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 email@example.com if you are interested in commissioning a painting or purchasing a limited edition print.
Walking out of the clubhouse of Royal Liverpool Golf Club one morning in late April I happened to look round just as the sun burst through the clouds and lit upon the stone lintel above the front door. I had never noticed the beautiful stonework before depicting our club's emblem the Liver bird, and in that brief moment it glowed. I took a photo on my i-phone and ten days later I completed a small oil painting, named after the club motto "Far and Sure".
The so-called "Red Room" paintings have been very popular with a set of limited edition prints sold out last year and now, two new commissions for original painting versions of the same theme. One is shown below.
This year's Captain Bruce Taylor kindly asked me to provide two paintings as prizes for the Long and Short courses Captain's Prize this year. His request was for a depiction of the short 13th hole, Rushes. A hole of happy memories for Bruce where some years earlier he had shaken hands as he won the Captain's prize. Again, I chose views both from the teeing ground, and from the green looking back.
I was delighted to provide a painting of the short 5th hole at Formby as a gift to Tony Ensor presented at the Old Malvernian Golfing Society's Northern Meeting in early September in recognition of his 80th birthday and his superb record in running this meeting for 43 years and counting. What a star.
Finally, getting somewhat bored with traditional golfing compositions I experimented with a completely different approach, more Andy Warhol than Graeme Baxter! Not sure exactly if this study 'worked'...I have had several reactions, mostly agreeing with this scepticism! Let me know what you think, and if you are interested in commissioning an original piece of golf art....whether 'traditional' or 'different'.
How this slim hardback arrived at my bedside I know not. Laurie Lee is best known for `Cider with Rosie` a book I have never read. But the book appeared, and its cover photograph invited closer inspection. Inside in short `notes` of a few pages each is some of the best writing about the magic of the English seasons seen through the eyes of an unusually perceptive and imaginative writer of English prose.
Just read this, entitled `A cold Christmas walk in the country` written from memory of his childhood in a now-vanished Gloucestershire:
"Pushing the cold before me like a sheet of tin, I set off up the Christmas road. It is a morning for heroes and exhilarating exile, a time to shock the blood back to life, while I go stamping frost-footed along pathways of iron, over grass that is sharp as wire, past cottages hollowed out like Hallowe`en turnips all seething with lights and steam.
I climb up the valley, breathing hard the sharp air which prickles the nostrils and turns to vapour. To be walking today is to be followed everywhere by private auras of pearly cloud. The wandering cows are exhaling too - pale balloons of unheard conversation. The ploughed fields below me have crusts like bread pudding, delicately sugared with twinkling frost. the distant pastures are slivered, crumpled and bare. Even the light they reflect seems frozen."
Reading this on a kodachrome February morning in the cool blue winter suntrap that is the flat roof of our Tokyo house I thought of a painting I love to gaze at in Sydney`s Art Gallery of New South Wales, called `Spring Frost` by Elioth Gruner.
There is something magical about those frosty white-bright winter mornings in the English countryside when the world seems to stand still and wait in a spell-like silence. Laurie Lee continues:
" Where was this valley last summer? It was not here then. Winter and summer are different places. This beech wood, for instance, so empty now, no more than a fissure of cracks in the sky - where is the huge lazy heaving of those June-thick leaves, reeking of sap and the damp roots of orchids, rustling with foxes and screaming with jays and crammed to the clouds with pigeons? The wood, for the moment, is but the scaffold of summer. It stands stripped to the bruising cold. A dark bird or two sit along the bare branches. None of them move. They might be caged".
Wonderful stuff. Inspiring. Do you long with a kind of sentimental rose-tinted recollection for the salad days of childhood, messing about outdoors with pals in the winter snow? Sledging for dear life, skidding on frozen ponds, snowball fights and red-nosed glee. If you like this writing, buy the book! www.amazon.co.uk/Village-Christmas-English-Penguin-Classics/dp/024124367X/ref=sr_1_1?srs=1648031031&ie=UTF8&qid=1486865485&sr=8-1&keywords=village+christmas
The Tokyo American Club`s Frederick Harris Gallery showcases the works of local and internationally renowned artists with two shows every month featuring everything from painting to ceramics to calligraphy. www.tokyoamericanclub.org/index.php/en/frederick-harris-gallery
So popular has this become that there is now a three year waiting list for applications.
I was fortunate to be selected back in 2014 and finally, after a long wait (but giving me plenty of time to work up a portfolio) the show has launched. Displayed in the B1 space are 44 paintings in oils and acrylics featuring scenes of Japan - cityscapes, travel posters, landscapes, portraits and still life.
The opening reception was well attended with almost 50 guests from Japan and overseas and the paintings have been universally praised. Even better, after only three days nearly a third of them have been sold!
I am thrilled at the response and grateful to the people that have supported me and made this all possible: the Frederick Harris Gallery committee, the friends that rallied round to carry paintings, man the reception desk, send flowers and gifts, and of course my gorgeous wife Nuala who has encouraged me on this new journey every inch of the way.
I hope you will be able to get to see the exhibition before it closes on December 18th. Non-members of TAC can visit the B1 gallery during office hours so don`t worry if you are not a member! firstname.lastname@example.org