Tokyo is full of memorable sights. I have just finished three commissions for collectors who wanted to commemorate their stay in Japan with a striking image of the city.
But where to start? The obvious places...Tokyo Tower...Rainbow bridge at sunset...Shibuya crossing? The view from your office or apartment? And whether to include family members in the composition.
All are possible. With the right kind of source material - and a bit of imagination - good ideas can result...
One of my clients came to me with a request for a painting which would be archetypally `Japan`, including if at all possible their two cute young boys, Henry and Elliott. Oh, and by the way, we all love trains, so any chance of including trains in such a picture?
After a couple of meetings and an exchange of family photographs I came up with two concepts along these lines: the first, shown above, an imaginary scene incorporating the Shinjuku skyline with Mount Fuji as the backdrop to the Tohoku Shinkansen with the Tokyo station signboard framing the scene. In the foreground the two boys look on, dwarfed and awed by the great metropolis and the sleek teal shinkansen carriage.
The second concept required a good deal of collaboration and discussion to agree the type of trains, how to show the boys and a complicated perspective. We chose the Tohoku shinkansen again as they have such colourful carriages with that distinctive elongated front.
We went through several iterations with different guards and passengers featured before agreeing on one in which the boys walk out past the trains, seemingly unconcerned and safe in their own private world of brotherly communion. Two little lives - one vast metropolis.
The third artwork turned out to be my biggest cityscape yet: a huge 2 metre by 1 metre canvas showing the view from Roppongi down to Azabudai, Tokyo Tower, the Tokyo American Club and in the distance Tokyo Bay.
The client wanted a statement piece for their home back in Florida, something to remind them of the magnificent view from their Roppongi Hills apartment.
In this case there was no shortage of source material. The client had taken many superb photographs of this captivating view at all times of the day and night. 89 of which found their way into my inbox!
It was almost impossible to choose. In the end we agreed on a moody dawn shot taken in January. The sun is rising above the bay on a misty morning. The buildings are in deep shadow with colour restricted to the orange of the sky and its reflections in the water.
The finished piece is now on its way to the US and will hopefully provide many happy memories of living in Tokyo. If you would like to commission something similar to remind you of your time in this amazing country, please contact me at email@example.com or post a comment to this blog.
Finally I have two cityscape paintings available for sale. One of the Manhattan skyline taken from the Rockefeller building, currently on display at the ACCJ offices. The other - Geronimo! - shows Roppongi crossing at dawn. Contact me for prices!
February 1st. Snow season in many parts of the world. Where I grew up in the north west of the UK it was a rare occurrence. No sooner had it fallen than it tended to be reduced to mush as snow turned to icy rain or the salt spreading lorries did their work.
Snow has always fascinated artists. The play of winter sun on snow, the transformation it effects on the landscape. In a recent New York Times article www.nytimes.com/2021/01/19/t-magazine/paintings-snow-winter-art.html snow evokes "an emotional registry of feelings - smallness, sublimity, foreboding, tranquillity".
You would think that depicting snow in paint or print an easy task. Its just white, right? And indeed if you are the Japanese master woodblock artist Hokusai (see above) it must have been simple enough to use the creamy white of the washi paper alone to signify snow.
Monet and the impressionists brought a new vibrancy to the subject. Just look at this painting below, "The Magpie". What captivates the eye is not so much the whiteness of the snow but the way it reflects and intensifies the colours of its surroundings - that pale indigo-grey shadow brings the whole scene to life.
There is something magical, something other-worldly about snow. About its power to transform a landscape. As a child, opening the bedroom curtains to find the world remade anew in a crisp white freshness. Creating wonder.
Like sakura cherry blossom which lasts only a few short days, the snow will melt away soon enough. This transience only adds to its lustre.
From 11th-23rd February I will be showing some oil paintings in a joint exhibition with wood turning friend Ian Hayden at galleryfield.com/ many of them depict Japanese snow scenes. Come visit to see for yourself if you can!
Finally, a poem I composed way back in January 2008 whilst luxuriating in a rotenburo in snow-swathed Zao....
My first camera was a Kodak Brownie
-strictly for use on trips to foreign lands.
With a twelve exposure film (quite fiddly to fit)
you had to choose your shots with care
not waste a thing, then wait
a good two weeks if you could bear
before collecting with trembling hands
the small square prints from Boots.
Photos? They`re ten a penny now
Shoot fifty in an hour, the norm a healthy
disregard for analogue. Just store them in the Cloud,
life`s one long pose. Bring on the selfie!
