Sunday, April 30, 2017

Inner Journeys: Regina Scully and Edo Period Japanese Paintings at NOMA

Where does art come from? Art schools teach techniques, theories, trends and history, but most  artworks that survive over the ages have something intriguingly mysterious, or ineffable, about them that can't be taught in school. Such art transcends time and space: where did the Mona Lisa's elusively beatific smirk come from, and why does it affect us? Closer to home, there has always been something inexplicably Japanese about Regina Scully's lyrical yet mysterious abstract paintings, yet the University of New Orleans graduate never studied Japanese art and has no explanation for their oddly Asian tone. The recent acquisition of several of her canvases by the New Orleans Museum of Art inspired further interest in the parallels between her work and NOMA's stellar collection of 18th and 19th century Japanese paintings and drawings – parallels strong enough to inspire this unusual side-by-side expo.
Traditional Western art tried to be descriptive and was only incidentally ineffable. Traditional Japanese artists tried to convey the ineffable forces of nature, but often ended up being merely descriptive. Scully only began studying Japanese art last year, but the dreamy, calligraphic, floating qualities that even her older canvases share with these Edo period works is seen in paintings like Passage, 2012 (detail, top) with its floating, rhapsodic hints of aerial views of cities at the mercy of elemental forces.

Cosmographia, 2015, suggests forests, mountains, water spouts, flowers and clouds seemingly dancing across the canvas, in contrast to the dense clustering seen in Navigation, 2010 (detail, left), where crowded city streets seem to have become animated as if by an earthquake, or maybe something supernatural. In Mindscape 5, 2017, top left, colorful natural and man-made forms appear to levitate in a swirling vortex, yet as violent as a verbal description of that might sound, its visual effect is surprisingly buoyant -- not as serenely lyrical as Uragami Gyokudo's Drunken Landscape, right, but in that general direction. Both artists evoke the sublime and ineffable, but Scully resonates a more jazzy backbeat. ~Bookhardt / Inner Journeys: Regina Scully and Edo-period Japanese Paintings, Through Oct. 9, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100