Japan. Finally…

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I guess thoughts of seeing Japan have been in my mind for many years but it took until perhaps 2006 until I decided I would like to travel there, and as the intensity of my focus on art over the last 5yrs and my style has been refined with a clearly japanese aesthetic it became clearer i should go. Further more in the last year with my introduction to some key Japanese artists namely Kaii Higashiyama I decided I must make it a reality. With 10 months steady work in a Glasgow glass studio where I joined a team on the final stages of work on Rosslyn Chapel, and the big sale of my archives at the start of 2015 I was able to afford to go and departed the week before Christmas to Tokyo.

I arrived on the 19th kilted and loaded up with my trusty rucksack, first used by my parents trip to Austria in the early 70’s. Like them that ol’ rucksack is still going strong. Cheers Karrimor.
My travel tradition is to take a night walk when i arrive at my destination, so pack safley dumped at the capsule hostel i took a stroll round this very unfamiliar neighbourhood. It wss very strange, like being jn a movie, the streets and the signs, the bustle of electrical cables going in every direction it was quite surreal for me.
The next morning i hit my first destination. The memorial hall for the Japanese artist Higashiyama.

It was truly inspiring. To get a in person look at his works, to get up close and examine the brush work was indeed a treat.

Higashiyama memorial hall

I intent to visit all the galleries housing his works across Japan and this was a great start. I visited a number of other galleries and got to grips with Tokyo’s subway network. After 3 days I decided to leave the city and attend to agenda number 2.

The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage walk. There are a number of routes and sections to the pilgrimage, I decided to make my entry to this from Koyasan. I travelled there by train on the 22nd and not long after departing Tokyo I caught a glimpse of the most famous mountain of all as the train sped across the landscape…..

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I was somewhat taken aback to see her there for real. Actual Mt. Fuji there in person. She was soon out of sight and we sped on, 2hr later I changed trains and began the last stage towards Koyasan. Here we began to enter the mountainous region of the Kii Peninsula. It very quickly became apparent this was a very good choice.

I darted from window to window, side to side snapping the unfolding landscape. We had only just begun and already this was truly astounding. Only a taste of what was to come and already I was thrilled.

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The final stage was a cable car up a 45° angle which took me into Koyasan station. This part of the journey was truly amazing and I took lunch at the top and then made my way into Koyasan town.

As its winter the day is short and it was already after 3, I found my bed for the night as the sun fell away and the night took hold. Again time for my night stroll, this time it would really be something special and left me without words.

“Mount Koya (高野山, Kōyasan) is the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect which was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi (also known as Kukai), one of Japan’s most significant religious figures. A small, secluded templetown has developed around the sect’s headquarters that Kobo Daishi built on Koyasan’s wooded mountaintop. It is also the site of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum and the start and end point of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.

Kobo Daishi began construction on the original Garan temple complex in 826 after wandering the country for years in search of a suitable place to center his religion. Since then over one hundred temples have sprung up along the streets of Koyasan. The most important among them are Kongobuji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism, and Okunoin, the site of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum”.

I entered the Okunion around 6pm,  totally dark the moon had not yet risen over the trees and I was completely dumbfounded by the presence of the place. The energy was off the charts, I couldn’t tell if the atmosphere was friendly or not. A few times I got the total fear. Also I felt a high level of serene peacefulness. No one was to be seen yet incense burned all around and was the finest smelling scent I’ve ever known. I was in there for 2hrs until I felt I had to leave more than a little spooked.

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Up early the next day, 23rd, I took a walk around Koyasan with a brief 2hr loop walk as a introduction to what I hoped to undertake. I was concerned my back wouldn’t last too long taking the weight of my pack, being in Japan for the next 3/6 months I have a lot of gear, mostly art materials which add an immense amount of weight. And the walk I intended to start with was a 4 day hike over some hard terrain. Also there is a severe lack of information on this part of the Kumano Kodo.  Let alone English information, the most I could find was this was the hardest trial to undertake. I really didn’t know what I was getting into….. but today was just for strolling and i explored the Temples of Koyasan which i enjoyed very much. The design, curves and lines on these buildings is the height of style for me. Combined with lush ancient forest, well what can i say.
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So my first walk was okay, I figured I could start the next day, walk an hour out of Koyasan and if I felt it was to be too much I could turn back.  So I set out at 8am on Christmas Eve in a cold drizzly rain. A mere 20meters up the trail i was faced with a trail going off into the woods, was this my path? The hostel host had clued me into some English maps off the internet I had saved on my tablet but even that was limited. I got a few meters into the woods and felt it was a bad idea so returned to the track and sure enough up round the bend found my first official sign and stamp location. Nearly messed it up on the first half hour. I decided if I didn’t see a sign I didn’t leave the path I was on. Rule number one!

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My pack felt okay I was going to give it a shot. The first day was meant to be 16.8km and I had caught wind of a bothy a little beyond that point. I intended to reach the bothy and spend Christmas day there. An hour into the trail I passed another walker heading into Koyasan, we passed and I thought it strange he was effectively arriving so early in the day. Sure enough half hour later I heard the jingle of the pilgrims bell and he had doubled back and caught up with me. He had misread his GPS and gone the wrong way. His mission was the same as mine so we decided to walk together.

Language barriers aside with talked and walked over the day, the trail becoming increasingly harder, the rain had passed at least. The day peak was around 1200 meters at Nosegawa Village and we reached the recommended day finish point of Omata-Bashi bridge around 3.30pm as the sun was beginning its decent. At this stage I was really struggling with my energy. It had been a tough day and my friend had maintained a good pace but now at the final stage I thought I was through. At the village bridge I thought he said it was another 8km to the bothy, there was no way I could manage another 8 and it looked like a steep stage. I finished the last water bottle and rose once more, I think I was beyond conversation and thought by this point, my friend edging further ahead from me on the trail,even the sound of his bell became lost to me at points. From 700meters to 1200 in what really wasn’t that far although it took about 40minutes of brutal incline winding up the forested hill side finally when I had nothing left the cabin appeared.

A sight I was truly happy to see, instantly abandoned my rucksack and felt a burst of strength to collect sticks and get a fire going, my companion was straight on the tasks he was very prepared. I considered there was no way i could of completed that day without having him there. The fire going we ate some noodles in the cabin then sat by the fire as the darkness came and the forest grew quiet.

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We sat by the fire and I got out the whiskey and we had a couple healthy drams. By 7 the moon appeared, being Christmas eve with the next day being a full moon it was so bright. Patches of moonlight fell amongst the deep forest it was some sight. I was so glad we had made it.

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I found a sleeping bag in the bothy store and fell asleep pretty broken, although the drams helped the pains. Alarms went of at 5.30am on Christmas day for breakfast as my walking friend intended to continue on. Christmas day was not for walking and I was happy to stay put! We had breakfast and off he went, the pilgrims bell disappeared into the still dark forest…

I got the stove finally working right and by 9am had a warm cabin. I spent the day collecting sticks to dry and burn through the day, took some photos of the mists rising from the valley, and had a rather lovely day. Christmas dinner was mighty…

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There was a fresh water spring by the cabbin and I took my fill of this incredibly fresh mountain water. A cold day, but the stove was cooking a treat and it has to go down as my most inspired Christmas choices ever. As darkness fell I lay in my warm retreat and treated myself to a Miles Davis album in the darkness.

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When I awoke the next day the fire still had life and took little effort to kick back into life, when I stepped out the door to greet the day behold a dusting of snow had appeared in the night. Could this get any better? I was kind of considering staying for a3rd night, I had enough supplies and wood and was in no rush to get anywhere so why leave? I started my day preparing and took in the astounding views around my spot.

At 10am a couple appeared so I invited them in for some coffee. An older couple in perhaps their 60’s heading out in the snow! Well if they could do it so could I and I figured maybe another night in this tranquillity was maybe a mistake. The weather was fine, perhaps I should just push on. After all maybe it just gets better……  The couple headed away and I quickly packed up and was on the trail maybe half hour after them.

It was even harder walking on the snow, which covered leaves and branches which covered rocks and slippery roots. I headed up the trail to the Hinoki-Toge pass at 1300 meters. What a view. The 360° view of the mountains around was amazing. But also bloody freezing. I was glad to be on the move again…. The trees were encrusted with a beautiful frost it was a frozen wonderland. How lucky i was with the weather, slightly different conditions and i could of been in a spot of bother.

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You may wonder at this stage about the photo selection on this post, I’m not actually including many shots of the views as if you wanna see it you can walk it yourself. And the photos I took will comprise the basis of my next body of work.

