I've been sitting on the fence about giving an opinion, but now it's just too tempting
, although my thoughts might not be too cohesive...
I re-read Leon's comments about the piece several times and I think they're very valid and well thought-out regarding approaching the piece and its creation not as a 'statement', but one of several in a line of exploration based on the question he states about being a Western netsuke-shi.
It's a question we all ask ourselves, as carvers, and I think (based on my own 'path' as well as observing the development of of others) it's one that needs to be reckoned with throughout a lifetime of production. But so does the creation of any art. Why am I driven? What is this subject I've chosen? Why have I chosen this media to speak about the subject? Is this the same question contemporary Japanese carvers ask? Of course I think it is.
However, they have the benefit of growing up within cultural and artistic traditions that we don't have, so we've either got a lot of cultural acquisition to catch up on, or we consciously challenge the form/tradition as is quite common in Western Art- at least for the past several hundred years
. I think Leon is choosing the latter at the moment, and for me personally, this is the wrong way to go. Inherent within netsuke is a Japanese/East Asian approach to art making; they can't really be separated. I don't think an East/West hybrid can be achieved consciously. Of course that's what we're doing unconsciously as Western carvers, but the task for us is to recognize and dissect those tendencies and see where they come from.
Back to his work:
Is it an interesting exploration of a theme? yes
Will it help Leon progress as an artist? yes
Does it show technical skill? somewhat
Is it a netsuke? no.
I say this because it's a strongly held belief of mine (and something I've grappled with too) that if we are to utilize this physical 'form' of netsuke (a small carving, with a hole, and a certain level of precision maybe) we must also grasp the spirit of the netsuke. With that goal, comes a certain understanding that there are cultural and aesthetic traditions to uphold. Can a netsuke be carved that doesn't allude to cliche Japanese themes? Yes, of course. But we must also keep in mind that these are not miniatures, statues or painted figurines, or technical achievements of minutae in a Western sense. I add this because I see, even among relatively-new Japanese carvers, some tendency to drift away from essentials. What's the difference? The difference is the approach, the internal spirit of the carver, the intent, and the aesthetics- all difficult topics to put a finger on- but I think, with experience, we know it if we see it.