A special elaborate blog - first of its kind- dedicated to the painting 'Tengu on Mount Kurama': what are the ideas behind this painting, why did I start the series 'Japanese mythology', what are tengu, on Japanese woodblock prints and Mount Kurama itself and a trip down to memory lane.
I hope you like this blog and if you have any questions or remarks, feel free to reach out to me. The painting is still available and can be viewed privately by appointment in my home.
Interested in the 'making of'?
Philo Ouweleen. Tengu on Mount Kurama, from the series Japanese mythology.
2020, Gouache on Fabriano 200 g water color paper, 55x85cm.
€ 750. Framed: € 920, in 70x100cm Barth frame with CLARITY AR70 Glass
ABOUT The series: Japanese MYTHOLOGY
A series of paintings with gouache, exploring the world of Japanese mythology.
During my childhood I was completely hooked on comics, books and animation and loved immersing myself in other (fantasy) worlds. But more often than not those worlds were in some way connected to 'reality'. Fantasy and reality co-exist: how fantastical is reality and how absurd and wonderful is everyday life?
Japanese myths appear in Japanese art, but also in daily life and visual culture, showing pictures and stories of monsters, tales and fantastical creatures, spirits and gods.
I started this project amidst the throws of the Covid19 pandemic, a time in which I find it extra enjoyable to read such stories and research this rich visual history. With my project I want to introduce people to all kinds of fascinating Japanese myths, but also prod and stimulate imagination, fantasy, a sense of wonder and mystery, and feelings of playfulness.
To aid me in this process, and to take another path creatively, all these works will be significantly larger in size than my previous paintings.
ABOUT THE PAINTING: TENGU ON MOUNT KURAMA
Fall at Mount Kurama, close to Kyoto. Two tengu eggs are hatching near Sōjōbō (a very powerful tengu residing at Mount Kurama), symbolizing the ongoing cycle of life even in times of crisis. Sōjōbō is holding his fan with which he can create terrible storms.
Soon seven tengu will be gathered amidst the falling autumn leaves on Mount Kurama. Seven is a lucky number in Japan. Upon closer inspection, we see that Sōjōbō's fan also consists of seven feathers.
I hope you enjoy the painting, for my hope is for it to bring a bit of colour, imaginary power, playfulness and positivity to those that view it.
Tengu: This painting refers to tales and legends involving tengu and visual representations of tengu found in Japanese woodblock prints, combined with my own imagination. Tengu are one of the many legendary creatures found in Japanese culture, and are considered both yōkai (supernatural beings) or Shinto kami (gods).
They have been depicted as birds, bird-like creatures and nowadays their most defining characteristic is a long red nose. For centuries there was a belief that tengu were disruptive creatures up to no good, but their image has changed into one of protective, yet still somewhat dangerous, spirits dwelling in mountains and forests.
Over time, Tengu have also become associated and linked to the Yamabushi, followers of the Shugendō religion. Yamabushi wear a costume, including a small cap on the front of the cranium called the tokin.
Tengu have also been pictured wearing this characteristic headwear and I have also featured this in my painting, inspired by the Japanese woodblock prints featuring tengu wearing tokin.
A cheeky fan print of a tengu smoking on a shrine gate (torii) and wearing a tokin,
c. 1890 by Ogata Gekko.
King of the tengu: Sōjōbō
According to legends, the king of the tengu Sōjōbō resides on Mount Kurama, close to Kyoto. Looking at Japanese woodblock prints, he is often pictured as an old bearded man with a large nose, wearing a red cloak and holding his fan with which he can stir up terrible storms.
We often see him pictured together with a young boy: Yoshitsune or Ushiwakamaru.
As the story goes, at the age of ten, he was taken care of by monks of the Kurama temple, in the mountains close to Kyoto. Wandering around in the forest, he came across Sōjōbō, who recognized Yoshitsune’s talent in the martial arts and made him his pupil, teaching the boy the arts of swordsmanship, tactics, and magic.
Many prints visualizing this particular story aided me in my visualisation of not only Sōjōbō, but also the other tengu and their many forms and appearances.
Triptych by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: Ushiwakamaru learns the martial arts from Sōjōbō (Ushiwakamaru Sōjōbō ni bujutsu o uku) . Published in 1865.
Triptych by Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Ushiwakamaru learns the martial arts from Sōjōbō (Minamoto no Ushiwaka-maru Sojo-bo ni shitagatte bujutsu o manabu no zu). Published c. 1847-1852.
MOUNT KURAMA: TWO VISITS AND MEMORIES FROM THE PAST
Sometimes the seed for something goes back many years. In this case, the first time I visited Mount Kurama was back in 2015-2016, when I was studying in Kyoto at the Ritsumeikan University. This was during my study abroad year, and together with close friends we took the train up to the mountains. A perfect day trip from closeby Kyoto. Stopping at station Kurama a large tengu awaited us. We hiked up Mount Kurama and I was impressed by this place and the natural splendor of the whole area. View slideslow to take a trip down to memory lane with me.
I would soon return once more, when my parents payed me a visit all the way from the Netherlands. I wanted to take them to this place and enjoy the atmosphere and beauty together. This second time I was particularly struck by the beautiful roots of the huge trees. The roots seemed to me like rivers flowing everywhere, without boundaries, endlessly, throughout the forest. I took many pictures and in the back of my mind I knew, someday, somehow, these roots would re-appear. Little would I know at the time that I would, more than five years later, start a series of paintings focusing on Japanese mythology and that Mount Kurama would re-appear but this time by my paintbrush.