Give me a good old-fashioned family album
where the prints are held in place
with tiny clear corners and there`s
always that annoying empty space
where one has been removed.
Those simple saturated Kodachrome hues
speak of the past our vanished youth
No app to tweak the radiance
No photoshop to mask the truth.
To add colour to the eulogies we found
some good ones alright.
Here`s one of Mum with Kenneth and Bart
exploring in some fields outside the house
as kids did long before.
You can tell she`s in charge, (the smart
Senior Tutor to their curious schoolboys)
She cradles what looks like a mouse
as they look on in awe.
Three brothers silent upon a gorge in Southern France
Staring into the future through
the bleached noonday sun of Provence.
And (much later this) on a whim
in the back garden one summer dusk
Its Dad the patriarch, cool as a Mafia Don
His sons similarly cigared
affecting the same insouciance as him
Mere satellites around the central star.
Mu and Paka on that familiar stroll down
the driveway at le Bournet, walking
into the evening sun,
Putting the day to rights, talking.
Finally this one although I am too young to recall
I`ve painted us in monotone, we are but passing through
Colours stick to things that last in time
The road`s still there, that actual view:
Ladythorn Avenue, Marple. (1959).
Jonathan choked up at the funeral on seeing it on screen
which made me look at it again
What is it about the scene that lacerates?
Those impossibly bright blooms
belie the march of time, they can`t betoken pain.
Is it the poignancy of lost years, the sense of place,
Lost toys, lost cars, lost innocence, the out-of-date?
Or is it just the look on Mum`s young face
that pose Audrey Hepburnesque in its charms
Light of all our lives with a natural grace
Fixed forever lovely as she holds me in her arms.
Picture the scene: it is late on a summer evening over the vacated links of Royal Liverpool Golf Club. The shadows begin to lengthen under the June sun. You have set out alone with a half set - just a few holes. A great breeze greets you as you step up to the back tee at the tenth. Intoxicating whiffs of salty, pungent, penetrating air, and maybe the sudden butterscotch scent of gorse in bloom. The skylarks have ceased their song and the only sound is the gusting wind and the distant roar of the surf in the Irish Sea. You feel "the sense of freedom in this great expanse, the exhilaration, the vastness, the buoyancy, the exaltation*".
The long green fairway stretches out before you. Oh what a joy to be alive!
This is my latest golf painting. I am grateful to local member Sam Cooper for giving me permission to use as a source image his superb drone photography.
* From "The Mystery of Golf", Arnold Haultain.
Drone and overhead footage has created new perspectives on old vistas. The Californian based painter Sandra Mendelsohn Rubin explores these birds` eye views to great effect with her beautiful paintings. These also inspired me to try an alternative point of view.
So, short of canvases here in Tokyo in lockdown and finding a large old unwanted painting it was time to stretch a new canvas on the old frame and begin a new golf painting.
Sam`s original image ended just above the tenth green and the size of the canvas warranted more holes, so I added in the famous `Alps` short eleventh and, on the horizon line, the houses at Red Rocks at the end of Stanley Road. (Hilbre island does not get a look-in!).
I found it challenging to conjure up a sense of three dimensions. The overhead perspective `squashes` the terrain and you need to use subtle shifts of tone and colour and shadow to bring it to life.
I hope you like the end result. Next up to paint will probably be the wonderful new short 15th hole designed by Martin Ebert (who has just done a fabulous renovation www.mackenzieandebert.co.uk/Hirono of Japan`s famous Hirono Golf Club).
You can see more of my golf art www.sjdalby.com/golf.html or if you are interested in commissioning your own original piece of golf art www.sjdalby.com/golf-commissions.html by clicking on these links. I also have one or two limited edition prints available of RLGC message me for details.
My latest cityscape painting is a nostalgic homage to an earlier chapter of my life. It is a chapter that opens up to nearly all self-respecting gaijins newly arrived in Tokyo.
My chapter began in late 1997. We had arrived on the day that Princess Diana lost her life in that car crash in Paris. What I remember of those first few weeks is wall to wall coverage of the funeral on BBC World, Nihongo lessons during the daytime at Berlitz, and evenings spent exploring the nightlife of Roppongi.
Those evenings would be spent in the company of other British School parent couples, work colleagues or friends and visitors from overseas.
Many of you may be familiar with the routine. Starting off perhaps in one of the pubs - Trading Places, The Sports Bar or Paddy Foley`s. Then the obligatory Karaoke session. Possibly a couple of hours at Club Be listening to host-vocalist `Hugh` and his sweet sweet band belt out Highway Star or Have you ever seen the rain? crammed into that tiny basement down one of those side streets. And then if you were really going for it you would drop into one or the other (or sometimes all three) of the preferred shot bars: Motown, Mogambo`s or Geronimo!
