The Kei School of Sculpture

In 2005 I received an unexpected, but particularly exciting, assignment- to fly to Japan, where I would spend two weeks assisting in conducting an inspection of Army aviation operations conducted in country.  The U.S. Army had taken me all over the globe, but this would be my first experience in Japan, and I couldn’t wait.

The inspection itself- at least my portion of it- wasn’t particularly time consuming.  I was able to conduct the review the first couple of mornings that I was there, leaving the afternoons, evenings, several complete days, and a full weekend to explore the country.  Jumping the train from Shinjuku I found myself drawn time and again to Kamakura, 31 miles south of Tokyo, with it’s Pacific coast beach on one side, and surrounded by low lying mountains all around.

In addition to the incredible hiking opportunities and food, Kamakura is steeped in art.  Much of it relates to what is termed the Kamakura Period, 1185-1333 (1).  The Kei School of Buddhist sculpture was a product of this period, producing artists such as Kokei, Unkei, Kaikei, and Tankei (2).  Works produced by this school are characterized by their realism and great attention to detail.  Much of the work is wood, or lacquered wood with gold leaf overlay.  These sculptures come in a variety of sizes, and generally relate to the Buddhist faith.

Kaikei’s depiction of Amitabha- a principle Buddha of the Pure Land Sect- attended by bodhisattva Kannon and Seishi is called an Amitabha Triad.  His version of this image was completed in 1195 and stands at an impressive 24.6 feet!  Located in in Jōdo-ji temple in Ono, Japan, this, like the other sculptures presented, is a Japanese National Treasure, and is considered his greatest work (3).

Triad 2

Kaikei and Unikei collaborated to create the ultrarealistic guardians of the Tōdai-ji temple located in Nara in 1203, the Noi.  These represent the two “wrath-filled” guardians of Buddha, which symbolize the justified use of force to protect values and beliefs from evil .  Standing at 26 feet each, they were created over the course of only three months by a group of artisans under the direction of these two masters (3).

Todaiji statue 1Todaiji statue 2

Other examples of Kei School excellence include…

– Kaikei’s depiction of Hachiman– the Japanese god of archery and war- in
the guise of a monk, completed 1201, which stands at a mere 34.3 inches and resides in Tōdai-ji temple, Nara, Japan (4).


– Jokei’s seated Yuima, completed in 1196.  An assemblage of carved wood blocks this piece stands at 34.9 inches and resides at the Kōfuku-ji Temple, Nara, Japan (4).


– And Tankei’s Thousand-armed Kannon, completed in 1254, a lacquered wood and gold leaf statues standing at 131.8 inches.  It is housed at the National Treasure House, Nara, Japan (4).


My experiences in Japan were all too brief, and I look forward to a return trip someday.  In that short time, though, I was astonished by the attention to detail placed toward their works of art, and was- and still am- quite taken with their sculpture.  The materials used- wood, gold leaf, etc.- may not be so remarkable, I suppose, but the fact that these works date back centuries is amazing.

For more information on this period, the Kei School, and more national treasures of Japan see the following references:

1          “Kamakura Period”

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

23 September, 2013

2          “Kei School”

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

8 March, 2013

3          “Japanese Art”

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

13 November, 2013

4          “List of National Treasures of Japan (sculptures)”

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

28 September, 2013

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A Gothic Variation on Postmodern Music

Postmodern music of the 1980’s and beyond has presented in a number of genres.  This variety has provided a stage for numerous musicians and groups covering Pop, Rock (in all its various guises- alternative, soft, glam, etc.), Hip Hop, Heavy Metal- just to name a few.

One somewhat underground form is referred to as Gothic Rock, or Goth Rock.  This style of music is based loosely on punk influences from the 1970’s and is distinguished by dark themes and rather depressing lyrics.  One can focus on those aspects of the music, or one can choose to engage with the powerful drum beat and catchy guitar rhythms typical of this style.

Groups include popular names such as The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Bauhaus.  Other names, slightly more obscure, but with no less impact, include The Sisters of Mercy and Fields of the Nephilim.


