The Art of Sacred Places

Kenro Izu is looking back at a successful photographic career that has spanned more than 40 years and acknowledged that it was a fellowship at the Center for Photography at Woodstock (CPW) that launched his career. Izu reflected on the opportunity and admitted it wasn’t just the money, but the importance of the professional encouragement of CPW’s founder, Howard Greenberg, and connecting him to opportunities to develop his photographic practice.

During January 2018, Izu displays a selection of his photography series “Sacred Places,” which has been internationally exhibited. The exhibit is up at Aaron Rezny Gallery in Kingston and is organized by CPW, with a portion of sales to benefit the photography center’s programming.

Izu uses a large-format camera favored by 19th-century photographers, stating that, “It captures air and the subtle nuances of tonality in platinum printing.” The 14-inch by 20-inch custom-made camera was purchased with funding he received from an NEA grant in 1984. Despite weighing 300 pounds, the camera has traveled with him during his photographic explorations, creating the platinum palladium contact prints that are included in this exhibit.

The photographer has traveled the world seeking out the places that are sacred to people, including areas of Tibet, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and India. Izu explained that he first traveled to Egypt in the 1970s and discovered he was especially drawn to the stone monuments. This has led to his photographing a number of places most would call the “Seven Wonders of the World,” including Stonehenge, Machu Picchu and Chichén Itzá.

While traveling in Hampi, India, Izu came upon a sight that he captured in “Vijayanager #15.” The elaborate shrine-like structure was built on a massive stone, designating a sacred place reachable by rock climbing. The contrast between the giant rock and the detailed architectural structure is surprising. In another human touch, the base of the stone has been patched to ensure its continued stability.

Blog Kenro Izu 1996 IND 15 Hampi
Kenro Izu captured “Vijayanager #15” in Hampi, India. 

 

In the image “Kanchipuram #638,” the photographer has placed himself within a sacred space on a pathway with the deity directly ahead. In the shrine’s low interior light, viewers can observe carved stone columns receding into the distance along a pathway alight with devotional fires.

Blog Kenro Izu 2012 IND 638 Kanchipuram
“Kanchipuram #638,” by Kenro Izu, depicts the interior of a sacred space in India.

 

In “Ladakh #49,” captured in Ramayuru Gompa, India, the photographer uses the light across the mountains to highlight the sacred temple built on a hill surrounded by a small village. Capturing the last light of the day, the spectacular shadows encircle the sacred place in a series of gradations, creating an abstracted composition of darks and lights.

Izu travels to and focuses on a region, becoming familiar with the local customs from there; he awaits inspiration to discover the sacred places. As his travels took him to the far reaches within Cambodia and Laos, he was moved by the children’s dire health conditions. On his return to New York Izu founded a charitable foundation, Friends Without a Border, that built a free pediatric hospital in Cambodia in order to give back to the people who have inspired his photographic journey.


All photos included in this entry are copyright Kenro Izu. More information on the photographer: http://www.kenroizu.com/

Link to the Friends Without a Border foundation: https://fwab.org/

This article was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal, Friday, January 12, 2018: http://pojonews.co/2EGRY7Z

 

Desert Beauty

Marking the first day of winter, I walked up a Palm Springs trailhead passing by barrel cactus, creosote bushes and rock formations framed against a brilliant blue sky.

Looking over the valley certainly puts a perspective on life equalizing all the political intrigue and petty issues of everyday matters.

I am so thankful that my family led me to another place of incredible desert beauty. The Tahquitz Canyon was a lovely, quiet walk through the desert that ended with a 60-foot waterfall, through rocks and native plants. Home to the Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, it is indeed a cultural treasure.

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This is the walking that feeds the soul. Today with one day left in 2017, I am contemplating not only what 2018 will bring, but what I will seek during this new year.

 

The Art of Cooking

Cooking is a creative endeavor – beginning with the selection of foods to prepare. Coming home from the farmer’s market with perfect vegetables, herbs, and fruits is so satisfying.


This means that my kitchen is a sacred space that although simple, it has the basics to cook all the fresh food everything we bring home: a stove, sink, pans and cooking utensils. It has always seemed satisfactory, but today I was inspired to think more about the kitchen after touring the Museo Robert Brady in Cuernavaca.

Brady was an American artist and designer who had a home in Cuernavaca. He was a painter and world traveler who had an unerring eye and strong appetite for collecting.  After his death in 1986, he left his home and art collections to the State of Morelos.

His home is the colonial style, with many levels and gardens. They are all exquisite, but the kitchen made me stop and stay awhile.

