Touring Solo Art Project
CONVERSATION WITH RUSKIN Celebrating the Bicentenary of John Ruskin's Birth
by Hideyuki Sobue
Section Project Overview
Outline of the Activity
Aims and Objectives
What I Learned...
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4 8 10 11 12 15
was the 200th anniversary
based on materialism. We humans are facing a grave crisis of
of John Ruskin’s birth. An
identity as we ask, “What does it mean to be human?” in the
art critic, artist, writer,
era of advanced AI.
educator, social thinker and philanthropist, he was one of the most influential voices in Victorian England and beyond.
Bearing the above in mind, I produced a portrait of John
As a Japanese artist based in the Lake District, where Ruskin
Ruskin as the main work in this exhibition. I portrayed
chose to live for 28 years prior to his death, I have been
the Victorian thinker in a horizontal double-vision image,
intrigued by his legacy in art and sustainability, which
comprising two identical portraits overlapping each other.
provided an ideological foundation for the Pre-Raphaelites,
By carefully determining the distance between two images,
the Arts and Crafts movement and the National Trust. Ruskin
I attempted to promote a visual illusion so that the portrait
was also the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University
can be seen as a single image in another dimension,
of Oxford, where he established the Ruskin School of Art.
emerging from the surface of the support. It is a paradoxical approach, achieved by stimulating a visual illusion. However,
In preparing for this project, I aimed at delving into
it is designed to amplify the mystery of human existence
the spirituality of John Ruskin. His message about the
by raising questions about the distance between the visible
importance of art, nature and human spirituality resounds
and invisible, physical and spiritual; the abstract concepts
ever louder in our advanced technological society. I believe
that only belong to humanity. In this way, I attempted to
that it is appropriate to reexamine these aspects considering
create a platform of conversation regarding whether our
the fact that we live in an age of Artificial Intelligence (AI),
mind, soul and spirit exist, or they are nothing but multi-
where the human mind/ soul/ spirit is in danger of being
complex electric and chemical processes in our brain. It may
interpreted as merely chemical and electronic processes
also reflect Ruskin’s spiritual conflict with regard to his own faith. I planned to depict him as a foreseer (in a way, like one of the ancient prophets), and as the spiritual guardian of Lakeland and beyond in a period of ecological and existential crisis. Hence the title, "Conversation with Ruskin (Ecce Homo)". The Latin phrase “Ecce Homo” means “Behold the man!”, and was the statement of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea in the 1st century, when he presented
a scourged Jesus Christ to accusers shortly before his Crucifixion. I didn’t mean to identify Ruskin with Christ but rather attempted to present him as a man of sorrow, who could foresee the negative legacies of modernization, the world to come that we are now facing. With a teardrop in his right eye, I emphasized his emotional state, and moreover, symbolized the dignity of humanity for which Ruskin strived. Among all animals, only humans shed emotional tears. For this reason, “Ecce Homo” seemed to me to be the most appropriate title for this portrait. Alongside this portrait, I produced a series of works on the theme of nature, which John Ruskin stressed to learn from for his art practice. He wrote in “Pre-Raphaelitism”, advising young English artists, "They should go to nature in all singleness of heart, and walk with her laboriously
of his excellent draughtsmanship as an artist but also a
and trustingly, having no other thought but how best
glimpse of the broad scope of his academic studies. I was
to penetrate her meaning; rejecting nothing, selecting
fascinated by Ruskin’s focus on objects, which reminds
nothing, and scorning nothing." When I looked into
me in style of Japanese traditional painting. Moreover, his
Ruskin’s original drawings during my research at The Ruskin
way of seeing, manifested by his drawing, seems uniquely
(Lancaster University), I found myself extremely interested
similar to Japanese traditional art on the theme of nature,
in his penetrating gaze when studying objects, scenes, and
which reveals a holistic ideology through depicting things
his natural surroundings. It was a profound experience
as minimally as possible. I also found myself intrigued to
of discovery that his drawings are not only the evidence
note that there are similarities between Ruskin’s drawings and my works on nature. He often produced drawings of natural objects such as stones, wildflowers, leaves, clouds, etc. for his scientific approach to understanding the holistic natural environment. When Ruskin drew clouds, for instance, it reflected his insight on air pollution. I also often produced and still love to produce works on the same subjects; however, my approach is rather the exploration of the meaning of human condition by means of the 5