The Sisters of Mercy


Formed in 1977 in Leeds, England The Sisters of Mercy (SOM) still perform today, though as a touring band only.  Founders Gary Marx and Andrew Eldritch wanted to hear themselves on the radio.  The band name is from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Leonard Cohen’s song, Sisters of Mercy.

Of their three studio albums, First and Last and Always (1985), Floodland (1987) and Vision Thing (1990) Floodland was their greatest commercial success.  Formerly a cult band- one whose following is relatively small, but dedicated- SOM owed much of this success to the proceeds from infighting involving band members, and a resulting law suit, leaving the winner- Eldritch- with £25,000 to finance the project.

Tracks from the album include This Corrosion, Dominion/ Mother Russia, and Lucretia My Reflection.

This Corrosion

Dominion/ Mother Russia

Lucretia My Reflection


Fields of the Nephilim


Fields of the Nephilim (FOTN), another British Goth import, was founded in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England in 1984.  The band’s name references a mythical race, Biblical in origin, who are giants of angel and human decent.  Since their beginnings the band has released seven studio albums and most recently- in 2012- a live album and associated DVD.

The group still performs frequently, their music an evolution of Psychedelic Rock and Heavy Metal, paired with fantasy themes and references to Sumerian religion, Aleister Crowley, and H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.  While remaining a cult band they have had relative success over the years with compositions such as Preacher Man, released on the Dawnrazor album, 1987; Moonchild, released on The Nephilim album, 1988; and Psychonaut, also from The Nephilim release.

Preacher Man



Impacts, both negative and positive… 

It is unfortunate to note that this particular music style is often associated with the occult, Satanism, and suicide.  The videos certainly are dark, SOM employing industrial imagery in black, white and shades of gray; while FOTN engage in their signature “used” western themes and costumes.  Lyrical content, too, again reflects darker themes which, for the impressionable, could have negative consequences (“…selling the don’t belong…” (This Corrosion), “…when I meet the fear that lies inside…” (Dominion/ Mother Russia), “…your turn to lay for bait for a while…” (Preacher Man), “…take no prisoners in the promised war, you’ll die for this…” (Moonchild)).  This isn’t music I’d necessarily recommend for the depressed.

Imagery and subject matter aside, I find the music itself very entertaining and, frankly, motivating.  The bass undertones and powerful, even hypnotic, drum beats are great in the car, at home, and are especially fascinating when played loud.  The guitar work on display is imaginative, but accessible to the listener.  Certainly contemporary compositions, they aren’t so far removed from the mainstream that they can’t appeal to a wide audience, whether listening to the music as background, as inspiration to dance, or just sitting in contemplation.



1980’s in Music

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

7 November 2013


The Sisters of Mercy

Official website

1999-2009, The Reptile House, Ltd


The Sisters of Mercy

“Floodland” cover art

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Copyright unknown, “believed to belong to the label, Merciful Release and Warner Music Group, or the graphic artist(s).”


Fields of the Nephilim

Official website

2011, Fields of the Nephilim


Fields of the Nephilim

Band logo

Wikipedia non-free content- to serve as the primary means of visual identification dedicated to the entity in question.

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Early Modern Art and World War I

The early modern period coincided with World War I, and, once again, art was a powerful force in the world of nationalist propaganda.  No greater example exists than James Montgomery Flagg’s I Want You for U.S. Army, created in 1916 as cover art for Leslie’s Weekly.  The character of Uncle Sam is depicted here in early modern style- realistic, certainly not idealized, and definitely sending a strong message having nothing to do with religion or frivolity.  This image, considered by some to be “the most famous poster in the world”, was used again during World War II and persists in use to this day.

Uncle Sam

Artists, too, served to capture the horrors of war.  World War I introduced the world to such innovations as machine guns, grenades, tanks, and the deployment of environmental agents such as poisoned gas.  John Singer Sargent, considered by some to be the greatest portraitist of his time, captures the after effects of the use of gas on the battle field in his work entitled- simply enough- Gassed.  Completed in 1919 the image depicts a line of soldiers being led to an aid station.  This vision was voted picture of the year by the Royal Academy of Arts in 1919.


