About a Journey to Japan – Artistically, I grew up with, amongst other role models, the aesthetics and world of forms of the great painters and wood-engravers of the Ukiyo-e, with Hokusai, Utamaro and Hiroshige and their “pictures of the floating world”, whose structural
modernity has already long influenced European art. (One only has to think of Van Gogh’s fascination for Hiroshige’s “Sleeping Dragon Plum”, his view of the most famous tree in Edo and Van Gogh’s copy of it).
Artistically, I also grew up with the films of Akira Kurosawa, who translated this language of forms into moving pictures, something westerners can understand.
In a special way that generates abstraction, pictures here as well as there renounce illusionistic
three-dimensionality oriented towards the perspective, so that form sequences are
pushed into the foreground with an astonishing tension, as if seeing the world through a
telephoto lens, with a very particular feeling for rhythm and reduction.
Japan was always my dream. Something, which was so familiar in parts and yet again, incredibly
distant, secretive, firing fantasy and promising discovery. Japan was not so much
a vivid imagining of a country like so many others I have travelled through, but rather an
idea. The symbol of a cultivated, highly differentiated and demanding intellectuality and of
an aesthetic, refined to the limits of possibility, of a ritualised world shrouded in secrecy,
even in day-to-day life, to which the outsider, the uninvolved, cannot simply have access.
But, on the other hand, all of that exists in an odd contrast to and in a relationship of tension
with the Japan of modernity and hi-tech, which dominate contemporary everyday life.
Now I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Japan at the invitation of the “German
Society for Natural History and Ethnology in East Asia”. Leaving my values and my thought
programmes behind me, I travelled from east to west, from north to south; I opened up and
became receptive. I was like a blank sheet of paper and photographed, sketched, made
notes, soaked up like a dry sponge all the impressions, thoughts, occurrences and experiences,
which the brain and retina were in a position to absorb, as if breathless with the
stroboscope-type of concentration of a time-lapse. I collected old books, breathing history
and used by many a generation, and yellowed woodcuts, in order to understand and to
use them as a stimulus and as source material for the artistic tales of my journey.
Then, with the temporal and spatial distance afforded by my studio in Berlin that makes
abstraction possible, I formed, quoted, copied, painted, printed, I borrowed from the great
masters of the Ukiyo-e and placed that which I borrowed in a contradictory relationship of
tension with the symbolism of modern day Japan.
I tried not to smooth over the correspondence and conflict between tradition and modernity;
I discovered, I was anxious, surprised, disappointed, and satisfied, I used calligraphies
and turned them upside down, in order to get away from the usual legibility; I saw and used
quotations and picture vocabulary from Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and much more. Not to
forget my beloved carp streamer, the Koinobori; I puzzled over it and understood, and translated
into pictures the kick of that which I had experienced, until I was emotionally drained.
Frank Roedel 2008