A modest gas stove is flanked by the traditional wood-fired stove (on the right). I could imagine beans being slowly cooked in the ceramic pot. Brady selected Talavera tiles for the walls and counters and painted the walls a rich blue and cheery yellow. There are sweet little garlands decorating the central cooking area, almost like a shrine to the cook.

In the “less is more” philosophy, there is not a lot of kitchen stuff, but there is vibrant color as a background to the collections of Talavera plates and glassware.

I could imagine making large feasts in this kitchen.


Feeling grateful and inspired!

#Mexico

#artand cooking

The Art of Remembrance

Here in Mexico there is a beautiful tradition on November first to remember departed  loved ones. The Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) allows families and friends to recount tales of the dearly departed, bring their favorite earthly pleasures to their gravesite and gather to remember.

For instance, if Uncle Ricardo loved tequila and Pall Mall cigarettes, his altar would have those items, as well as some bread of the Dead (Pan de Muerte), flowers, candles, and other little delights. Copal incense would be burned in hopes that the smell of the flowers and incense would draw him back for that one night to be with the family again. 

For anyone seeing these customs for the first time, the skulls and images of skeletons used in decorating might seem scary at first – but as a Mexican way to laugh at death, it seems fitting. Candy skulls made of sugar and chocolate make perfect decorations. In some stores you can get your sugar skull customized with names.

Most homes have personal altars, and the deceased’s gravesite would be cleaned up and decorated as well. Entire families gather at the cemetery on this night of remembrance, bringing food to share along with the memories.

Sharing remembrances and even funny stories is one way to bring the departed back for one night, until next years’ Dia de los Muertos.

The Art of Advertising

Growing up in Southern California, nearly every summer vacation included a family trip in the station wagon to visit relatives in Missouri and Arkansas. The route we traveled on was always the old Route 66, another story all by itself. The drive was mercilessly boring so the least little thing would amuse me and my six siblings as we made our way eastward.

Jack rabbitLooking out the car window for something to entertain us was a good way to pass the hours. The giant jackrabbit signs perched on hills above Route 66 for Jack Rabbit Trading Post were a spectacular sight. They taunted us for miles while we imagined all the wonderful curiosities that the Jack Rabbit Trading Post held – I mean, arts and crafts – I was THERE! And then finally, we would spot the one that read, Here it is! Oh, the pain as we sped by each and every one.Here-It-Is21

But the absolute best sighting was the Burma-Shave signs. These were a brilliant ad campaign for shaving cream featuring six sequential signs that passengers in cars could read as they passed  – they were spaced far enough apart that the sentence was read naturally. Here is one message from 1963, the last year Burma-Shave used this promotion:

Our fortune / Is your / Shaven face / It’s our best / Advertising space / Burma-Shave

burma-shave flickrThis has been so woven into our collective culture that artist Norman B. Colp created a public art installation inspired by the Burma-Shave signs installed in the 42nd Street subway tunnel. Called The Commuter’s Lament, or A Close Shave, the installation is a series of signs attached to the roof of the passageway, with the following text:

Overslept, / So tired. / If late, / Get fired. / Why bother? / Why the pain? / Just go home / Do it again.

At this point, you realize that I am fascinated by popular culture and how the influence spreads into art, collective memory, and history. So imagine my delight when walking down the street today and spotting a series of painted rocks with little hand-lettered messages. Each one was carefully placed to make sure pedestrians would see them. While these did not have the clever poetics of the Burma Shave signs, they spoke with a more gentle and encouraging voice:

Live, Love, Laugh / Breathe / Be humble / Keep Going

 

It might be a child’s project, or perhaps a creative release for someone who wanted to have some fun. I was delighted and will continue to be on the lookout for more signs of encouragement.

The Art of a Happy Anniversary

It’s October 1st, the humidity is gone and it’s Sunday – time to go up to the attic which hasn’t been cleaned since we moved in during the summer. This 1870  house was owned previously by one family for nearly all of its existence, and there are piles of photographs, tarnished silver-plated spoons and forks, and other detritus that people can’t bear to throw away scattered across the attic floor. It is always the sentimental Christmas greetings, graduation cards, death notices clipped out of brown newspapers that are hard to put in the trash. But what I found today was weirdly coincidental, a handwritten wedding invitation for Victory Milano and James Scott for October 1, 1950.