Photography, too, was employed during the war to unprecedented effect.  The realities of war, often times in the past depicted in dramatic or romanticized tones, could now be shared with the world in absolute reality.  In this untitled photo, photographer unknown, published in the New York Times, dead German soldiers are shown lying in the road.  Again, this disturbing reality was characteristic of early modern art.  Whether photography influenced the artistic climate, or the other way around, is hard to determine.

dead germans

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Unexpectedly Impressed with Impressionism

The impressionistic style, that which seeks to capture moments in time emphasizing light and movement, is one which I’ve not really understood until my exposure to it in this class.  Prior to understanding the point of the work, I would be the first to claim it’s not so much work as a mess.  However, upon reflection, impressionism actually works!

Imagine, if you will, the sun reflecting off a rippling pool of water.  Now- stop that image- if you can- and what have you got?  Shapes become muted, though still recognizable.  The natural focus- at least for me, in my imagination- becomes the moment that a ripple of water and refracted light are just changing.  The mental exercise is interesting enough, but the ability to capture that on canvas is something, now, I can only respect.

The focus on light isn’t anything new.  Other artistic styles- Baroque, for instance- emphasize the use of light and shadow for dramatic effect.  Movement, too, has been a facet of previous styles, such as works of the Northern Renaissance.  What sets impressionism apart, to me, is that de-emphasis of well-defined form and the artist’s attempt to capture a single moment in time.

Examples of this style abound.  Claude Monet’s The Cliffs at Etretat, painted in 1886, is an impressionist landscape painting depicting the Normandy coast.


I don’t think it’s necessary, or advised, that the viewer examine the image that closely.  I recall, once, going to an art gallery and being told to step back to view certain works.  At the time I didn’t really understand this instruction, but upon examination of impressionistic work I do.  In this case the viewer can experience a moment of a darkening sky, choppy sea, and the tall cliffs themselves as- possibly- a storm approaches, or as the sun is rising or setting.

Another aspect of impressionistic style is the content illustrated.  Generally impressionists choose the ordinary, the mundane, the day-to-day as the subjects for their work.  This is in sharp contrast to earlier styles which focused either on religious stories- the Italian Renaissance for example- or the aristocracy illustrated in the Rocco style.

Here we see Edgar Degas’ Woman and Chrysanthemums, completed in 1865.  This is no superhuman portrait of divinity, nor does it attempt to capture the frivolous pursuits of the well-to-do.  As the title accurately explains, it is an image of an ordinary woman who appears to be contemplating something, sitting near a large vase of chrysanthemums.  The subtle tones of the rest of the painting serve as an excellent backdrop to the vibrancy of the flowers.


These are but two examples of an art form I realize I have remiss in learning more about.  While I appreciate the bold drama associated with strong lines and the contrast of light and shadow in painted works, and the sheer physicality associated with any sculpture, impressionism certainly has its own strengths.  Given the reality of the subjects, and how they are illustrated, impressionism is the most cerebral of the art forms we’ve thus far been introduced to.

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Propaganda Art of the American Revolution

First, my apologies for a late entry.  That being said…

The American Revolutionary War waged from 1775 to 1783 pitted the thirteen colonies of what was to become the United States against the British Empire.  No small feat.  I believe the success of this war, like any action requiring the support of a country’s population, can be attributed in part to the art created during the war.  This art serves us today as a reference back to that time, but it served the needs of the revolutionaries who needed to legitimize their position among their fellow Americans-to-be.

Pro-revolutionary sentiment can be found in many forms.  No better example can be found than a piece considered to be the first political cartoon, Benjamin Franklin’s Join or Die.  This piece, published in 1754, depicts the colonies as a dismembered snake.  Legend of the time suggested that putting together the severed parts of a snake would return it to life.  This piece accompanied an editorial written by Franklin suggesting the colonies ban together in order to strand strong against Imperial rule.

