"Ancient Cities of
Belgium by Wandering Artists"
|The Fruits of on Odyssey
-Ancient Cities in a Foreign Land-
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
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.