When it comes to Japanese printmaking of the 19th century, Hiroshige and Hokusai have tended to dominate the conversation. But a third figure, Kawanabe Kyōsai, has begun to enter the public view outside Japan, thanks in part to a recently closed survey at London’s Royal Academy of Arts.
Notorious during his lifetime both for his art and for his eccentric personality, Kyōsai only lived to be 58, but during his short career, he managed to pioneer the art of manga. Prolific and profound, he left an enduring legacy of paintings, caricatures, sketches, illustrated books and prints, many of which can be found in the Israel Goldman collection that formed the basis of the Royal Academy show.
Heidi Gustafson Recounts How She Established an Archive of Hundreds of Samples of Humanity’s Oldest Art Material
JUNE 7, 2022
The word ochre tends to be associated with the warm brownish-yellow color seen in ancient Egyptian paintings or lining the walls of Mediterranean cities. It also, though, refers to a physical substance found deposited in mesas, caves, and other landscapes around the globe that once removed, ground, and combined with liquid, becomes paint. With a lifespan as long as the geography of its origin, the organic matter is widely regarded as humanity’s first art material.
Housed in a North Cascades cabin, the Early Futures Ochre Sanctuary collects and preserves hundreds of samples of these pigments. Rough chunks of material and powder stored in vials fill the space and vary widely in hue, ranging from deep rust and gold to cool robin’s egg blue. The ever-growing archive is the project of forager, artist, and researcher Heidi Gustafson, who established the sanctuary back in 2017. She’s since amassed an incredible collection through a community-based practice involving scientists, archaeologists, creatives, and generally curious folks who donate the pigments they discover for safe-keeping.
Colossal managing editor Grace Ebert spoke with Gustafson via email in May 2022 about Early Futures, its evolution, and what it’s meant to work with a substance with such a rich and lengthy history. Gustafson discusses the multi-sensory and sometimes uncanny nature of her process, the threat the climate crisis poses to the earth’s stores, and how ochre’s legacy reaches far beyond its alluring color.
Grace: For those who aren’t familiar with Early Futures and the Ochre Sanctuary, can you explain what the project is?
Heidi: Sure! I bring ochres and earth pigments (iron-rich rocks, soil, dust)—humankind’s oldest art material—together in one place for a little while. Citizens, friends, and myself gather these colorful pigments from lands, including labs and industrial processing plants, worldwide and send them to me in my rural studio in the North Cascades. Unlike museums or collections, this is a living place that I consider more as a great teacher, full of kin.
Perhaps the metaphor of a seed bank or a lymph node helps to get a sense of why I do the project and how I think about it currently. In lymph nodes, diverse cells share information and “report” back to these central nodal locations in the body. They get instructions from other cells, to help heal better, respond to infection, and maintain harmony in the whole organism.
In the Ochre Sanctuary project, you could think of each ochre rock like a cell or seed that carries a lot of deep time knowledge about a particular place and the creatures and ancestors that live there. They “report back” to this little studio lymph node, to learn and grow threads between other geologies, places, people, imagination, and spirits and to also be able to go out wherever is needed from there.
So, a lot of rocks come into this room. Sometimes colorful dust gets made, and eventually, rocks leave…it’s an evolving collective or counsel more than a static collection. There’s so so so much to learn about interspecies health by listening to nonhumans, especially ones that seem the most silent.
A special mix of pigments gives silver paint its metallic shine. Find out more about this eye-catching colour, first used back in the 1400s.
The Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany, ran from 1919-1933, during which time the students, known as Bauhauslers, held festivals or parties several times a year. Each party would have its own theme, such as Kite, Lantern or Beard, Nose, Hearts, with extensive planning including invitations, decorations and costumes. The most famous of all the festivals was the Metallic Festival or Metallische Fest held on February 9, 1929. At the Metal Party, Bauhauslers were invited to dress as bottle openers, egg whisks or bells, making costumes using anything they could find that was silver in colour, including tin foil, frying pans and spoons. There was a chute guests could slide down to enter a room filled with silver balls and the windows of the building were covered in tin foil, making the 1929 event resemble a scene from a science fiction film.
The “golden age of science fiction” of 1938 to 1946 should perhaps have been called the silver age of science fiction, because the colour silver would dominate the genre for years to come. Silver became a short-hand for futurism and the space age – for example in the silver metallic space suits of the first space crew, the Mercury 7.
Miniature painting is widely recognized for its highly decorative and graphical images. They are some of the most fascinating pieces of art to look at, given the format and their level of intricate detail. Like Islamic calligraphy and illumination, it is a form of traditional Islamic art and is considered to be one of the most developed forms of Islamic painting. Originally, these small paintings were part of a manuscript, used as a front piece or an illustration for a text. Often made for and owned by rulers and wealthy patrons as illustrated manuscripts, these traditional works depicted lives of kings, scenes from battles, leisurely pursuits of rulers, or inspired by poems, such as the famous work of Persian poet Ferdousi, the Shahnameh.
There has recently been a resurgence of insisting on regarding imperial history and colonization as forces for good and positive exchange in response to calls for decolonization. An accompanying phenomenon has been the repackaging of orientalism — the depiction of Muslim-majority cultures as a fundamentally foreign “other,” in contrast to Eurocentric values — through the production, ownership, and presentation of orientalist art. The latter occurs in two distinct yet related forms: the museum art exhibition and formal visual analysis of a single work. However, a persistent emphasis on cross-cultural artistic influence without its colonialist contexts serves to depict orientalism as a benign mode of aesthetics rather than as the ideological justification for European colonialist violence and subjugation.