Join or Die

Another man many are familiar with when it comes to the American Revolution made his mark with pro-revolutionary art.  Paul Revere’s illustration of the Boston Massacre of 1770, produced as an engraving in 1770, is a powerful image lending legitimacy to why the revolution was being fought.


Peter St. John, a school teacher in Norwalk, Connecticut, wrote a number of songs during the war, including his American Taxation in 1765.  Very much a root issue leading to the war of secession from Britain, the taxation of the colonies to fund the Empire was a popular topic to focus on, keeping the legitimate reasons for the war in the forefront of the peoples’ thoughts.


WHILE I relate my story,

Americans give ear;

Of Britain’s fading glory

You presently shall hear;

I’ll give a true relation,

Attend to what I say

Concerning the taxation

Of North America.


The cruel lords of Britain,

Who glory in their shame,

The project they have hit on

They joyfully proclaim;

‘Tis what they’re striving after

Our right to take away,

And rob us of our charter

In North America.


There are two mighty speakers,

Who rule in Parliament,

Who ever have been seeking

Some mischief to invent;

‘Twas North, and Bute his father,

The horrid plan did lay

A mighty tax to gather

In North America.


They searched the gloomy regions

Of the infernal pit,

To find among their legions

One who excelled in wit;

To ask of him assistance,

Or tell them how they may

Subdue without resistance

This North America.


Old Satan the arch traitor,

Who rules the burning lake,

Where his chief navigator,

Resolved a voyage to take;

For the Britannic ocean

He launches far away,

To land he had no notion

In North America,


He takes his seat in Britain,

It was his soul’s intent

Great George’s throne to sit on,

And rule the Parliament;

His comrades were pursuing

A diabolic way,

For to complete the ruin

Of North America.


He tried the art of magic

To bring his schemes about,

At length the gloomy project

He artfully found out;

The plan was long indulged

In a clandestine way,

But lately was divulged

In North America.


These subtle arch-combiners

Addressed the British court,

All three were undersigners

Of this obscure report –

There is a pleasant landscape

That lieth far away

Beyond the wide Atlantic,

In North America.


There is a wealthy people,

Who sojourn in that land,

Their churches all with steeples

Most delicately stand;

Their houses like the gilly,

Are painted red and gay:

They flourish like the lily

In North America.


Their land with milk and honey,

Continually doth flow,

The want of food or money

They seldom ever know:

They heap up golden treasure,

They have no debts to pay,

They spend their time in pleasure

In North America.


On turkeys, fowls and fishes,

Most frequently they dine,

With gold and silver dishes,

Their tables always shine.

They crown their feasts with butter,

They eat, and rise to play;

In silks their ladies flutter,

In North America.


With gold and silver laces

They do themselves adorn,

The rubies deck their faces,

Refulgent as the morn!

Wine sparkles in their glasses,

They spend each happy day

In merriment and dances

In North America,


Let not our suit affront you,

When we address your throne,

O King, this wealthy country

And subjects are your own,

And you, their rightful sovereign,

They truly must obey,

You have a right to govern

This North America.


O King, you’ve heard the sequel

Of what we now subscribe,

Is it not just and equal

To tax this wealthy tribe?

The question being asked,

His majesty did say,

My subjects shall be taxed

In North America.


Invested with a warrant,

My publicans shall go,

The tenth of all their current

They surely shall bestow;

If they indulge rebellion,

Or from my precepts stray,

I’ll send my war battalion

To North America.


I’ll rally all my forces

By water and by land,

My light dragoons and horses

Shall go at my command;

I’ll burn both town and city,

With smoke becloud the day,

I’ll show no human pity

For North America.


Go on, my hearty soldiers,

You need not fear of ill

There’s Hutchinson and Rogers, 2

Their functions will fulfil –

They tell such ample stories,

Believe them sure we may,

One half of them are tories

In North America.


My gallant ships are ready

To waft you oer the flood,

And in my cause be steady,

Which is supremely good;

Go ravage, steal and plunder,

And you shall have the prey

They quickly will knock under

In North America.


The laws I have enacted,

I never will revoke,

Although they are neglected,

My fury to provoke.

