The first TAASA Review for 2019 is unusual in tackling a topic as broad as ‘colour’. It attempts to provide a range of perspectives, with articles discussing particular colours historically favoured by some cultures; the symbolic power of colour (or lack of colour); the way in which contemporary artists use colour to question orthodoxy; the sources of colour pigments used in traditional art, and the particular challenges conservators face in restoring them.
Alex Burchmore’s article leads off with an exploration of the differing ways in which two contemporary Chinese ceramicists - Ai Weiwei and Liu Jianhua - refer to particular Chinese monochrome ceramic traditions in their recent work. He contrasts the way in which these two artists work with the ‘surfacescape’ of their ceramics vessels to evoke both sensual and symbolic meaning.
The allure of lustrous and often elaborately worked gold and silver objects is fairly universal, as demonstrated by two articles in this issue. Kerry Nguyen-Long provides an erudite survey – on a topic not often covered - of the surviving gold books of Vietnam’s Nguyen dynasty, a genre of formal dynastic literature primarily expressed on metals ranging from gold to silver gilt, silver and copper. MAAS curator Eva Czernis-Ryl provides an informative book review of a beautifully produced new publication Thai Silver and Nielloware by long time Bangkok resident Paul Bromberg.
We offer a conservator perspective from Andrea Wise who discusses the pigments used historically to produce the vivid jewel like colours of Indian miniature paintings - in this case from the Gayer -Anderson collection at the NGA - and the analytical techniques used by conservators tasked with their restoration.
The sources for the colour green used in miniature paintings, ceramics, architectural tiles and textiles in the Islamic world is also discussed in Margaret White’s article, though her main concern is to paint a broad picture of the symbolic importance of this colour for Islam. Boris Kaspiev, too, explains the symbolic power and decorative appeal of the turquoise, coral and other stones that adorn a 19th century shaman’s hat in his collection and how these colourful gemstones travelled across the various ancient trade routes to reach the Himalayas.
Traditional practices are the concern of William Ingram’s contribution about the use of indigo dyes by weavers in Indonesia. He discusses the work of a not for profit organisation, Threads of Life, in more than 50 villages on 12 Indonesian islands, focusing on initiatives in Flores and Timor which aim to develop the cultivation and marketing of natural indigo, and in so doing, empower the women weavers who traditionally made and used this dye.
Artists often use colour deliberately in their work for various purposes: to glorify nature, refer and offer respect to cultural traditions or to challenge assumptions or question past beliefs. Jackie Menzies canvasses all of these possibilities and more in her review of the way some artists on show at the current APT9 in QAGOMA, Brisbane use colour in their work.
Sometimes, artists may deliberately choose not to use colour at all. Anne O’Hehir from the NGA points out, for example, that black-and-white photography has dominated the critical histories of fine art photography in the belief that the use of colour can compromise the photograph’s wider potential. In post-colonial India, she argues, the attitude towards colour photography is particularly complex: for some, colour captures the true nature of India and India has a strong home grown tradition of hand coloured photography; for others, its use has the potential to slip into cliché, too easily catering to the ‘colourful India’ fantasies of Westerners. Her article illustrates how some practicing photographers in India have grappled with this issue.
‘Colourful India’ is however the reality which hits most visitors to this country. Claudia Hyles, a writer and reviewer who has been visiting India for half a century, describes three cities in Rajasthan which are each associated with one predominant colour: the pink, white and blue cityscapes of Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur respectively.
Finally, we alert readers on p24 to a current exhibition on Meiji art Export Empire: Japan and the modern world at AGSA. A recent publication from the NGV is covered on p29, which presents the NGV’s entire collection of Indian court paintings and is timed to coincide with its current exhibition Visions of Paradise. And, hot off the press, is a report from Iain Clark on the annual VisAsia Hingyiu Mok Mandarin Lecture at AGNSW held on 3 February to coincide with the opening of Heaven and earth in Chinese art: treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei.
4 THE VISUAL AND TACTILE EXPERIENCE OF THE MONOCHROME: MAPPING SURFACESCAPES IN AI WEIWEI'S COLORED VASES AND LIU JIANHUA'S CONTAINER SERIES - Alex Burchmore
7 GOLD BOOK TREASURES OF VIETNAM’S NGUYEN DYNASTY (1802-1945) - Kerry Nguyen-Long
10 A COLOURFUL PERSPECTIVE: INDIAN MINIATURE PAINTINGS IN THE GAYER-ANDERSON COLLECTION AT THE NGA - Andrea Wise
12 REVITALIZING INDIGO TRADITIONS IN EASTERN INDONESIA - William Ingram
14 COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHY IN INDIA - Anne O’Hehir
16 ALLUSIVE COLOURS OF APT9 - Jackie Menzies
18 PINK, WHITE AND BLUE: THREE CITIES OF RAJASTHAN - Claudia Hyles
20 THE TRADITION OF GREEN IN ISLAM - Margaret White
22 COLLECTOR’S CHOICE: A HIMALAYAN SHAMAN’S HAT - Boris Kaspiev
23 BOOK REVIEW: Thai Silver and Nielloware - Eva Czernis-Ryl
24 THE ART THAT BUILT AN EMPIRE: MEIJI ERA ART AT AGSA - Russell Kelty
25 RECENT TAASA ACTIVITIES
27 HEAVEN AND EARTH IN CHINESE CALLIGRAPHY AND PAINTING: VISASIA H Y MOK 2019 MANDARIN LECTURE AT AGNSW - Iain Clark
28 TAASA MEMBERS’ DIARY: MARCH - MAY 2019
29 WHAT’S ON: MARCH - MAY 2019
29 FROM THE NGV: VISIONS OF PARADISE: INDIAN COURT PAINTING