful, the town center is crossed by canals and old streets showing the grandeur of one of the most powerful cities in the XVI century. In the early evenings of the winter the azurine sky gets peppered by the street lights, it is slightly raining, and the cobblestones reflect the lamps lights, a warm and shy light, in the silent night.
I take advantage to walk by the boutiques and the galleries, taking my time to take on what I am seeing. The dutch aesthetic is very playful and simple, used to small spaces, they make the most of practical, minimalist design, but with a touch of colour, an antidote for the winter blues. In terms of art, galleries oscillate between contemporary art and more traditional art. On my way to the University (The School of Governance in the old city) I spot the Gallerie Morren on my way to the university, and discovered the neo-classical work of Walter Elst: his still lives are transported from the tradition of the Old Dutch and Flemish masters, who actually, made this genre a most popular in the XVII century. Influenced by this tradition, this painter brings out the atmospheric interiors proper by Vermeer, the chipped white-bluish jug next to a bowl of plums. This is not bourgeois painting, it is not an opulent house, but it is rather charming, quiet and some how more earthy and authentic than a gilded bowl or mirror. And this polarity is very dutch: a taste for the shabby, the used, the human material and history, on one hand, and on the other a more vibrant, modern architecture.
Perhaps because our eyes are trying to take on the new environment, it is easier to discover nice little things and to be inspired. There is a lot of visual stimulation, and then I practice what can be called ¨research shopping¨ which basically means go to the shops and analyse, identify trends, take notes and take pictures of favorite things, in order to establish a dialogue with my own art.
“Research Shopping in the Netherlands”
In Amsterdam, I try to steer away from the touristic track, but I like to visit the old places of my former life in the NL. I walked toward Spui, in front of the legendary Cafe Luxemburg, there is this amazing magazine shop: Atheneum Boekhandel, a heaven for the curious and the trend-hunter: fashion, art, architecture, street style, graffiti, psycho-geography, veganism, spiritualism, living, travel, writing, blogging… There I found a nice book by Leonard Koren about wabi-sabi, which is the quintessential Japanese aesthetics, referring to the incomplete, the ephemeral, the open, the decay, the natural… something that it is difficult to explain, and yet, underlies a japanese, minimal and sustainable aesthetics and ethics in the world. Perhaps, the most salient example of this is the Tea Ceremony, the ritual, the slowness, the combination of elements, the earthy bowl, the fire, the water, the air… but even this ritual of humbleness (indeed, a proper tea hut has a low door for people to lower down in humility) has been transformed into a more sophisticated display of luxury, flower arrangement and ultimately material abundance… so, what is left of this Wabi-Sabi?
The author tries to explain wabi-sabi with examples and comparisons. In his words:
¨wabi sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
It is a beauty of things modest and humble.
It is a beauty of things unconventional.”
Koren trained as architect, but he was vexed by complex questions of design and space so he could not really built anything but an eccentric tea house. Instead he founded this magazine called “WET The magazine of gourmet bathing”, an avant gard magazine in the 1970s… anyway, what I find is that one of the main trends here in the NL but also in the UK is this love for the used object, an object with history.
For instance, the house of my friends, Johann and Eduardo in Bloemengracht -where they have their antique/brocante shop Antiek 58– incorporates elements of this wabi-sabi aesthetic. The walls are left without any plastering or painting, revealing the history of the place, the floors are naked, yet covered in colourful (yet faded) rugs, the furniture is a collage of reclaimed chairs, leather seats and vintage lamps and chandeliers. In a corner there is a homage to a pastoral aesthetic: stuffed birds in Victorian bells, some white and orange bric-a-brac, all casually displayed, yet pleasant and cheerful.
In the Wabi-Sabi, these ephemeral moments, being there immersed in the warm and pleasant atmosphere of the house at that particular moment, are essential in a way of living. Wabi-sabi recognises the ephemeral, the transient… a traveler needs to spend the night on the road, she makes a hut with branches and reed to spend the night, next day, she unties the branches and clean the place, she leaves… but only some traces revealed her presence, moreover, the memory of being there protected is what remains.
While the first week of the year was a busy period of planning, catching up with the new year, and starting this creative bootcamp; this week in the Low Countries is a long parenthesis of idleness, perambulation, sketching and chatting with my friends. Of course, I did a bit of work at the university, but the rest of the week has been much more relaxed than my usual time at home or in the studio. And it is not that bad… just writing this I realised how much wasting time is not a waste at all… it is a time of refreshing, of taking new things, of simply being without the pressures of the agenda or the project planning. Although I somehow feel “guilty” of not working in my studio, I also feel quite inspired, refreshed and showered in art, aesthetics, love and friendship. It makes me think about the wabi-sabi philosophy of detachment, intemporality, spontaneity, frugality and transformation.
As this is the year of finding my own voice, I know I need to be patient, indeed, I feel I do not want to rush but enjoy the moment, I feel as turning inwards, listening, dialoguing with few in the outside. And yet, I also know I need to be out, I am out as an artist, talking about my work. Yes, this was a huge challenge as when people ask ¨what type of art you do¨ i really do not know what to say. Yes, I enjoy my botanical paintings, learning of portraiture and my playful experiments of gouache and collage; but I cannot say, I am working on this on that other project. I feel like I am just in seed, evolving under the soil, far from flowering or bearing fruit.
Perhaps that´s the essence of Wabi-Sabi and the next paragraph resonates with this:
¨Wabi-sabi represents the exact opposite of the Wester ideal of great beauty as something monumental, spectacular, and enduring. Wabi-sabi is not found in nature at moments of bloom and lushness, but at moments of inception or subsiding. Wabi-sabi is not about gorgeous flowers,, majestic trees, or bold landscapes. Wabi-sabi is about the minor and the hidden, the tentative and the ephemeral, things so subtle and evanescent they are invisible to vulgar eyes.¨ (p. 50)
Koren, L. 2008. Wabi-Sabi, for artists, designers, poets and philosophers. imperfect Publishing. Point Reyes. California.
Antiek 58, Bloemgracht is a nice place for admiring and acquiring beautiful reclaimed objects and appreciate the aesthetic of wabi-sabi.