A MESSAGE OF HOPE
I made the tengu a little mischievous, some a bit more omnious but the overall message of the painting is a positive one: life goes on, even in times of crisis.
UK artist David Hockney sent a message of hope on March 18th 2020, accompanied by his own painting:
'Tengu on Mount Kurama' was painted during autumn season in the Netherlands in that same year, 2020.
Mount Kurama is known as an excellent place for some 'red leaf hunting' or momijigari 紅葉狩り. This simply means to enjoy the autumn colors and actively look for places where they can best be enjoyed.
'Autumn, yes, perfect' I decided, adding a whole lot of colour to the painting and the composition.
Tengu, Mount Kurama , Japanese mythology and a message of hope painted in a bright colour palette. It all comes together in this painting, created during the Covid pandemic.
I hope you enjoyed this blog.
Detail from the painting 'Tengu on Mount Kurama'
STORIES FROM KAMEOKA
The year started with a blast, with my first solo exhibition 'Stories from Kameoka' at VOX-POP in Amsterdam (9 Jan- Feb 20th). I wrote a small article in Dutch about the project and the exhibition here. All paintings and a (summarized) texts of the artproject can be found here. I also made the artbook 'Stories from Kameoka', more information and available here. Below some photo's of the opening night, by Nosh Neneh.
A GLOBAL PANDEMIC
Looking back, my expo took place just before Covid19 landed in the Netherlands. I count myself fortunate to have participated in the artist in residence program at Kameoka in Japan in 2019 and to have had this unique exhibition opportunity at VOX-POP to show the resulting artproject, just before the outbreak of a pandemic.
We went in-and-out of lockdown in the Netherlands, museums closing and opening again (influencing how the artgallery where I work - Hotei Japanese Prints situated in Japanmuseum SieboldHuis- , could run their business), working from home and the luxury and joy of being in the artgallery again from time to time. Suddenly Leiden seemed very far from Amsterdam and the train ride some kind of dangerous adventure.
Adjusting to 'pandemic life' I found my own ways to cope with uncertainty and restless nerves: I picked up the camera again and restarted my photoproject 'Slowing down': focusing on the everyday I brought a simple single-use camera with me. Photos can be found here. The project became a kind of personal visual diary to remind myself of a difficult time in which I also experienced a lot of beauty, joy and love.
RIDE TO ART
In August, when the sun made the pandemic a little bit less daunting and nature hikes and bike rides were my weekly adventure, I participated in a creative group exhibition 'Ride to art'. This free public art event featured artworks that were being displayed in the windows of local businesses in Amsterdam Oost. A route was made public online and people could enjoy the art from outside, a Covidproof exhibition.
For this exhibition I made the biggest painting I had ever done which was a challenge, and had me running to buy new supplies a few times. It was a stressful process in which I learned a lot, the resulting painting 'Red thread of fate' seems to be one of my most popular so far. After sharing it online and at Krugerkamer in Amsterdam, I received many enthusiastic responses and the painting quickly found a new home.
TENGU ON MOUNT KURAMA
After completing 'The red thread of fate' I decided I wanted to keep challenging myself, continuing the series of paintings called 'Japanese mythology', which will all be significantly larger in size than my previous works.
A talk was organized by 'See you at art' where I explained my creative process. For this occasion I also made a process video.
This video is now on view online here: 'The making of Tengu on Mount Kurama'
SUPPORT FOR MY ART PRACTICE AND SELLING ART
The painting 'Tengu on Mount Kurama' would be shown in a group exhibition that was postponed due to Covid19. The amount of support I received at that time was really heartwarming.
But it was not only at that time. Since I vocalized my desire to seriously pursue and build my own art practice, I have received support, help, advice and interest. For a starting artist this kind of support is essential, it is a form of fuel to keep me going. I would like to thank you for your support and interest in my work.
Knowing that there is a genuine interest in my work is motivating. This year I also sold more paintings than before. Transferring the works to their new owners is a satisfactory process: from framing to actually hanging the work in its new home. The paintings sold this year went to different cities in the Netherlands and were included in all sorts of beautiful surroundings, from a Japanlover and artcollector (the painting in question is now part of a private collection and in the excellent company of - amongst others- beautiful Japanese woodblock prints) to a home where my painting is surrounded by a extensive bookcollection of a promising hardworking scholar.
My painting 'Lotus Pond' was on view at 'De Japanner' in Amsterdam West from mid-October to 22 Dec 2020. The painting is still available and will soon be on view at Liever Hier, Nieuwendammerdijk 413 Amsterdam.
SLOWING DOWN: COVID KNOCKING
My most fond memories of this year are related to my artistic achievements but also the time spent with my partner Benno, close friends Harriet and Nina, and my family. With all kind of white noise of normal everyday life suddenly on mute, this for me was also a year of love, kindness and friendship. I was able to slow down and be more in the moment.
With the year drawing to a close, Covid knocked on my door in the last week of October. This was slowing down version 2: I had very little to no energy. After being sick and quarantined at home for about two weeks and temporarily losing my sense of smell, the tiredness, headaches and other Covidrelated symptoms persisted. It took a while for me to really accept the situation of this 'Covid afterparty', but I am now living at a snails pace and resting up and focusing on recovery.
Out of this period of rest also springs a feeling of clarity, a positive sense of direction; where I want to go and how I would like to go there. I am looking forward to making new works and share them with you!
And lastly, I ended the year with finding a new way to share my work with you: A new webshop! You can view it here.