Perhaps I may even make some of these photos available was prints once I have time to review them. There are a couple storkers I am not putting on line, certainly not giving them to FB ! I’ve got around 600 to review but wanted to get this up while it was all still fresh in my mind, to be fair I can’t see me forgetting a moment of this anytime soon!

The decent down from this mountain was very hard, I think overall this was the hardest day of all. From the Obako-Toge pass down to Muira-Guchi was a dark endless forest. I walked alone and in thought. It was hard. My knee started to suffer the impact of the decline and at the worst point I was blessed with the gift of a birch stick which saved me on the decent. At points I was slumped on the forest floor in a deep silent forest with no end in sight and a lowering sun. It was hard to maintain focus and positivity and when I finally stepped out onto a main road and the hope of a village I was utterly broken.

The air turning cold fast I gave my last to reach some houses, I wasn’t really sure of my actual plan but perhaps I could find at least a shed to crash in or a guest house.. As luck would have it a man was working the field above me and I clocked him reaching in his pocket to pull out a phone, a minute later several people appeared. Guest house secured I was very happy, and as luck would have it the older couple from the morning were also staying there. He spoke pretty good English which was a life saver as the lady of the guest house had none.

We ate together a traditional meal and I took my first Japanese bath. God that felt good. The house was over 300yrs old and was registered as a heritage building. The man of the house saw me looking at the moon later in the evening and set the telescope for me. What a view! The moon appeared conveniently right in the dip of the two hills. This was the day after the full moon so it was still totally impressive.

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The next day we set off, an 8:39am start with the older couple I figured it would be nice to walk with them, I might of been younger but by no means we’re they less able. We left the house crossing the Kannogawa river and instantly began the day assent up to the Miura-Toge pass at 1280 meters. The day was to be a 19.2km hike to Totskuwa.

The morning was a steep uphill but I felt surprisingly fresh, probably the excellent breakfast and last night’s meal. It was not the sunniest day, a cold wind was blowing and at the summit of the pass it was damn cold. We didn’t hang around and dipped over then other side to take lunch in a more sheltered spot.

It was there I had a bit of a moment as the view bore a striking resemblance to the picture I have on the back of my business card, Tomioka IV, it was odd. Not sure the photo I took captures what I could see but…..

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This descent was quite relaxed, well not by the end of the 2hrs, a sunny warm air and the forest was really nice. We cut a good pace and reached the end of the 2pm. from there we had to take a bus away from the trail to get to the nearest accommodation, this is where I parted ways with the couple and it had been really nice walking with them, on the decent I let them walk ahead a bit so they could be together. At the end of the walk when we reached the road I clocked them doing this nice we gesture of thanks to each other it was really sweet. They had climed many mountains together across the world. A real inspiration of living and love.

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Totsukawa was a very small place, it was the first spa town I had reached so far. I tried the one in my accommodation but it was way too hot. Kind of put me off using the public town one. At dinner that night I was sat on my own at this big table, I figured they had put me away from this large group of school kids who were some kind of swim team. They were all ill and I almost left cause I certainly couldn’t afford to get sick. The meal was great but as I relaxed and felt satisfied with how it was all going my nose started to pour with blood just as I got up to leave. So there I was stuck up on this big empty table with 40 school kids between me and the bathroom, who all thought I was mental anyway for wearing a skirt (kilt). Plus I didn’t have my shoes and I certainly didn’t want to get blood on the special matt flooring. I could only hope they either left soon or the blood stopped. Neither of which was happening. What a predicament. I guess maybe it was a reaction to the spa or just my body relaxing after all the exercise and maybe travel stress. Although I really wasn’t stressed. Anyway I got sorted eventually and made a swift exit out hoping I hadn’t caused embarrassment. I spent 2 days there just to relax, the river was a mental jade green colour and there were huge eagles swirling about. I got dead excited when I saw my first one but turns out they are the equivalent of our seagulls. Heaps of eagles.

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Also it was raw egg time. Interesting. ……

Time to get walking I hit the last stage on the 29th. Another glorious day I was looking forward to reaching Hongu. This was to be a 10.4 km to Yakio then a easy 4.6 into Hongu.

The days peak was Hatenashi-toge pass at 1114 meters. This was a really nice days walk. The forest was really nice, it took a while as I decended the steps made for slow progress, but the forest was really very peaceful. Arriving in Yakio I got a finally wind to take the last 4.6km into Hongu. I also had to try and arrive as soon as possible as we were nearing new year and people had been asking me a lot about if I had booked accommodation. Which I hadn’t, neither phone or internet or general info or even a time scale plan on how long this was even going to take. So I had to make it into town as early as possible to secure somewhere. Wasn’t the easiest but I got into Hongu just before 5. I had a note of one place that was totally deserted. The rest of the town was closing up fast and things were not looking good.

Kind of killing the buzz of completing the 70km for Koyasan to Hongu-tashia !

I was getting a bit frustrated and was exhausted, I just wanted no boots and no rucksack. Walking a needless 10min down the wrong road and back and then back again I was not in the best place. I got that feeling when a place rejects you, it just feels wrong.

What needed to happen was just sit down and take a coffee somewhere. I looked across the street and behold the last open place CafeBonheur with coffee. Score. So I walk in and its really got a good vibe. I sat down and asked for a coffee straight away. It was taking ages to make but I didn’t really care anymore. As my calm returned I looked around the cafe and noticed books everywhere. First one I saw was the very familiar “Snowman” and as I looked around the other books look consistently art and particularly nice, my coffee arrived. I asked straight away as the guy was at my table if he knew of a guest house or anything nearby…. he didn’t really understand but went and got the girl.

“You want to rent the guest house”?

Me – you have a house? Great. I’ll take it! Problem solved and I took my sip of coffee which was the best I’d had in Japan so far. As the girl had pretty good English I asked her the next most important question, why all the books? It was her ‘hobby’ of sorts. She collected nice books, in particular illustrated ones. Well I was liking this place more and more, making quite glad the original place had been closed. It pops into my mind she might enjoy seeing my art book I had published before I left as a mini portfolio to show folk.

I figured I might as well go all in and have dinner, I relaxed had my coffee and the waiter took me the 2min walk up to the house. I had a shower, changed and went down for dinner, with my book. Well the food was outstanding, all organic and vegan. I’m not vegetarian but certainly not opposed  to it. It was delicious. After dinner I showed the owner my book she seemed really enthralled by it and we had a big chat about art and books.

My dinner, I devoured the starter before I thought to take a photo.

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On the 30th I walked round the temple of Hongu after a lazy start, and just had a relaxed night in my house cooking myself an enjoyable dinner. On the 31st I took a 10 min bus ride out to a river onsen. Kawayu Onsen is a unique hot spring town located along a river. To use the onsen, bathers dig a hole in the gravel riverbank into which hot spring water then flows. Cool river water is mixed with the hot onsen water to bring the water to a temperature particular to the bather’s desire. In the winter, a giant rotenburo called the Sennin Bath is dug in the same manner, and is available for free public use. What a way to spend Hoggers. Highly enjoyable experience. I walked back into town and had dinner at the house. I wasnt sure what to expect from new years here, the town so far was busy with temple visitors during the day but at 5 the place shuts down. The cafe I was renting the house from was the only thing open till 8 and I seemed to be the only one there.

I had a wee beer after dinner and took a stroll down to the cafe to see what if anything was happening. They were dead and the folk had no plans to be doing anything that night. I had a coffee and walk towards the temple, some street vendor food stalls were set up but it was all dark and deserted. I ambled home at 8 to just do a little sketching, listen to some music.

At 11.30 I went back out, the stars were phenomenal and the mighty tori gate was spot lit casting huge beams of blue light into the sky.I had no tripod so this was the best I could do…

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The place actually had some life now, people were filing their way towards the temple up the mighty steps all the lanterns were lit. I was stood in the que for the temple, I figured they opened the doors at 12, it was now around 11.55pm and I got the vibe there was no midnight celebration on the bells. So why was I in a que for a temple I didn’t need to get into. I clocked two monks lightning a mighty bonfire and decided to just grab a seat beside that. And sat by the fire as we passed into the new year. I was the only white person there, and certainly the only one in a kilt. I felt privileged to be there, I didn’t enter the main temple as I felt it wasn’t my place. It’s not my religion I’d be just a spectator so I kept by the fire.

