Last November I was visiting Milan and had the opportunity to go to the opera at La Scala to see a semi-staged version of ‘Porgy and Bess’. It was intense and moving and very dramatic. The next morning I went back to La Scala to visit their museum to see their temporary exhibition featuring costumes from previous productions of Puccini’s ‘Madama Butterfly’.
The première of ‘Madama Butterfly’ took place at La Scala 1904. The above sketch and the poster (below) comes from this production with costumes by Giuseppe Palanti (1881-1946). The drawings for his designs were on display showing an interesting interpretation of a Japanese aesthetic as seen through the eyes of a late-nineteenth-century Western artist.
An 1890 photograph of a Japanese lady having her hair dressed.
Poster for the 1904 Madama Butterfly Première by Leopoldo-Metlicovitz
Naturally, costume designs for a staged performance are always going to be larger than life and to be visually effective they have to work for the front row to those in the gods. There was plenty of colour from the costume designer Luigi Sapelli (aka Caramba, 1865-1936) in La Scala’s 1925 production for those seated at the back to appreciate.
Fast forward to 1951 and La Scala invites the Japanese artist, Foujita (1886-1968 ) to work with them on their latest Madama Butterfly production. Interestingly, his costumes were more muted with stylised motifs. Foujita was born in Tokyo and studied both in Japan and Paris. He lived most of his life in Paris becoming a French citizen in 1955. I can’t help but feel that maybe he was very well placed to create a ‘fusion’ collection of costumes for the opera.
By the time we see the costumes for the 1985 production, there is a change in sensibility resulting in a more contemporary less overtly historical look.
Hanae Mori’s full sketch with fabric samples.
Yasuko Hayashi sings Cio-Cio-San in La Scala’s 1985 production of Madama Butterfly.
This is hardly surprising as the famous Japanese fashion designer, Hanae Mori (born 1926) created the costumes. I think her work gives us a more subtle interpretation with a nod to the historical. Indeed, one costume features a traditional Ukiyo-e image adding interest to a dramatic black costume.
With this year’s centenary commemorations for the start of World War 1 there will probably be more representations of poppies than usual.
Various forms of the poppy single or double, annual or perennial and in a variety of colours from white through yellow to salmon pink to deep red are found all over the world.
The delicate annual field poppy (papaver rhoeas) germinates from recently turned soil, thriving and blooming across the summer. Up close poppies are striking, but still have an ephemeral quality that has long inspired visual artists.
There’s even the stunning blue Himalayan poppy, meconopsis. I once grew some meconopsis (M. baileyi I think) in my front garden as it provided the best conditions. Eventually in its second year it bloomed. I was so thrilled with the amazing colour, but to my utter surprise the next day somebody leaned over the low wall and picked all the flowers and I hadn’t even had chance to take a picture! I hoped it was a child that was so in awe of the colour that they had taken the flowers home to show to their family.
The other week I worked up a design by looking through many Japanese woodblock prints and selecting a number of Ukiyo-e images as inspiration for both pattern and colour. The end of the process was a blue and green scarf also currently my banner above.
I liked the finished look and decided to work the pattern in a new colour combination and started from nature’s beautiful pink and yellow combination in this poppy with the added golden detail of the hover flies collecting nectar.
With the poppy in mind I started looking round building a collection of images with pinks, gold and black, starting with work by fine artists. Next I delved into contemporary visual culture from all over – here tea towels, table decorations and masks.
Ah yes, inspiration this time came from another kind of ‘floating’ world, Venice, and their famous carnival and masked balls. Sumptuous colour combinations and fascinating, ornate detail were now the recipe for the day.
The painting of my new banner is now completed and has been left overnight to ensure it is entirely dry.
It has been rolled in paper along with three other pieces, steamed for three hours, washed thoroughly, pressed and is now finished. I think it is very clear which prints contributed most to this creative process. Oddly, it’s all blues and greens considering the starting point was the photo of a pale pink hollyhock.
I have now settled on the design for this new banner. I’ve worked up the sketches and have drawn it out on the silk. It will also be a scarf.
It takes me about an hour to mix up the dyes in the shades and dilutions I’m looking for. I dab them onto a small off-cut of silk, but quite often I find once I start painting that I need to mix up one extra special highlight colour. This time it has been the dark green of the sheath-like leaves.
Like many people who work from their own studio or from home I spend many hours engrossed with my work – not great company and often resentful of interruptions, sorry. Whilst painting I listened to unabridged audiobooks borrowed from my local library. When I look at some of my past work it triggers memories of the novel I was listening to at the time of painting especially if it was a deeply moving or passionate story.
As I’m working on this piece I’m listening to ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ by Sebastian Faulks – it is beginning to get moody and intense.
Now, today, I have returned to my mood boards and the world of Japanese woodblock prints.
Since I was a teenager I’ve been interested in Ukiyo-e prints. I remember accompanying my mother when she went to visit a German friend who had come to live in Suffolk. Whilst they chatted I looked through her art books and found one about the art of Japanese prints. The text was in German (I couldn’t understand), but the images caught my attention they were so refined and pared back to convey just the essentials. It is a very appealing aesthetic and, of course, in the West has inspired some of the great Impressionists and Post Impressionists. There were some interesting comparisons made in a 2009 exhibition about Monet which can still be viewed online. http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/exhibitions/monet/MonetsLife.JapaneseArt.aspx
Now that’s all a bit awkward – I’ve never been great at sketching and now I’ve got the ingenious ghosts of Monet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh buzzing round my head. Must say bye to the thinking brain and rev up the creative brain.
Last week I was reading round some great blogs and noticed some people have really beautiful top banners. They have beautiful photographs capturing a sense of place or images of their own art or pictures of the inspirational work of others. Of course, some people are amazingly savvy about coding and I take my hat off to them, but for folks like me it’s a case of uploading jpegs. Anyway, it has inspired me to make a change.
Usually my creative process starts with a single inspirational photo and in this case I’ve started with this pink hollyhock which I took and uploaded last week.
Then I put together images with a similar feel, colour and tones, a bit like a mood board. And, as the process continues quite often shape and pattern themes develop.
I tend to do this over several days, leaving it, returning to it, making adjustments, adding and erasing.