In conjunction with the Islamic Arts Museum in Malaysia, a recent exhibition at the British Museum, Inspired by the Islamic East: How the Islamic World Influenced Western Art, purported to display cultural objects that reflect “artistic exchange between East and West.” Despite exhibition plaques quoting Edward Said, the wall text euphemistically referred to Europeans as “increasingly curious and aggressive in their dealings with those outside their borders” and re-frames orientalism as a benign artistic fascination with the “other.” Rather than interrogating European colonialist activities or the use of the amorphous term “East,” the exhibition curators further contented themselves with the idea that the rise of the Safavid and Ottoman empires reflected “more evenly balanced” relations between Europe and Western Asia. The exhibition thus bent over backwards to emphasize that Europeans were also seen as an “other” by those in the “East,” and that Europeans’ own fascinations resulted merely in the designs and artistic inspirations evident in the ceramics, paintings, and illustrations on display. While a geometric design on a vase may not be driven by the same level of power dynamics more evident in other artistic forms, the objects on display are clearly meant to emphasize orientalism as artistic exchange and benign observation of domestic and religious life rather than as the justifying ideology of violent European colonialism and expansion.
Ironically, the exhibition also displayed contemporary female West Asian art as a form of corrective to the passive “Eastern” female subjects of European orientalist art. However, the soft-focus orientalism of the exhibition — where the usually nude female subject of a European harem painting is mainly clothed and the most egregiously orientalist works are nowhere to be seen — conveniently served as a form of Islamic public diplomacy. This diplomacy seeks civilizational validation through Western admiration of Islamic art forms and appreciative depictions of Muslim prayer and Quran study. In turn, European institutions like the British Museum benefit from Islamic institutional partners “from the East” as defenses against claims of orientalism in their exhibitions. Furthermore, such framing neatly sidestepped the co-sponsorship of the exhibition by Standard Chartered Bank — which began its existence as the financial arm of British colonialist expansion — one of many long-standing, neo-imperialist relationships the British Museum maintains.
All Types of Yellow Colour Pigments used by artists for centuries
Yellow Ochre – (In Urdu and Farsi it is known as Zard, the Hindi name is Ramraj) – an iron oxide, it is usually found in the form of a coloured earth and is washed and finely ground and mixed with a binding medium.
Indian Yellow – (Indian name is Peuri or Gagoli) – it is said that this colour is made from the urine of cows fed on mangoes or mango leaves to produced a very bright and vivid yellow colour. Recent test have proved that this is only a tale of folklore. However due to this take it was not used in Islamic manuscripts dealing with sacred themes. Other references indicate that is a yellow earth found in India. This pigment is not commonly used due to its obscure source.
Orpiment – A brilliant yellow made from sulphide of arsennic which is dangerous to use. This stone is ground, washed and mixed with grum arabic.
Saffron Yellow – The most common yellow colour used in the Indian subcontinent. The saffron is boiled or soaked in water to give the liquid colour. The period of soaking the saffron depends on the intensity of the colour required. This solution does not need to be mixed with Gum Arabic or other binding medium .This solution is translucent; however, if mixed with a white colour becomes opaque but loses its original intensity.
Turmeric Yellow – This yellow is obtained by boiling the turmeric in water until it gives it the required colour, it is then filtered and some saffron is added and boiled again. This is filtered again and gall nut and Gum Arabic is added to the mixture before it cools down.
Text by Fatima Zahra Hassan
Extract from her PhD thesis, 1997, copyright @fzhassan & @fzhatelier
This month at The Conservation Center, we were inspired by the marvellous hues of autumn, as our hometown of Chicago is being swiftly engulfed by red, orange, and yellow leaves. So we decided to revive our Pigment of the Month segment. For the month of October, we chose a beautiful and historically fascinating yellow pigment- perfect for fall- with a very interesting story behind it.
Indian Yellow is a vivid orange-yellow pigment that originates from India in the 15th century and was mostly used there during the Mughal period. It was introduced to European artists shortly thereafter, where it was used until it became commercially unavailable in the early 20th century. This pigment was a popular choice among frescoists, oil painters, and watercolorists, although it was said to have an unpleasant odour.
This odor may stem from the alleged original source of the pigment— cow urine. Story goes that the cattle responsible for Indian Yellow were only fed water and mango leaves, ingredients that supposedly made their urine (and thereby the pigment) especially luminescent.
A while back at the Baking Tray Cafe, I ran into one of my friends, Mohammed S. and as we were talking and catching up, he asked me if I heard about The Conference of the Birds book for Farah K. Behbehani (منطق الطير لفرح بهبهاني).
The couple’s collection of manuscripts and early printed books, offered on 23 April, is one of the finest ever to come to market
Over the course of 30 years, Elaine and Alexandre Rosenberg assembled one of the finest collections of illuminated manuscripts and early printed books in the world. Eager academics and scholars could regularly be found in the library of the couple’s Upper East Side townhouse.
The Rosenbergs collected with great passion. According to their daughters, Elisabeth Clark and Marianne Rosenberg, they ‘perhaps even found a soulmate’ in their books.
The couple continued collecting until Alexandre’s death in 1987. Although she never added to it, Elaine took great care in preserving the collection until her own passing, aged 98, in 2020.
On 23 April, 17 illuminated manuscripts and more than 200 of the Rosenbergs’ incunabula (printed books from before 1501) are being offered in a single-owner sale at Christie’s in New York.
‘This is one of the most important collections of its kind ever to come to market,’ says Eugenio Donadoni, Christie’s senior specialist in Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts. ‘We’re proud to honour Elaine and Alexandre Rosenberg’s collecting and philanthropic legacy with this auction.’