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It was odd being surrounded by people but being totally alone. No happy new years, just the fire. I had some quiet reflections, was really happy then i got a little sad thinking about sad things.  Feeling on the down slide I needed a lift, and I had immense desire to here some music. I knew the tune, I had my phone,  I just didn’t have the headphones…..

I looked up and a kid was beside me with massive beat headphones. I clocked eyes and asked him if I could borrow them for a song. Well more a gesturing of sorts. Anyway he got it and I blasted my mind with a song by The Treacherous Orchestra “Numbers” which saved the day.

Lifted.

I had completed the Kohechi Trail of Kumano Kodo, 70km in winter completely unresearched or prepared other than steel toe cap boots, a kilt, ol’ faithful woolly jumper and a 1973 Karrimor rucksack. And here I was by a mighty fire in the grounds of a sacred temple in Japan on new years eve seeing in 2016. Mission success.

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My journey does not end here though. I took leave of Hongu on the 2nd to Osaka where I will be based for the next few months. I intend at a later date to cover the other trails although I feel I may of experienced the best, and under pretty uniquely special conditions.

I visited my first art shop today (Jan 4th) and am preparing to start some work in a special Japanese painting style using pigments. This i am very excited by. Combined with my ideas from those long hours in the forest.

As I’ve been haemorrhaging money for the last 2 weeks and I’m about to start a very experimental painting technique that’ll require a unique set of equipment I’ll take the time to remind you I have many lovely paintings and glass works at my base in Glasgow looking for homes. See the works section on this webpage for available paintings and glass or I can arrange a viewing for you, albeit remotely. But its perfectly possible. One hanger is already on its way to Japan.

All funds go into the extension & maximization of my time here. So if you have enjoyed this story and look forward to more then you know what to do! I’m dead excited about doing some work here, it’s a shame I’d like to share more of the photos I took but I have to keep something back to work with. Plus I don’t think work is appreciated or valued on a computer screen. Hiking hundreds of meters in the cold and snow and getting a great shot is not equaitable to a couple FB likes. It devalues the whole thing. The magic is lost. I’ve certainly got enough good shots to issue a couple prints so that’s one the cards.

Anyways, that was the tale of my first Japanese adventure and I certainly enjoyed that one,

Let’s see what’s next…..

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Part Two – From The Mountains To The City

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kumano hongumap
There were more trails to do that make up the greater Kumano Kodo pilgrimage, but I was keen to begin the next part of my trip that didn’t involve hiking quite so much. After spending around a week in Kumano-Hongu Taisha over the New-year period I decided to make my way to Osaka around Jan 3rd.

I felt during the hike I had captured a particularly special moment. The trail was so quiet, perhaps I was lucky, perhaps its rare for people to hike in the winter. Either way I think it would be a entirely different experience later in the year.
I had been extremely lucky with good weather, and as is often my way, general good fortune.
Deciding that completing the 70km Kohechi Trail route was enough for this occasion.
Finishing that off is for next time, I left the comfort of Cafe Bonheur and took myself down to the bus station.
As the sunrose we wound our way out of the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture to Tanabe, then a swift train through to Osaka. Out the mountains and into the city.   I felt as if I had been away for a lifetime. I could of stayed a lifetime. The Wakayama area is pretty special.
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Osaka had a very different atmosphere from Tokyo. Much more relaxed, although still a city of 2.665 million people.
I spent about 3 weeks in Osaka and it was very interesting.
The bicycle culture was very healthy, bikes everywhere. And they had this really cool locking system, a device is located on the back wheel and when parked you push a bar through wheel it ejects a key and the bike is immobilized. Nae problems. Funny the little things you notice.

I enjoy cycling around, you can cover a lot more ground and this gives you access to exploring places I think would otherwise be missed.  What struck me was the cars seemed to be overly careful to give bikes space and priority at crossings. This was unusual enough, but the bikes had free reign on going up & down whatever street in whatever direction. As long as they were at the side, this seemed to be okay. Not really safe, I didn’t see any accidents surprisingly.

There was a million boutiques selling everything you could imagine. Heaps of vintage clothes places, some good gear but fantastically overpriced. Especially old trainers and shoes.

On the flip side the record stores were so good I just stopped going into them. It was all too amazing. Everything was in mint condition, each sleeve not a dent or a crease. Japanese people must really look after things. And the prices were cheap. I had to get out, if I couldn’t walk away from one then the gates would be open and I’d want them all. But that didnt stop me indulging in the Vinyl while I was there…. I just had to keep it to the bars..

61-Osaka-Japan-GilliesI found some awesome Jazz bars, to be honest I didn’t think places like this still existed, or if they indeed ever did exist outside of a beatnik novel from the 50’s.

Tiny joints. Dusty and dark. Old racks of vinyl stacked from the floor to the low ceiling. Literally thousands of records.  An accumulation of objects built up over the years crammed into this tiny space, its the kind of interior that only happens over 50yrs plus of growth. Its random, but its not.. it all just works.
Old bar, old bartender in a equally old hat.
Smoking and changing the record at each side.

Old stickers scratched off the sides of dim lamps.

Ragged edged posters of old movie stars, concert & album posters of Jazz musicians.
When you step into bars like that, as the door shuts behind you so ends the entire concept of an outside world. The concept of an outside time.
After some drinks, after a chapter in a book, when enough sides of records have gone through their set of songs, at some point you stand yourself up and open the door leaving 1959 as it was.
Time lost in these places is special time.

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I explored a lot, walking and cycling to random areas. I particularly enjoy more residential areas, see what a place is really like and whats happening on a regular Tuesday morning, or being right in the middle of the morning or evening rush hour. Its just fun to be watching the gears of a city in full action.

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My main agenda was to visit my next Higashiyama Kaii Gallery located 220km away in the Kagawa Prefecture near a town called Sakaide. Famous for its oranges.
香川県立東山魁夷せとうち美術館 was my second Kaii Gallery. It was a long way to travel from Osaka but worth the journey.
I arrived in the small town in the afternoon after some very fast train travel, expensive but given the journey time, justified. Again I took note of the exceptional leg room on your average train in Japan, far cry from the cattle cars suffering of UK rail travel.
This gallery was very quiet looking, from a distance it just looked closed, austere even.
A warm welcome to be found though.

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I had a look round perhaps 3 times, just trying to take in each picture. I would of liked to have taken some photos of the actual space, it was a very nicely designed gallery. Not very big, although everything on display was excellent. No filler.

In the cafe I met a couple. A woman has taken her mother to an eye operation and after the mother had wanted to come somewhere peaceful. So this is where they had come.
The mother had never met anyone from Scotland, wearing the Kilt you become something of a cultural ambassador which I find pretty cool. All of the Japanese people I met asked the same question, why I had come to Japan?
I explained my interest in Higashiyama and in Art in general. They told me about another big gallery in the next town, if I had time I should probably visit. We parted ways and I went for another walk round the gallery.

When I left they had come back to say they would like to offer me a lift to the other gallery, and  they gave me some local oranges.

 

I can’t really review the Higashiyama work on display, I didn’t take photos in the gallery and I wouldn’t share them if I did. I would say that seeing these works in real life was infinitely more embracing than seeing them in a book. Im not sure I had a favorite at this gallery, it was just so amazing to see the pictures in real life, real size. Even seeing the frames, the dimensions of the actual pictures I find so interesting.

It was hard to walk away.  This is one of his paintings, I can’t remember if this was displayed at this gallery or not, I saw it at one of them.. either way just wanted to share an example of his work if you were curious.

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So I unexpectedly found myself in The MIMOCA, Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art.

The special exhibition at this time was ‘Genichiro Inokuma: All Kinds of Shapes and Forms’ and although not the kind of art I take time to look at I did enjoy the show. The gallery building itself was very cool with a number of awesome sculptures outside it. I really enjoyed peaking my head in the museum’s library room.
Desks fitted with these beautiful metal lamps, it all looked really stylish but totally considered.
They also had a creative space for children and were also holding an exhibition of work, or perhaps it was a competition, by what looked like differnt age groups or school classes.
Anyways it was nice to see the space being given over to the kids in a main gallery.
Genichiro Inokuma
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When I had my fill of art I took the train back eastwards to Osaka.  Even this was kinda fun, the first part of the journey was by local train, it stopped everywhere and took ages. But this meant I got a chance to just see regular folk, finishing work or school, heading home or heading to work. People seem pretty comfortable with just going to sleep on the trains. Those that weren’t asleep were locked into phones. Games or comics seemed to be the main preoccupation.

