Bill Claps: Natural Abstractions IV: China & Japan
December 17, 2019 - February 9, 2020
By SIBA KUMAR DAS, January 2020
Bill Claps’ artistic development began with sensuous figurative drawings that captured fleeting moments. Today he is still expressing evanescence. But his current practice is to begin with a photograph—an artwork achieved by the direct action of light, nature’s own pencil, as photography’s inventor William Henry Fox Talbot called it.
Claps takes photographs of forests, mountains, and other natural features all over the world. He then uses the photos to create mixed-media artworks that combine printing, painting, and digital technology with a unique gold foil application that is his signature process. It imparts to his imagery a wonderful luminosity that suggests evanescence.
Claps’ solo exhibition “Natural Abstractions IV: China and Japan” at Keyes Gallery, 211 McGuiness Boulevard, Brooklyn, from December 17, 2019 to February 9, 2020, features eighteen of his photo-based mixed-media artworks. They are his homage to traditional Chinese and Japanese painting, inclusive of the Japanese woodblock prints that influenced Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists.
The exhibition program includes three dance performances (January 8 & 22 and February 9), inspired by Claps’ artworks, incorporating elements of traditional Japanese and Chinese martial arts and dance. Performing movements linked to the artworks, the dancers move through the gallery accompanied by the audience as they perform to an original score. If you view the artworks and then join the audience, your experience of Claps’ art will become truly multi-dimensional.
The artist’s salute to Chinese and Japanese art takes its cue from the salience of landscape in these traditions. Such landscape art was not so much about specific sites as in Western art, but rather expressed the eternal and harmonious relationship between humanity and nature. The latter principle held good in Japanese art even as it, in the nineteenth century, responded to specific geographies, as in Hiroshige’s “100 Famous Views of Edo.” You see Claps reflecting eternal verities in his meditations on Asian landscape and Asian natural objects—a meditation expressed most of all by his gold foil application, which creates effects ranging from yellow-gold to silver.
Throughout his artistic development, Claps has responded sensitively to art history and past achievements in many traditions. The gold backgrounds and other uses of gold in Byzantine art stimulated him to explore gold foil’s possibilities for his own art, keeping in mind gold’s symbolic value in Byzantine art as the source of divine illumination. Gold also became an important element in Japanese painting. Though often used for artistic license and decorative and dramatic effects, it also conveyed spatial expansiveness and, by implication, the Buddhist concept of emptiness.
Through his signature process, Claps reinforces and transforms the light already embedded in his source photographs. His gold foil, applied using manual manipulation to create varied textures, captures and then reflects ambient light to create a subtle luminosity that enhances and modifies his images—an effect that keeps changing as the light changes with the day’s passage, acquiring thereby a symbolic charge. So, when you look at his “Nanzenji Temple Tree” and “Huangshan Gorge” (and the other works in the show), you realize that Claps truly understands that evanescent light can also be ineffable light. WM
Siba Kumar Das is a former United Nations official who writes about art. He served the U.N. Development Program in New York and several developing countries. He now lives in the U.S., splitting his time between New York City and upstate New York. He has published articles on artists living in the Upper Delaware Valley, and is presently focusing on art more globally. Recent articles have appeared in dArt International, Arte Fuse, and Artdaily.com.view all articles from this author