There are only a few facts I can relate about this invitation – it was mailed for a mere three cents one week before the wedding. Kingston was so small at that time that the sender only needed to list the addressee, street, and city for it to arrive. The church where the wedding was held was founded in 1845 and attended by a strong Irish immigrant population and continues to operate today.

Initially, I was puzzled over the name Victory, but that is a Latin derivative for the woman’s name, Laura, stemming from the laurel branches placed on the victor’s heads during Roman times. I wondered if Victory went by Laura or Victoria as she lived her life.

The place where they planned the reception did make me pause – the Kozy Tavern operated one block from this house for decades. After closing, the place is now operating as The Beverly, a place where I frequently hold artist meetings. The current owner kept the old wooden bar, painted murals above and tin ceilings when he reopened. Now I am imagining how Victory and James came here after their wedding on October 1, 1950, and were congratulated by family and friends.

 

Vagabond Time Killers

The annual summer exhibit at The Wassaic Project was inspired by a 1901 photo discovered by Wassaic Project co-founder Jeff Barnett-Winsby. The photo shows young adults posing holding a banner that reads, “VTK.” Handwritten on the back of the photo were the words, “Vagabond Time Killers, 1901, Wassaic NY.” The photo inspired the name of the exhibit, Vagabond Time Killers and this photo is on display at the entry of the 7-story grain elevator/gallery. The faces of the young adults in the photo show delight in the forest setting – allowing us to imagine the story we could weave about how this merry group met upstate at Wassaic every summer for summer fun.

The exhibit riffed off the feeling of freedom, the great outdoors, and the adventure of imagining something new. The first floor included Margeaux Walter’s Digital C-prints. Walter described the process as originating from large-scale installations inspired by consumer culture and domestic scenes. The patterning created by staging a floral printed tablecloth with plates filled with pastries and four diners posed in a four-cornered directional map created an embellished, balanced universe. In Bloom

Visitors could follow the music and sound coming from the back of the gallery, where Minhee Bae’s silk organza artworks hung like welcome banners to a world of experiential art. Haley Lauw and Erik Pedersen’s installation of “Junk Mouthpieces” paired with a loop of samples from the Music Masters basement created an environment inviting visitors to proceed upstairs. The installation of musical instruments continued on each floor and was viewable through cutouts seen as you climb the stairs.

Eleanor Sabin’s neon work “Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire” was installed a few levels above – the neon flame burned from logs placed in typical campfire fashion – the burned wood is a fitting melding of contemporary and historical. VTK-neonFLAMEContinuing upward, Jen Hitchings’ work is all about interpreting the summer camp out. “Red Forest” shows a camping scene with a dangerous sloping geography painted in neon blues and oranges. VTK-RedForest

Continuing up to the next level, Matthew Gamber’s images are inspired by “transcendentalist thought in the New England Landscape.” The artist created the images with a large format camera, printed as three-dimensional anaglyph prints that could be viewed with the 3-D glasses available in the gallery.

Upwards on level 6, see Tatiana Arocha’s captivating installation, “Impending Beauty.” TatianaArocha5The artist has reimagined the entire small floor as a parlor, perhaps inspired by the 1901 photo when parlors were a means of civil discourse. The walls have been papered in a moody dark forest scene with birds and forest plants – the settee has an elaborate snake coiled, ready to strike. The table has been set for tea with a tea set that has also been elaborately decorated with the dark, flora, and fauna of the jungle. The artists’ work is influenced by her native country, Columbia, along with the symbolism of 19th Century opulence and what it took from nature.

For the hardiest visitor reaching the top floor, Elias Hansen’s installation, “Looking Down the Tunnel for the Way Out” VTK-Elias-Hansentook over the entire space. The glass viewers placed in front of the windows invited viewers to look down over the scenery below – the glass created a funhouse viewpoint of the scenery below, reinforcing the idea of being in another world. VTK-glass-lens

Traveling back downstairs through eight floors of the grain elevator, visitors could appreciate the works placed on each landing by collaborative artists, Ghost of a Dream, where they used several iterations of romantic travel posters with cut out words, Forever. GhostofaDream03The artists shared this additional information about this work in their interview: “The stairwell allows for a slow and intimate reading of the work as the viewer ascends or descends the stairway. Repetition is a thread that runs through all our work, from drawings to installation. We feel that when you are dreaming about something you think about it over and over, sometimes for years.”


This essay is an expanded version of the original publication for the Poughkeepsie Journal Enjoy section Friday, August 25, 2017. Vagabond Time Travelers is up through Sunday, September 24, 2017. The Wassaic Project is located at 37 Furnace Bank Road, Wassaic, NY.