The second part of the journey was by express train and I was back in Osaka by night. These trains are in every way as cool as they look. Completely efficient, clean and comfortable. The passengers on all the trains and buses I took really upheld this unspoken standard behaviour of social conduct. There is a way to board the train, there is allocated seats. There is silence on the train. All organised.

Makes me wonder what a Japanese person would think about the last train out of Inverness to Elgin on a Friday night in all its mental chaos.

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While I was in Osaka I also got to experience a three-day festival dedicated to Ebisu, the god of business and prosperity at Imamiya Ebisu Shrine in Osaka. (lets see if any of that rubs off) Featuring a procession of women in colorful kimono carried on floats through the main streets.  The night I went along I spent a couple hours lost in an insane food market. Some of the stands were a little extreme in size, and the construction seemed to be mostly bamboo poles bound together by twine. Structurally safe? Nae chance. Totally overcrowded, fire hazards in every direction. It was pretty chaotic, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it.
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I was keen to find the art scene in Osaka, eventually I clued into an opening of a group show by SenseO in a pretty hip space called Pine Brooklyn, which was as totally hipster as it sounds, but made for a good exhibition venue. I was surprised how many white people there were there, it seemed as if I had opened a secret door to the white people hide out. And can’t say I wanted to stay. Loud obnoxious americans were the order of the day, but aside from that the artwork on display was really good, the whole exhibit event as an evening was excellent. Id like to take some of those elements into a show back home, my overall feeling was really need to raise our game.

Over the course of the night there was art to view, a minimalist performance between a trumpeter and a ghost dancer, a set by a band called ‘King’ with a pretty extravagant front man, video displayed, a live paint performance between 2 drummers a DJ and an artist doing a huge wall mural, very intense.

I really enjoyed the live paint, i’ve been trying to imagine myself doing something like that. Im not sure what kind of music I would have, I think either minimal folky ambience or jazz, somehow peppered with mental noise. I can paint fast, but to take it down into under an hour long performance would be interesting, as well as the unplanned play between the visual and the audio. Anyways something I would really like to try.

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Table of experimental Jazz goodies. king osaka japan

‘King’ Very cool band, awesome costumes. Kimono and guitar is a very cool mix. 107-Osaka-Japan-Gillies

Live art performance, with two drummers a DJ and 1 artist working on the back stage wall. The whole thing took about an hour, I was surprised how engaging the performance was. I thought the drums would of become monotonous pretty quick, but the build up of the set was impressive. If you’re interested in other photos they are available here.

So after a couple weeks in Osaka I made my way to the next stage which was to be Kyoto. On a final note it became clear to me that Osaka is living in the mid 90’s, no bad thing like. I heard a lot of Oasis in particular, like a LOT! The Osaka people really like the 90’s I guess, there did seem to be a wee touch of the grunge appearance in the Osaka youth. It was nice to hear the tunes again….

Sadly the one time I did find a funk night I was the only one there. Im not one to let an empty dancefloor stop me from having fun so it wasnt a problem.  The funk is hard to find in Osaka, does it exist at all?…..

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Next Up Kyoto & The Bamboo Forest



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Part Three – The Bamboo Forest & Kyoto

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kyoto

After some time in Osaka I made my way to Kyoto, only 56km away.  I was there for 3 days and this was a difficult part of the journey. I arrived with a pulled back and was having difficulty walking so my first day was a write off in recuperation. A result I guess of the last 6 weeks adjusting to an assortment futon sleeping mats, my rucksacks weight and my general rubbish back which just goes randomly now and again…

I did acquire some high grade magic Japanese medicine which really did the job. My general gesturing to the pharmacist to express back pain was successful.

Day two I was still having difficulty walking  but I took it easy and made my way out to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove a short train ride out of the city. This was the first point I really noticed an increase in tourists, and the area around the Bamboo Grove was very busy. But it was a beautiful day, blue skies and fresh air. And under the influence of this unknown medicine I was feeling rather relaxed.

Seeing bamboo this tall was amazing. I was hoping to get to walk amongst the bamboo but it was totally fenced off and you followed a path through the grove. There was also thick hedges along the path that was almost at head height, blocking the ground level view. Which was the main thing I want to see…. but still it was very cool. So many shades of green. I managed to get the camera through the hedge at points and got some of the shots I wanted.  But I’m not sharing them as they are more reference photos for me. But here’s a wee taste of the bamboo..

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

bamboo groveI was pleased to find an artist set up along the grove selling prints of his paintings. I kind of expected this to be a no go in Japan generally, especially in a high visitor area. I hadn’t even seen any kind of buskers so far, but here was artist Kinji Nakamura, sat out in the grove with a wee stand of prints. I later found a interview with him on the internet and he’s as sound as you would expect someone that paints forests to be.

Must say 1000 points for location and lifestyle choices. And I really liked his art too, so I bought a couple of his postcards. I’ve done the selling art outside gig, it’s tough. So happy to support a fellow artist living that way. And he certainly looked a happy chap. nakamura-kyoto-artistMy walk continued through the grove and up through Kameyama-kōen park. Mind its still late January and it’s very much winter scenery. There were a few buds on the trees and a little hint of spring, the remnants of the winter Plum blossom is the most colour I could find.  I made way up to a view point and then strolled down to the river. After reviewing the photos it seems my wardrobe colour scheme is essentially ‘January’. All the browns.

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Katsura River Kyoto

I walked along the riverside then spotted on the map that the Kyoto Art School was out here, so I walked over to that building but sadly there was no exhibitions on and I couldn’t get past the door man to speak to anyone in the art school for a look around..  I took myself back into town and found the Kimono forest.嵐山温泉駅の足湯  An inventive display of Kimono designs set in illuminated tubes placed around the Arashiyama train station! On paper an idea which I think sounds rubbish, but in reality it really worked. Bit of a design overload!
kimono forest 嵐山温泉駅の足湯

There was so much attention to detail in pretty much everything. This was in a kind of forecourt of the train station and with shops on the sides there was a few seating areas. Even a basic seat is pushed that little bit further in design, placement, lighting.
kimono-forest-Kyoto-Bamboo-Japan-GilliesFrom here I continued up the main street, went into a couple Temple grounds but by this stage I think I was getting ‘Temple tired’.

It’s hard after seeing hundreds of the most impressive and beautiful buildings ever to maintain an excitement for it. You turn around and here’s another temple even bigger than the last one! My focus was turned more on the little design features of the buildings and the gardens and plants.

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My target destination for the later part of the day was”Osawa Pond” on the far side of town next to the Daikaku-ji Temple. It was nice to be away from the people, have a little quiet time beside the pond. I was taking some photos of the ducks when I became aware of how many coy carp were in the water. So began the next hour of fish photos…

I did 2 paintings about 3yrs ago of carp swimming in blossom laden water and it’s a theme I could definitely explore further so I took a zillion photos for reference. That UV filter for the camera did come in useful!!

carp coy fish kyoto

After a long time with the fish I was pretty tired and made my way back into Kyoto. For just one day and with a hobbley walk I covered a lot of sites.

The next day I woke up late, I think as a result of the mental back medicine and nearly missed breakfast. It was absolutely chucking it down, one of the first days Id seen actual rain! So I decided to just keep my day simple and go to the art gallery. First stop Kyoto-shi Kangyo Museum Miyako Messe. Which was open but was deserted and had nothing on. So back out in the rain and round the corner to the National Museum of Modern Art. This was at least open!

Imai-Morihiko-fishingMy favorite painting in the museum was ‘Fishing’ by Imai Morihiko painted in 1989.

I can’t find any decent images on the internet of this work bar this tiny one. Shame, but it was a beautiful huge painting. I can’t even find much info about the artist!

There wasn’t a special exhibition on at this time, just the main collection on show. I had a good look round, the building was impressive and the art excelent. Although not the biggest collection I thought & I found the air in the building really stifling and eventually I had to leave.. It was nice to get some fresh air. The rain was still torrential, I darted across the road to the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art.

 

Here I found a total surprise exhibit from the SEIAN UNIVERSITY OF ART AND DESIGN, I presume it was a degree show of sorts. First off it was pretty cool they had secured a main gallery building to have the show in, perhaps its standard, perhaps just because it’s January and nothing else is on! Either way I was happy to look around and see what the painting standard was over here.  Well I left mighty impressed.

Im not that keen on taking photos of artists work so I didn’t take direct shots and tried to take a note of all the names.  Most of the paintings on display were massive. Like MASSIVE massive! Heres a link to the collection of photos I took. (And I managed to find a list of the show prize winners here.)

