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Thoughts on Traditions Transfigured: The Noh Masks of Bidou Yamaguchi
Review by Helen Cox, January 28, 2014I knew nothing of Noh Masks when I went to the gallery, so I read the signs. I was struck by the goal of the masks: “incremental innovation within tradition.” By allowing innovation, there is room for creation and evolving art forms, instead of the emptiness and stagnation in repetition.
The craftsmanship in the masks is superb. Innovations are left for the creative aspects; there are strict rules for the craft. Apparently the use of sandpaper is considered cheating, so the artists who carve these very smooth masks have to be highly skilled and patient. Their skills extend to painting. Each strand of hair must be painted with one brush stroke so the thickness of the hair does not change, as it would if the brush were lifted and then replaced. I can imagine the hours of practice required! After all that careful work, the masks are then stressed with a brush and a secret formula, to make them look old.
|This woodcut Actor Print is on display with masks, Sharaku, Japan, Oban size, circa 1794|
When he created the European art, he even matched the brush strokes to those in the paintings, and of course he aged them in proper Noh tradition. Some of his innovations were not as successful. He missed the delicate sensuality of the lips in the Vermeer portrait and made them too red and sloppy, as though her lipstick smeared. Her tongue is grotesque. Maria Teresa (Velasquez) had a more bulbous nose and her lips were not quite so turned up; in the mask, she was given a “nose job” which took away some of her personality. Overall, however, the masks were fantastic, alive, and beautiful. It was a wonderful way to re-experience images that have become overly familiar.