Hence the name of this painting.
It depicts the view from the north-western corner of Roppongi crossing, looking through and under the highway and down Gaien Higashi-Dori; part of Tokyo Tower can be seen in the distance. The broad concrete stanchions of the freeway frame the composition.
The palette is muted. Pastel shades, no bright primary colours. I would like you to imagine that you have just emerged blinking from Geronimo after a long long session to find that it is daylight outside. The soft light of a grey dawn suffuses the air but despite the earliness of the hour there is a queue of traffic at the lights, mostly cabs cruising for big fares taking the punters home.
Your hangover has not yet started to announce its presence but you know the onset is not far off. You are faced with a critical decision: hail that cab or settle the stomach with an Egg McMuffin and a strong black coffee....
This original oil painting measures 90 x 65 cms and is available for sale upon application. I am also thinking of doing a limited edition print run as at 15,000 yen each these cityscape prints have been very popular. If you are interested in one of these prints then let me know. If enough of you respond then I will go ahead with the prints.
I hope that this might represent for you - as for me - a pleasant reminder of some fun times in a certain chapter of the journey of life in Japan.
The Royal Academy`s Summer Exhibition is one of those archetypal events - such as the Chelsea Flower Show and Wimbledon tennis - that herald the start of the summer `season` in London. Dating back to 1769 it is guaranteed to deliver an idiosyncratic mixture of high and low culture and glamour - tinged with the endorsement that comes from 251 years of unbroken history.
Art critics tend to either like it or loathe it.
But for the aspiring amateur artist it offers the enticing prospect - should one of your artworks be chosen - of being hung for a few heady weeks on the walls of a major London art museum alongside far more established names.
It gave me my first big break as an artist back in 2012 when my small oil painting `Together` was accepted, and subsequently sold. This gave me the confidence to go on with my painting and take myself seriously as an artist.
Anyone can enter, from any part of the world as long as you pay the 35 pound entry fee. The selection process these days consists of an initial digital submission followed - if you are lucky enough to be selected - by a second stage judging of the actual artwork. The chances of success are low but not scarily so: last year 1200 works were selected out of around 16,000 entries, although as Royal Academicians are entitled to show up to six works each the percentages for the rest of us are probably more like 5% or less...
The photos below show hopeful artists delivering their creations in person to the Royal Academy on `Hand-in Day`. Three weeks later they will be told by e-mail whether they have made the grade. Spare a thought for the judging panel though - it can`t be easy to concentrate as literally thousands of submissions are passed in front of your eyes....
I have entered this four times over the past 8 years. Two rejections, one success, and one `pending`: last week I heard that both of my small oil paintings of the famous Saiho-ji moss garden in Kyoto have made it through to Stage 2....along apparently with 4,000 others! The paintings are actually two of a six-part series I created as a result of a visit to Kyoto one bright November morning in 2018. They are shown below but for the full story, please check out my earlier blog www.sjdalby.com/writing/archives/04-2019
On May 6th - `Hand-in Day` - I will take my place in the queue to submit these two pieces for face to face judging. We then get to hear if we have made it through on May 27th. The exhibition itself - coronavirus permitting - runs from June 9th to August 16th. Wish me luck!
I am the youngest of three brothers. Thats me in the middle, below. In the late 1960`s Dad would pack us into a VW Camper van he called `Modestine`- after the eponymous anti-hero of RL Stevenson`s `Travels with a donkey` - and drive all the way from Liverpool to Agay in the South of France for summer camping holidays. This photograph must have been taken near there.
Where exactly, none of us are sure. I have tried to locate the spot using Google Earth. It could be the valley behind Frejus showing the after effects of the 1959 Malpasset dam disaster. See below. But the topography is not particularly the same...
Dad - using old 35mm film - has managed to capture a moment in time and the effect is strangely compelling. We stand on a rocky scree on a seriously hot summer`s afternoon overlooking the scene of a disaster. Or maybe its somewhere completely different, and something else has caught our attention. Either way you get the sense that we are contemplating a future looming up to meet us...
I have tried to convey some of this emotion in a painting based on the original photograph.
The focus of the painting of course is the three brothers and the way the light bounces off them, the depth of the shadows cast, and the slight sense of mystery. But I struggled to capture the background landscape - the way that objects in the distance recede into haziness. Claude Monet was a genius with the rendering of light and could do it instinctively - just look at the way the distant rocky outcrop in the painting below recedes back using a wonderful combination of cobalt blue dulled perhaps with raw umber and a touch of yellow ochre.