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Stumbled upon the degree show of the Kyoto Art School. It was firstly held in the main art gallery building, impressive…

Posted by Peter Gillies on Friday, January 29, 2016

Well after that day I was shattered. No more art could be appreciated! Perhaps I missed out a lot to see in Kyoto. I didn’t really explore the city center apart from visiting the art galleries. But I enjoyed what I did see and being aware I was hitting a bit of a ‘travel wall’ at this point I was trying to find a balance in resting, excursions and what I was doing at all!

The next day I had breakfast and decided to move on from Kyoto. After 6 weeks moving around I was feeling the financial burn. I made some investigations and managed to sort out 2 options. Working in exchange for room & board at a youth hostel on the coast, or heading up to the alps to work in a bar. This way I could spin out my time without spending so much money every day.

But what to choose? I’ll not lie, the idea of being by the coast freaked me out too much. It was hard enough putting the potential radiation risks away after The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster 5 years ago but being near the coast & the threat of potential tsunami’s, well it seemed safer to be in the mountains.

So I packed up and took myself to the train station to head north into the Japanese Alps…..

I’ll leave you with a sleepy cat and join me next time for part 4 adventures in the snow….

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Part Four – From Kyoto To The Japanese Alps

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hakuba japan

So I’m on the train heading up to the Japanese Alps. It feels like a good decision. My backs fixed up remarkably quickly, kinda put a dampener on my time in Kyoto but happily I’m back in the game, just. It’s a long journey, rolling through this Japanese landscape we slowly begin to climb into the hills.

As the houses get sparse and the hills close in around the train tracks I feel we are getting closer to the snow. The train goes into tunnels and when we emerge the landscape has changed again. Stopping at one station there is a wee hint of snow on the platform. I’m already way hyped..

A little tradition I have back home is listening to Neil Young when I’m going up the A9, about an hour out of Perth when you start getting into the mountains is my favorite bit. I guess it all started when I first lived in Glasgow when I was 17 and had my first CD player and had just got the Decade dbl cd and all I listened to was Neil Young, period. That CD would go on when the bus left and I did that so many times the sequence of the songs became bonded to the same points in the journey each time. In later years I only really make that journey at Christmas time, so it’s extra fitting when there is snow on the ground.  Anyways Ive got this bit I always play ‘Down By The River’.

Sat on this train rolling through the hills that song got a new setting.

Then one big tunnel, bang, we come out into a frozen paradise. I abandoned my seat to go between carriages to take photos. I really enjoy taking photographs from moving vehicles, it’s kinda more miss than hit but every few photos you catch a good scene. Everything is covered in ice and snow. Its like we just stepped into a deep freeze.

A change of trains and we are on the last stage, single track line to a town called Hakuba. Ive no idea where Im going, no idea about who I’m going to work for, what the bars like, what towns like. This is a rogue dice roll. But I’m looking out the back window of this train trundling through the snow and it’s a good choice.

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I like everything about this so far. So its kinda late in the day when we get into Hakuba. I step off the train and its fresh, its cold, its snowy. I give the bar a phone and my lifts on its way…

So over the next few weeks my life became increasingly like the pages of a Jack Kerouac novel.

Late weekend shifts in the bar, playing pool, walking down to the store on my day of for bread, eggs & a half bottle of wine. Sitting out on the balcony playing bits of songs on the guitar until my hand was too cold to make the chords. Going out in the afternoon to take photographs of the snow falling. Morning walks, afternoon walks.

The work was easy enough, most nights we were essentially dead. At the weekends a band would play and the place was heavin’. Nearly every drink in the bar was 500yen. Thats easy enough. Working out what the Japanese person just asked for, not so easy. I worked in a bar nearly 10yrs ago in Scotland and swore I’d never do it again, turns out I totally enjoyed working this bar and I’m pretty good at it to.  I think it’s a bit of stereotype Japanese people can’t hold their drink. News Flash, they can. I mean we ain’t talking Scottish Irish levels here, but by no means light weights!

Nearly every conversation featured this play of dialogue –

Customer – So you snowboard?

Me – Na

Customer -Ski?

Me – Na

Customer – (pause) sooo why you here?

I guess it is kinda strange to be spending time at a ski resort when you have zero interest in skiing. Not strange in my mind, I’m in my actual paradise visually. So Id explain about the art, what Im doing. I was pretty happy to just be in this one place for an extended time period, I don’t think I have ever seen snow like that in my life. There was a few times it snowed real heavy, but one time, I think it was week two there was an almighty dump of snow. That day was phenomenal.

It had been snowing all night and I got up had a massive breakfast and put on the waterproofs, grabbed an umbrella and ventured out into the forest area near the bar. This was such an exciting day i’m not sure I can describe it all. The sound was dead. The air kinda thick and dense. Air completely freezing, but a dry cold not wet. The snow, knee deep and fluffy like a powder you just waded about in.  When I got into the forest the trees were laden with snow.

Every now & again the snow would slide off the branches and i’d spin around to try take a photo of the impact dust cloud amongst the trees. Problem being this all happens in a matter of 3 seconds tops. You hear the slide sound of the branches which gives you an indication of the direction it’s happening, the silent drop then the impact which is just a bit of a dry thud but the snow impact creates a cloud of powder then a snow wind whooshes out. So I spent a good few hours trying to take photos of this happening, good job I brought the umbrella as it often happened above where I was, and I used the umbrella as a shield against the impact wind. All made operating the camera a bit of a challenge, plus frozen fingers.

When I got back inside at the end of the day I was reviewing my photos and it seemed kind of odd how similar this photo was to a drawing I had made 3yrs ago.  Not the first time this had happened, when I was on the Kumano Kodo hike I often found myself looking at one of my own paintings. I was really odd.

Top Photograph in the woods / Bottom Drawing 3yrs ago

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I’d really love to share more of these shots but it’s part of the journey that will feature in the exhibition I’m planning. Whether it’s using these photos as reference for paintings or using the actual photos I have not decided yet. But here is a wee taster of the 16gb I took..

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snow forest japan

This was probably the most fun day during the whole month. It was also the only time it really dumped with snow during the day and I could get out into it. Apparently this year was pretty bad for the snow and the season was not as long as usual. I wasn’t complaining! Better than anything I’d ever seen.

I did take a ride up the gondola to the top of the mountain which was pretty cool. I took a wee wander up a trail into what would be ‘backcountry’ heading up to peaks unseen, but the snow started coming in hard and I figured it probably wasn’t a good idea to be wandering up here.  It was hard to take in the scale of the mountains, it was just so impossibly huge. And if you got lost or stuck you’d be impossibly screwed! The view across to the other side of the valley was brilliant.

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hakuba japanese alps

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hakuba japan

So I could go on about the snow all day but in an effort to keep this in some way readable i’ll cut to the next bit, the final Kaii Higashiyama Gallery Quest……

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The Pilgrims Quest

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2015 has passed very quickly, and you may of noticed almost silence from myself.
The year started with holding a flash auction of all my work in February. I decided to just clear the decks as after a very productive previous year and my general collection I was sitting on over 70 works. The ‘weight’ of this was, well weighing me down!

I wrote some extensive blogs on this thought process at the time, and although almost heartbreaking to sell large works for not much more than the framing cost it was worth it overall to have space and after 10yrs not be bound down by the responsibility of paintings.
I needed a clean slate, well an empty one at best before I start the next stage.

The very next day after launching my auction and the video being shared over 100 times and viewed by several thousand people, by chance I was offered 10 months work in a reputable restoration studio.
I decided to see the auction through, as the goal remained a good idea, take the 10 months work and at the end of the contract be able to take time out in Japan.

So 2015 has seen zero activity on my webpage, I decided not to produce any new work this year so clearing my decks is not undone.
I depart on the 18th of December to Tokyo, with one of my main destinations being the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage walk, the art museum of Kaii Higashiyama and general wandering.

The last few paintings which were not sold have been significantly reduced on the webpage have a look at my works.. my key favourites are the 6ft waterfall and Tomioka I & II.

As to my future works I plan to be creating work while in Japan. Part of my journey is walking the Kumano Kodo, an ancient pilgrimage walk with a shrine to the forest spirits.
I will be sending works back to Scotland as I travel and upon my return collate the works into an exhibition and make paintings available to buy here estimated time Autumn / Winter 2016.

I have one last surprise for this year happening on November 3rd. My policy of not producing art this year is not being stuck to for this, I am doing a special 2 works for a personal project. The details of this will be released soon….
Just remember November 2nd @Old Hairdressers, Glasgow.