I will forbear to flatter,

I’ll rule the mighty sway,

I’ll take away the charter

From North America.


O George! you are distracted,

You’ll by experience find

The laws you have enacted

Are of the blackest kind.

I’ll make a short digression,

And tell you by the way,

We fear not your oppression,

In North America.


Our fathers were distressed,

While in their native land;

By tyrants were oppressed

As we do understand;

For freedom and religion

They were resolved to stray,

And trace the desert regions

Of North America.


Heaven was their sole protector

While on the roaring tide,

Kind fortune their director,

And Providence their guide.

If I am not mistaken,

About the first of May,

This voyage was undertaken

For North America.


If rightly I remember,

This country to explore,

They landed in November

On Plymouth’s desert shore.

The savages were nettled,

With fear they fled away,

So peaceably they settled

In North America.


We are their bold descendants,

For liberty we’ll fight, 3

The claim to independence

We challenge as our right;

‘Tis what kind Heaven gave us,

Who can it take away.

O, Heaven, sure will save us,

In North America.


We never will knock under,

O, George !, we do not fear

The rattling of your thunder,

Nor lightning of your spear:

Though rebels you declare us,

We’re strangers to dismay;

Therefore you cannot scare us

In North America.


To what you have commanded

We never will consent,

Although your troops are landed

Upon our continent;

We’ll take our swords and muskets,

And march in dread array,

And drive the British red-coats

From North America.


We have a bold commander,

Who fears not sword or gun,

The second Alexander,

His name is Washington.

His men are all collected,

And ready for the fray,

To fight they are directed

For North America.


We’ve Greene and Gates and Putnam

To manage in the field,

A gallant train of footmen,

Who’d rather die than yield;

A stately troop of horsemen

Train’d in a martial way,

For to augment our forces

In North America.


Proud George, you are engagèd

All in a dirty cause,

A cruel war have wagèd

Repugnant to all laws,

Go tell the savage nations

You’re crueler than they,

To fight your own relations

In North America.


Ten millions you’ve expended,

And twice ten millions more;

Our riches, you intended

Should pay the mighty score.

Who now will stand your sponsor,

Your charges to defray ?

For sure you cannot conquer

This North America.


I’ll tell you, George, in metre,

If you’ll attend awhile;

We’ve forced your bold Sir Peter

From Sullivan’s fair isle.

At Monmouth, too, we gainèd

The honors of the day

The victory we obtainèd

For North America.


Surely we were your betters

Hard by the Brandywine;

We laid him fast in fetters

Whose name was John Burgoyne;

We made your Howe to tremble

With terror and dismay;

True heroes we resemble,

In North America.


Confusion to the tories,

That black infernal name

In which Great Britain glories,

For ever to her shame;

We’ll send each foul revolter

To smutty Africa,

Or noose him in a halter,

In North America.


A health to our brave footmen,

Who handle sword and gun,

To Greene and Gates and Putnam

And conquering Washington;

Their names be wrote in letters

Which never will decay,

While sun and moon do glitter

On North America.


Success unto our allies

In Holland, France and Spain,

Who man their ships and galleys,

Our freedom to maintain;

May they subdue the rangers

Of proud Britannia,

And drive them from their anchors

In North America.


Success unto the Congress

Of these United States,

Who glory in the conquests

Of Washington and Gates;

To all, both land and seamen

Who glory in the day

When we shall all be freemen

In North America.


Success to legislation,

That rules with gentle hand,

To trade and navigation,

By water and by land.

May all with one opinion

Our wholesome laws obey,

Throughout this vast dominion

Of North America.

These are simply a few examples of how propaganda art was used to great effect during the American Revolution.  Songs and images can help decide battles no less than strength of will and fire power.  Our very existence as a country today offers proof.