I think I should have used more of that smoky blue effect. Whatever. I have got to the stage where I will have to let the painting `go`. I could keep on tinkering but that is usually a mistake...here is the finished work.
Remembrance of things past. A la recherche du temps perdu. I never did get around to reading that voluminous novel by Marcel Proust (its waiting for me on a bookshelf in France). But this photograph - and the painting it inspired - brings me wistful memories of magical summers, and of the man who made those holidays happen. Dad died aged 93 last November. Thanks for the memories, Dad.
Having just finished a large cityscape commission it was time for a change of scene. I wanted to paint more of a landscape, something rooted in nature, something quintessentially Japanese, something Green.
In November last year we had visited Kyoto with some family visitors. I finally got to see Saiho-ji, the temple with its famous garden of moss. Its one of those by appointment only. You send your application by return postcard. Before being permitted access to the garden you are requested to engage in a group activity, which in our case was the hand copying of rather complicated sutras in kanji characters. But boy, was it worth the effort; the garden is stunning, and in the bright November morning sun it was at its best. Apparently there are over 120 varieties of moss. The moss only started growing in the Edo period and as a result of flooding of the previous white-sand-covered islands.
I took lots of photos and these six small studies in oil are the result.
But I still had the `need for green`. As it happened I had just re-stretched a large (over two metres wide) canvas due to a failed cityscape painting. This made a wonderful dramatic base for a large oil painting of the famous bamboo grove of Sagano, also in Kyoto (Arashiyama). I am pleased with the resulting work. I hope you agree it captures the movement, light and energy of that cathedral of green....
But of course cityscapes are never far from my artistic muse, and again I had re-stretched a large canvas that wanted a subject. In this case it was New York. Last December I found myself on `Top of the Rock` as the rooftop viewing platform of the Rockefeller Plaza building is called. It affords a wonderful view both uptown and downtown and this large painting is the result.
All of these paintings and many more will be displayed (and for sale) on the walls of the Tokyo American Club`s Frederick Harris Gallery for my solo exhibition later this year. If you are interested in attending the launch party on November 26th, drop me a note!
I have been busy this year building up a portfolio of work for next year`s TAC exhibition. Hope you like the new work...and if you are interested in purchasing any of these, drop me an email at simon.j.dalby.com.
And a new suite of cityscapes. This first one was an experiment to see if I could translate an iphone panoramic photograph to canvas. What do you think?
Then some random Japan scenes....
Finally, some work in progress.....
Large Tokyo cityscapes continue to take up much of my studio time. I have been meaning to do one of Shibuya`s Hachiko crossing for a while but never found the right angle or composition. I finally worked out an interesting perspective looking down from above on a rainy scene. I was trying to capture the manic scramble, colour and hustle that is Hachiko on a late Sunday afternoon. The digital advertising screens are an integral part of the experience and I inserted characters from the original Bladerunner movie to spice things up further. Can you spot the doggy statue?
Don`t you love those clear crisp bright Tokyo winter days? I spend more time than I would care to admit up on Roppongi Hills` Skyview terrace searching for the perfect source photograph. The one above was based on different shots I`d taken at the end of November. I`d like to do a large canvas using the i-phone panoramic function so have been trying to get the right shot. The one below is the nearest yet but still isn`t quite right. A new large (220 x 80 cms) canvas custom-made by the wonderful Sekaido people arrives next week so more visits to the 53rd floor will be required!
This painting of Nijubashi Bridge was based on a shot taken one early April morning when the sky was clear, the air sharp and the trees bursting with the sap of Spring. The reflection in the water of the moat caught my eye and I have tried to capture the majestic isolation of the Imperial Palace.
Finally, a year after the 2011 earthquake we visited Minamisoma in Fukushima Prefecture for the famous Soma Nomaoi festival where riders in medieval samurai armour battle it out for honours in thrilling races. Through the peerless connections of our good friend Melanie Brock we had a grandstand view of the riders as they paraded down the street en route to the racetrack, and I took a load of photographs.
The colourful pageantry combined with a sense of history and the general good humour of the occasion combined with the excitement of raceday made it a special occasion. Its taken me over 5 years to commemorate it in artistic terms. Some of the participants had wonderfully craggy features and these three characters below - I hope you agree - have made interesting paintings!
That it for now. I hope you like the artwork. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in commissioning a painting or purchasing a limited edition print.