Kumano-Kodo-pilgrimage-route

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2014 Art Review

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“since change is inevitable, we should direct the change
rather than simply continue to go through the change…” – Gil Scott-Heron

This is now the closing moments of 2014 and I look back on the year, the art I produced and the exhibitions I took part in, with the low November sun streaming in through the window.
The year has flown by really fast. It does not seem like a whole year ago that I just arrived in Bilbao to represent Scottish Craft at the 18th Euskal Denda Show and was taking a midnight walk around deserted streets in the crisp cold air by the cities river.

So what has happened this year?
January was good, I was pretty tired after Bilbao but had spent a relaxing and enjoyable Christmas & was feeling positive after the surprise trip in December. I had in mind a plan for the year and launched straight into it.

A house exhibition in March of Sumi Ink drawings. Working on pine branches and some leafy tree impressions. I put together around 7 works for this produced over Jan/Feb.
The exhibit was really fun, and a bit odd opening up my house for the purposes of an exhibition, but it went well. I was really charged with the creative buzz from the ink drawings.

In the final 2 weeks before the show I had also stumbled into producing a set of 8 waterfall paintings. That really changed everything and more than the ink drawings I think shaped the year to come. Although I have some plans in mind still to investigate further Sumi Ink painting.
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April was spent in front of a computer organizing the Art Exhibition “Art On The Hill” which was to be held during the Southside Fringe Festival. It was a full on operation and I am not quite sure how I got through that one. But it all came together and the show opened in May. 100 artists. Around 470 art works.
During June I was mentally & physically exhausted. Nothing got done, July also. After the total full output of everything I had to put that show together I was totally shattered.

August I got phoned up by a restoration studio who needed extra hands. The weather was beautiful, the commonwealth games and the build up to the years big event of the Referendum. It was nice getting back into proper leading up church windows after several years out of it.

October and November I worked on a collection of 10 night time paintings and am now in preparation for my only winter exhibit taking place at The Ceilidh Place in Ullapool opening on the 5th of December.

Here is a preview of my newest work “Tomioka”.

I am at something of a professional and life crossroads.
The last 6yrs have been completely & intensely art focused and I am reviewing this time.
Creatively I feel I am producing great work, this year has seen the most work I have ever completed since I decided to make Art my full time occupation in 2005.

I did focus a lot of time on effort to make things happen on the wider Glasgow art scene this year, although I produced my greatest amount of work I did feel it could of been more and my commitments to external events took time away from creating.
In the next year I am looking to get my work into more commercial galleries to get my work seen by a wider audience, simply put at this stage in order to continue my progression artistically I have to match and surpass the level of the last few years.
So that is my goal for 2015.

My previous post about my Limited Edition Print Box has been adapted into no longer being “limited edition” as I have never really liked the idea of limits and I do want to make my work available to everyone. The price structure has also changed with my work divided into 7 sets containing 5 prints each. I will add further sets as I produce new work. I’m looking forward to having these on show in Ullapool.

SO thats all my news, looking forward to 2015 and a couple days up North!!! As there has been far too little of that this year.

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Limited Edition Print Box

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Artist Collection By Gillies Art from pete gillies on Vimeo.

Over the last two years I have added various options for the availability of my art in print form.

Its a process of fine tuning the model where by I am comfortable in the way my work is available to the people that love it.

I have been looking for a way to ease my time to be spent more on the production of art and less on the task of sales promotion. As it stands I spend nearly 100% of my time on sales related business and I have no time or finance to pursue the inspiration to produce art, this cannot continue.

So the concept is to refocus my time on creation. If I can design a product that will hopefully at ‘100% sold’ will provide me with a basic annual income and the news I bring you day to day via my blogs and facebook will be less about sales and more about art and what I am working on.  Much more interesting don’t you think?

This box of prints is limited to 250 issues, and each year I shall work to produce a new collection that can be contained within the box. Once the issues are all sold these images will no longer be available until such times as I produce a complete works book in the future. limited edition print box   The box has screws at the back and you can remove the print selection & change what is displayed at the front. This captures everything I love about artist book collections and postcards of images. The box has the potential to hold 75 images. It can be hung on the wall or sat on a shelf or mantelpiece.

The prints are produced on lovely thick paper in a fine print quality.

The specs are as follows –

Soft Textured Natural White 100% cotton 315gsm IFA 22 Innova soft-textured, has a natural white finish with a slightly structured, soft-textured surface equivalent to a traditional etching fine art paper making it ideal for digital fine art and photo reproductions. The surface has a special matte coating, designed for high quality fine art and photographic reproduction with inkjet (giclée) technology.

Features: 100% cotton linters / Great colour accuracy / Archival quality Dye & Pigment ink compatible.

The entire box width and height is 13.5 x 17.5 x 5 cm limited edition print box

So now there are a simple 2 choices available. The original work will be for sale, and a select range will be available as an annual print pack. Taking into account I have so far printed 5 of editions of these prints that were sold as individual gift cards so there are only now 245 editions of the full set permitted. With number 1 now sat on my stereo speaker with the drawing “Birch Trees” at the front of the display these are now available to order. Remember once they are gone they are gone.

Congratulations if you have bought a print from me in the last 2 years as they are no longer available and although not officially numbered  are in seriously few quantity.

I’m dead excited by this as a concept and look forward to filling up the box.

 

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Art On The Hill

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The story of ‘Art On The Hill’.
In January 2012 I set up a facebook group called Glasgow Independent Artists, with the long term goal of having enough members to stage a big artist run art show in part as a possible replacement to The Glasgow Art Fair previously held in George Sq through the 90’s until 2010.
At least a show that would encompass my desire to present art in a more accessible fashion without the barriers that both the artists and public face.

In late summer 2013 I got the chance to see my intended venue in the flesh, having only previously seen 1 photo. I met with the owners in January 2014 and secured the date, deciding to run the event during the Southside Fringe Festival, May 2014.

Art On The Hill showcases 95 artists, I wanted 100 but to ensure a good mix of style and standard of work I called it at 95. We have over 370 images in the room along with sculpture, ceramics, metal work, jewelry and stained glass. I would say as a initial run, with essentially zero budget and no funding or assistance this sets the template for future shows and hopefully this is the start of a new movement where the artists collectively work together to showcase their work and create a better art scene.

Here is a short film made by Summerhall Tv where I was interviewed about the show.
http://vimeo.com/95301745

Peter Gillies : Art On The Hill from arts-news on Vimeo.

The show runs until the 31st of May. Venue ‘Church On The Hill’ which is located in the Southside of Glasgow in Langside/Battlefield.

This is a video I made of my artist talk I gave during the show. It was a last minute thought to tape it on my phone so the audio is not 100% but its listenable.
The full essay I was generally basing this on can be read on my other blog here and I used this essay as my base for this talk. It was nice to expand on certain areas but its such a wide cross direction multi layered set of ideas its hard to make it flow in a complete order, so I tend to jump around and come back to things. But I have edited that essay over the last few years to work as best as I can make it.

Artist-Talk-Peter-Gillies from pete gillies on Vimeo.

Photo collection from the show. Taken by myself and various participating artists.

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Scotsman Abroad

Paintings, Stained Glass

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You may of read my previous blog where I applied to an opportunity shared on the Craft Scotland website looking for a Scottish craft maker to go to the Basque Country and represent Scottish Craft at the 18th Annual Euskal Denda Artisan Show.
I often look at such opportunity webpages but I have never applied to any. But the spirit of this one appealed to me and although very short notice until the event I sent the organisation a email application….

About two weeks later I was sat in the departure lounge at Manchester Airport having successfully made it through security with a suitcase full of lead & glass weighing about 20kg. This Scotsman was about to go abroad for the first time in 4yrs !
A couple hours after that it was 2am, crisp and cold, and I was stood outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao on deserted streets watching the river quietly float by.

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That was the 1st of December and I returned to Glasgow on the 13th. The days that followed my return were mostly sleep orientated and then I traveled North to see my folks for Christmas for the first time in many years. Normally November / December is solid craft shows around Scotland but this year I decided not to do any as the previous year I had made such a loss, this year I played it safe. Then New year and that was December over in a flash. So I have been meaning to sit down and collate my thoughts about the whole experience since the 13th but the time never felt quite right.
I am still processing it myself and to include everything I wanted to was going to be a bit of a task.
Not only the Euskal Denda experience but also a round up of 2013 itself, a year that went by phenomenally fast and started with me in the depths of stress about my studio in the Hidden Lane, finally deciding to call it a day on that  in April and accepting it was not going to work in the way I had envisaged (which was very difficult to do), during that process producing a collection of new paintings, then renting Veneer Gallery for a month to put on my first solo show. Around this time there was also a number of Exhibitions happening in part through a Facebook group I had started in January 2013, which now has 514 members, and the rest of the year saw various projects emerging.
So 2013 saw a fair bit of worry, but also a lot of new friends and I have finally found the art scene I was looking for. Its great to actually have a network of artists all working hard doing their own thing in Glasgow, but working together and communicating and making the scene our own.