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Caravaggio and the Baroque

Caravaggio The Crowning with Thorns

Art during the Baroque period was heavily influenced by the Council of Trent.  This council, established to formalize the Counter Reformation meant to reaffirm the Catholic Church over Protestant uprising, defined what was acceptable in terms of art.  The Council insisted that art be realistic, clear, follow Catholic dogma, and- thus- influence the faithful to devotion. 1

Michelangelo Merisi- aka Caravaggio- was an Italian artist during the Baroque era.  His works depict the influence of the Council.  His work is known for illustrating realistic views of the human form, dynamic displays invoking emotion, and the use of dramatic lighting effects.  Tenebrism- the refinement of the use of dark and light transitions- gives his work added depth and aids in theatricality.2

Caravaggio’s The Crowning with Thorns is one such work.  Here the audience is presented with a vision of Christ receiving the crown of thorns prior to his crucifixion.  The strength of the image lies not only in a realistic depiction of sacrifice, pain, and resignation, but also in how the characters are brilliantly lit.  The guard- obviously the villain in this particular story- is a dark figure sitting in shadow.  Christ, on the other hand, is lit from above- suggesting a heavenly light and influence.  His tormenters, interestingly enough, also are lit from above suggesting they’re not as committed to their own actions as one might think.3

While art from the Renaissance focused on humanity to the point of super-human illustrations of the human form, the Baroque saw a return to humility in the human form, and while realistic these illustrations definitely were an attempt to renew an emphasis on faith and Catholic influence.  Man may be illustrated in a realistic manner, but so, too, is his position in relation to God.


1          “How Does Art Relate to the Council of Trent?”



2          “Caravaggio”

Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia



3          “The Baroque: Art, Politics, and Religion in 17th Century Europe”

Dr. Esperança Camara

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Hieronymus Bosch- “Hell”


Thus far in our exploration of the Italian and Northern Renaissance I am reminded of the great artist Hieronymus Bosch.  Of Bosch, born Jheronimus van Aken, little is known.  No known correspondence, diaries, or other insights into his life experiences or thoughts are left to us.  It is believed he was born roughly around 1450, and he died in 1516.1

For those familiar with Bosch’s work it is clear he chose to illustrate the darker side of humanity and subsequent damnation inherent in living a sinful life.  While this generalizes his work, it is an aspect of his work not often seen expressed by his contemporaries.  I believe Bosch was engaged in social criticism, using his art and religious anecdote to achieve a humanist aim: to communicate ethical philosophy by use of icons commonly understood by the masses.2

His piece, “Hell”, is one such illustration.3 This painting is actually a part of a series- many of Bosch’s works relay stories, breaking out elements of the story to be represented by a specific painting- depicting heaven, hell, and the living world between.  The other pieces include “Ascent of the Blessed”, “Terrestrial Paradise”, and “Fall of the Damned”.  All four pieces are adequately titled and rather self-explanatory.

“Hell” depicts what awaits us should we fall from grace.  For the devout the message here is strong- live by the prescribed ethical and moral code, or face the consequences.  For the secular, too, the images Bosch portrays are disquieting to say the least.  “Hell” introduces us to a dark and bleak world, ash and cinders.  There is enough light to illuminate Bosch’s characters, but the viewer has the impression that light is limited and this world is more or less one of shadows.  This differs from many illustrations of hell which emphasize fire.  Possibly, in Bosch’s view, there’s simply nothing here of value enough to burn.

This world is populated by the damned as well as the demons who await them.  These nightmare images of beings other than human, other than anything imaginable, are a common theme in Bosch’s work.  “Monster” studies- early work and experimentations- illustrating Bosch’s exercise in imagination do remain.

Bosch’s work has been interpreted in a number of ways.  Art historian Walter Gibson referred to them as “a world of dreams [and] nightmares…”  Historian Karel Van Mander considered them “wondrous and strange fantasies…”1  Whatever your own interpretation of the piece, “Hell” is well worth close scrutiny.  And if Bosch’s intent was for the audience to consider ethical behavior, take heed.


1     “Hieronymus Bosch:  The Complete Works”

Copyright ©2002-2013

2   “The Motivations of Hieronymus Bosch”

Eric Smith

February 1998

3     “Hell”

Hieronymus Bosch

Image courtesy

Copy right © 2002-2013

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