Back to Basque….
I arrived on the Sunday night, and was going to be picked up on Tuesday to get me and my gear to the town where the show was being held. I walked a lot!!!! Got my bearings in the town and saw all I could. Bilbao was very nice, the very first thing that struck me was they wash the streets down at night. Teams of street workers go out around midnight and power hose down all the pavements streets and roads. Not that they need it as I didn’t see any litter, if anywhere needs that its Glasgow!
I visited the Guggenhuim Museum. I am not a massive fan of sculpture in general but the Richard Serra sculpture was very cool. I liked the acoustics as you walked through the spaces, the sound of my footsteps changed. I got there first thing so I was the first person through the door and had peace to explore as I wanted.

20131203_101832 Guggenheim-Museum

 On Tuesday Anne and Heike, who were going to be at the show themselves with their soap business and had been my communication with the show, picked me up from Bilbao and we drove out to Durango which was about 40min away. The sun was setting and the mountain range around the town was very impressive. So far all the days I had been there had seen crisp clear blue skies, it was cold but not Glasgow cold. People kept asking me about my kilt, after the 3 days in Bilbao I had almost become a celebrity with everyone waving at me and shouting ‘Escotia Independencia’ !! The issue of Independence is the hot topic just now in the Basque country, although they are not permitted to have a referendum they are most certainly looking at whats happening in Scotland. Perhaps interesting they had chosen Scotland as this years representative for the show…

Durango

We stopped off at the hotel the Arbaso organisation had got for me and we had a coffee while we waited on the town newspaper photographer to come down and take my photo. The Scottish had arrived…….   Anne also got a txt from Bernat Vidal, the president of the Craft Association to say a friend of his had called him to say they had seen me in Bilbao.  When I finally met Bernat later that day he seemed very pleased I had actually turned up! This particular show was like his ‘baby’ and very important to him. I could see he was under a fair bit of stress getting everything in order… I was not to fully appreciate the level of this show until the first day when I saw what we were dealing with………

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Well the fun started the next day with setting up the show, it was great having the day before to set things up. So I opened the cases and hoped everything had made it over intact. The display worked a treat, and I got everything put up pretty quick. The venue was what was possibly a big market hall originally, but had been adapted to community uses later, there was basket ball boards that were suspended from the roof and court lines on the floor.  I didn’t really take many photos, I didn’t take my proper camera so I only had my phone its takes good enough snaps but to honest I didn’t really have the time to be taking heaps of photos.

This is my display, I took the glass selection and an art collection. I decided against the Lion Rampant flags, but kept the Saltire up. My flight case held all the glass, fortunately although it had a size restriction it did not have a weight limit so I took all the glass on board the flight which made it through security surprisingly, and my case that went in the hold contained my display. To reduce the weight I made a set up I could assemble when I arrived out of cardboard. I was particularly pleased with the gift card holders. When I think of the equipment I hoof up to the West End for a show, and taking this to a different country was easier I think this is now future model.

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The other artisans were very friendly. Not many had much English but we worked it out. Over the 4 nights of the show I was invited out to lunch and dinner, constantly offered beers and cigarettes. As I was there as a representative of Scotland I wore my Kilt, it never fails to fill me with joy the regard in which Scottish people are welcomed around the world. The Basque people were certainly no exception, it was quite the trip.

The response to my work was interesting. I had not really thought about how it would go down. What I had not considered, and what I was unaware of, was the cultural difference in the use of home windows. I intend my hangers to hang up in your home window, and throughout the day as you take a morning coffee and have lunch or are in at dinner time the different light conditions will make the experience of the hanger always new. I noticed pretty quick all the houses had external shutters over the windows that seemed to be closed most of the time. Whether this is in part because its winter time so they are kept closed to retain heat, and I get the impression people spend a lot more time outside in a social setting. Not home from work at 6.30pm to eat dinner infront of EastEnders…..    So in the end I only sold 4 hangers… people liked them but I guess it was just too far out the box to be common place in the Basque home. Not to worry though as I took a collection of prints along and they went down a storm. I wish I had taken more but on my limited budget I had to make very calculated estimates on what to take and which images.

Now some notes on the actual fair. This was run by ‘Arbaso’. The Basque word for ancestor. In the Basque Country they have established a association in each region of the country and the presidents of each association meet regularly to discuss plans . Full Time Artisans can apply to join and it appears they operate a high level of skill and quality required to be in with the association. Members then do fairs year round in the different regions and the focus is very much on promoting and valuing traditional skills and the skill of the artisan. Within the association you have insurance, and all sorts of benefits and help.

20131210_135942Above image – Moss Graffiti

Its long been a bee in my bonnet that we operate such a different way. This I find frustrating and as I explain why look at it from both the position of the artisan who aims to make this his full time job & living, and from the position of the public who enters a ‘craft fair’.   We have essentially two options as a maker. You do a large show in venues such as the SECC or whatever the equivalent is in the big city. This cost the makers anything from £1/2000 upwards and your artisan will quite possibly find themselves next to an umbrella company or drink firm, anyone that pays for a stand and that by no means acts a assurance of quality. I appreciate in some settings the need for diversity but when it comes to artisan crafts the public do need a wee helping hand as we have become so far removed from valuing true craft. So I believe there should be in place artisan associations to present shows and help the public have access to actual quality,   and provide a sustainable culture for the artisan. So in the setting of these fairs the artisan will find them useless. Handmade cant compete with corporate made, maybe further down the line when your nation has embraced and values the crafts, but that is most certainly not where we are and thats simply a lack of neglect and no organised effort to protect and nurture the scene.

Your second option is the banner outside a church hall / library / hotel lobby etc etc proclaiming ‘CRAFT FAIR TODAY’. This fills even me with dread and I do these things. This show can be organised by anyone with the skills to punt 30 tables to makers. At this level we find the hobbyist. Now an old man who has plenty of skill on a wood lathe may make a fine product but he may be doing it just for fun. I see this as a barrier for people who go to that fair and its their living. They may need to pay bills, its not a hobby. The presence of hobby crafters also stains the image the public receive, as thats how the work will be viewed. As a hobby. Not with value. The other problem is something I have noticed in the very immediate last few years is the explosion of various Craft Fairs. Its all too much, there are too many, the quality suffers and it just rips apart any value the good fairs had created in the minds of the public. Remember I am looking at this from the view that we have to completely shift the accepted public perception of artisan crafts.  And at the end of the day with 4 different fairs in one neighborhood alone how many people are there actually to attend, how much money is actually getting spent and how can that possibly work for all the makers. It does not. But who ever has put that show together has a guaranteed profit regardless of how the day goes down, in some cases these shows are run by profiteers and in some cases not… I know how much it takes to organize a show so I am not hitting out at those that have made this a job but when its just a job with little regard or appreciation for the craft well thats where we have a problem. And I well appreciate there are good days and bad days its just the way it goes but we have now crossed over into a completely destructive zone. Unfortunately makers are not really in a position to just band up and say no to these shows as well we have to do them as its the only option and even though its likely to be a financial wreck its the only option and its our job… Unless we do all band together and say no…..

So again why we do not have a model in place like the Basque people is crazy to me. This seems to me to be something our bodies like Creative Scotland and the like should be helping to put in place. Feel free to give me a call eh.

At the fair I think the final numbers in 4 days was just over 14000 people. We opened at 11am and there were folk waiting at the door. Everyone gets kicked out at 2pm and we go away and have a feast of a lunch, return at 4pm to find an actual hoard of people waiting to get in. And they paid to get in, only 1.50 I think but still they were happy to pay. Not like your nonsense of £15 or whatever it is for a SECC country living situation. The show is rammed until 9pm when everyone is ejected and we all go to the bar. Now thats how to do a craft show. Imagine that here!!

I was so impressed with how they organised this there was so many things I wanted to say, its such a multi level subject, and I feel so strongly about it, its hard to get everything down. I shall probably have to come right back as soon as I post this and add in that really important part I forgot about.  Anyways at the end of the show I packed up the cases and this is what I had traveled with. So as a trial run to travel to a different country and do a show it worked. I adapted my stall, got an impressive amount of work in 2 cases and now I want to try going somewhere else. It occurs to me I should probably take my work to where I think it would be better appreciated. This means more rural areas of Scotland but more to places like Sweden. I worked on the streets in Edinburgh street trading for 3 yrs full time. I kept a note of everything I sold, at what time, male / female, age, and where they were from. That right there is a LOT of market research. So I have a good idea about where I need to go, so I am looking into finding out how to contact folk in these scenes. So if you are reading this and have a friend that is from Germany / Sweden / Finland / Denmark and does art or craft fairs do put me in touch with them as finding this kind of info out remotely is pretty difficult. The things I have identified as the problems with the UK scene I cant honestly see changing, unless Creative Scotland give me a job to make this dream association a reality so rather than to continue to work in a broken system I should just not worry myself about it and go elsewhere.

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Along side the Craft show was the book fair the same week. It was held in a different building in the town and was HUGE! All Basque publications and independent music labels. I didn’t have the time to see all the books and that was a shame, but I got 20min to check out the music end and grabbed 2 records. One by a famous basque singer Ruper Ordorika and his classic Basque album Hautsi Da Anphora.

One the second last night Arbaso held an awards in the towns ‘city hall’ type building. They had a piper who played at the start, he was from Falkirk originally but had been living in the Basque country for 15yrs. Well played sir. Here is a wee slideshow video the association made from the event. From what I could gather they had awards for the best presented stand, best work, and a lifetime achievement type award. I even got to go on stage to be thanked for coming, and they gave me a special badge pin as they noticed I always wore my hat with different badges on the back.

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If you speak Spanish here is a radio interview with the association president. Radio Interview

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I pulled this text from this news site. A little is lost in translation but you can understand the sentiment.

Soruce – http://ccaa.elpais.com/ccaa/2013/12/09/paisvasco/1386594036_113393.html

“The Euskal Denda Durango has met this weekend with its 18th edition acclaim. To craft fair, held in parallel to the Azoka, have approached 14,045 visitors, representing an average of 4,691 during the three days that has developed, compared to 4,030 last year. The event, under the theme crafts at your fingertips ( Artisautza eskura ), has brought together a total of 52 craftsmen, including 40 from the Basque Country and Navarra 12 and the French Basque Country.

“Our public is sensitized to crafts. Merely pay into and denotes its interest to see and hold the Basque handicrafts and buy.’s Why it’s encouraging for the crafts sector, in these times when the economy is not at all anything buoyant people tipping in attending the Euskal Denda and buy handicrafts. definitely are some very positive data “, said President Arbaso, Organising Association and director of Euskal Denda, Bernat Vidal through a statement.

The figure of 14,045 visitors supposed to Arbaso a ‘boost’. One thing also where you have not computed the people who attended the event on the 5th, the opening day and open house, which also served for guided school visits. Vidal added that the public of the event is “committed and increasingly expert. Know that this is the biggest and best showcase of craftsmanship and adds value to all our efforts.’s Why we greatly appreciate his delivery, giving us strength to continue forward in a way that sometimes is not easy. “

The 52 artisans who have participated in the fair products have exposed sectors such as agri-food, glass, mteal, ceramics, wood, textiles, clothing, leather. Have also been able to see the work of bookbinders, policy-hand balls, cosmetic, restorative and recyclers. “All of them have been able to see them work live, while they have developed workshops and demonstrations that have been a success,” as he noted the event organizers in a statement.”

DSC_8435 copia

Stand Slideshow – https://picasaweb.google.com/100152576775386454509/18EuskalDendaStands?feat=flashalbum#slideshow/5960565205614247730

After the show was finished Anne and Heike invited invited me stay at their house for a few days. It was great to have a few days and see the local country side. I really noticed the tree diversity. It was very like Scotland but more natural forest with Scots pine and Oak looking very healthy. This area of the Basque country was famed for its boat building back in the day so the trees were well managed then. This could be in Scotland without a doubt, it reminded me of home very much. I stayed up late with Heike and had some great chats about the problems of our business, some things were the same, some different. It was very interesting to here about a new perspective. There were a few stand out schemes. One was the unification of factories, were the people workign for a company inverested spare wages back into the firm and there was a system in place where by if you wanted to move town they would hepltransfer you into a new job so you didnt just quit. With enough companies operating in this way enough people could effectively trade positions. Genuis. Also there was a skill trade scheme in opperation where by you gave an hour work, took and hour work. You might be able to tune a piano, you might need a washing machine repair and by helping someone else you can ask another person for help. Great idea.

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Still with blue skies I got to visit a few different towns and eventually it was time to return to  Bilbao and get my flight home. On my last night I treated myself to a gig by The New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble who happened to be playing on my last night. That was great. Even got my record signed by the band at the end of the gig. Even on the last night I was early to the gig so went into a random bar across the street, a lady at the bar smiled at me and I clocked she was explaining to the bar man who I was. It seemed where ever I went someone knew who I was. It was rather odd.

So overall I think I did a pretty good job representing Scotland. And as a final note it was only possible with the help from friends and people who follow my facebook page. With such short notice to the show I had about 8 days to turn round all the money to go, travel & flight fare, accommodation and food money. Arbaso were going to give me some when I arrived which was very kind to help and they supplied the hotel during the fair. But without folk buying things in those 8 days non of it would of happened.

So MASSIVE thanks to those that sent me a message and said can I buy that.

My plans for 2014…. well I started the year by getting some new paper to work on some Sumi ink painting. I put together a video of me painting last night. I plan to put together a small collection of these paintings in the next couple weeks. And for the rest of the year plan to put together a 15/20 painting collection for exhibit by the end of the year.

Gillies out.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUy_4H5e6BY
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Euskal Denda

Paintings, Stained Glass

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“Euskal Denda, an annual craft market in the Basque Country, is looking for up to six professional makers to represent Scotland in their 2013 event.
Arbaso is a craft organisation based in the Basque Country. Running their annual market Euskal Denda (now in its eighteenth year) simultaneously with the yearly book fare in the Basque town of Durango, Arbaso aim to host one of the most culturally significant events in the Basque Country.
Scotland is Euskal Denda’s chosen guest country for 2013. They would like to invite six Scottish makers to showcase their work during the Craft Market, which will run from 05-08 December”. – CraftScotland.org

So…. I applied a couple weeks ago when I saw this post on Craft Scotland and have been invited as a representative of Scotland!! YES ! I am very pleased, I was all resolved not to be doing any shows this Christmas, and these dates are normally when I would be up in Inverness doing my annual show. Not This year!

I have always wanted to take my work to a show somewhere outside of Scotland, I had always pictured it would be Sweden, or somewhere snowy and cold. The Basque country was certainly not on my radar, but as it now is it appears there may be some cosmic compass directing involved here.
This always seems to happen at this time of year too….. mmmmm

Well cosmic compass I heed your clue.

So I know no more about the show currently than whats above, only found out the other day. At the moment I am trying to work out what and how to take my gear. This is not as simple as calling Hampden cabs and getting a run up the westend to do a show. So straight off the bat I wont have my big light box. and will not have room to take easels and all my bits and bobs. So I am thinking of maybe designing a travel box that acts as box basically, for everything… but will open up and when empty turn into a light box. Its actually quite simple… quite. I have a picture in my head anyway 🙂

Got a good collection of glass work built up, keen to make something special before I go now. I have 2 weeks…. what can I rustle up? Planning on making a short video of my practices to share for before I get there and when I am there on a laptop with headphones. Lots of ideas.

I had not thought of the logistics or costs when I applied. I actually didn’t think I’d get it, not because I doubt my work… this is exactly the kind of thing I should be doing.. but because I figured it these kind of things were normally done by the usual suspects in the know, canny with a grant applications bouncing from residency to residency. Nope, turns out you should just apply to these things when you see them and maybe it will be you. Why not, nothing ventured…. Lesson learnt on that one.
I think this project is a tremendous idea, maybe thats actually why I did apply with my heart. I like the concept. Inviting different countries each year. I would love to see that happening here, its this kind of community grass roots efforts that are very worth while. Good on them!

This is a most welcome adventure.

So its mental hectic for me, 14 days to sort everything. Game time, big time. But really looking forward to this.

I shall leave you with this image I made, I totally love it. Turned my painting Snow Fall In The Woods into a gif with falling snow (click on the image if its not moving I noticed it does not on my computer unless you open it up in a new tab/window).
snow fall painting

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