image. Visual images are deemed to be far more ambiguous than text, and are inevitably open to free interpretation by viewers. “Round Stone”, on one hand, seemingly depicts a stone such as those I found in my daily life. However, I drew it as round as possible deliberately so that it looks like the moon. As you know, 2019 was the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing by Apollo 11. In the other work, “Storm Cloud”, I attempted to suggest the giant cloud of a devastating explosion. Our civilization is threatened by weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear bombs, which Ruskin could never have imagined. In this way, I wanted to show the passage of time since Ruskin was alive. After all, it is humans who embrace and treasure all living things, and at the same time destroy them by their own hands. This overwhelming contradiction corresponds to Ruskin's human fundamental tool of creativity, namely drawing and
tormented state of mind when he resisted the torrent of
painting through the metaphor, symbol, and referentiality of
the first industrial revolution. Now we are facing the fourth
visual language. For example, when I portray fallen leaves,
insignificant wildflowers, pebbles or stones, they are the metaphors of the anonymous majority of people across the globe. When I paint small insects, I refer to the symbolic meanings in art history. When I draw sheep, cattle or other domestic animals, I look at the relationship between human and livestock along the line of the idyllic landscape throughout history. Bearing this in mind, I have produced a series of works focusing on observations of nature, each portraying the essence of what I have personally experienced in the Lake District, looking into the history and life of this unique landscape. They are not a mere collection of nature-themed works but I attempted to assemble a semiotic series of natural subjects focusing on Ruskin's love for nature and his passion for conservation, sensing the passage of time up to now and into the future. In this series, I produced a couple of works that demonstrate the ambiguity of the 6
This project, apart from drawing, was completed employing
my unique brush hatching method using Japanese sumi ink and acrylic, which I created and have developed over the past 15 years. It is inspired by the concept of designo, which was established in the Florentine School during the Renaissance, combined with neurological studies, which reveal that the human visual brain perceives objects predominantly by oriented lines. This series of paintings features gold backgrounds, created using acrylic gold paint inspired by the Japanese traditional painting style, which can be seen in fusuma-e (sliding door paintings) and byobu-e (folding-screen paintings). In this way, I attempted to embody a quest for the spirit and legacy of John Ruskin.
Painted, sculpted or photographed in his lifetime and since by many artists, none I know of has approached the challenge of portraying Ruskin quite like Hideyuki. In a single image he manages to bring forth Ruskin’s power, intensity, suffering and sensitivity with extraordinary clarity. Nor is Ruskin an object of contemplation. This is the face of a soul that urgently wishes to communicate with us. He inhabits the room and reaches out to us. Howard Hull Director of the Brantwood Trust
Outline of the Activity
n my initial proposal, I planned to produce 6 paintings
to the adult workshop was over quota and 20+ participants
including John Ruskin’s double-vision portrait and
all enjoyed learning my original line hatching technique.
5-6 drawings including a drawing of John Ruskin.
Due to the popularity of the exhibition at the Blue Gallery in
However, due to a restricted schedule I changed the plan
Brantwood, which was held immediately after the first major
to produce 1 large double-vision portrait of Ruskin, 12
Turner exhibition at the same location, the director of the
smaller nature-themed paintings and 1 drawing of Ruskin.
Brantwood Trust decided to prolong the exhibition period
This decision proved right in that I was able to deliver all
until 17th November. The exhibition was featured in local
works on time. Although the double-vision portrait of
media such as the Westmorland Gazette and Cumbria Life
Ruskin titled “Conversation with Ruskin (Ecce Homo)” was
produced as the principle work of the project, I believe that the 12 nature-themed small works matched it conceptually
The dates for the tour to The Ruskin at Lancaster University
and technically, and were appropriate for celebrating the
was confirmed in late August 2019, and the exhibition
bicentenary of Ruskin’s birth.
was realised on 23rd January 2020, simultaneously with the “Ruskin: Museum of Near Future” exhibition at the upper gallery. The installation was excellent, owing to the thoughtful exhibition plan by the curator team at The Ruskin. I organised an inaugural presentation talk and gallery tour with an art demonstration, both of which were m u c h a p p re c i a t e d by participants including the team of organisers at The Ruskin. In terms of promotion, I
The concept of the whole project was detailed in the book
have delivered information about the project to as wide an
with the same title “Conversation with Ruskin”, which
audience as possible through various social media platforms.
I produced before the artist’s talk, successfully held at
In whole, this art project “Conversation with Ruskin” has been
Brantwood in September 2019. I also held a line hatching
a great success thanks to the generous financial support by
workshop at Brantwood in October for adults. Applications
Arts Council England.
Analytics Overview Visitors:
Artist Talk/ Workshop/ Gallery Tour/ Demonstration: Website Views:
Twitter Impressions: Instagram Reach: Facebook Reach: LinkedIn Views:
Newspaper & Magazine (Digital & Print):
Aims and Objectives Deliver a museum-quality exhibition worthy of celebration for the bicentenary of John Ruskin's brith.
Undertake cross-disciplinary research collaborations culminating in the touring solo exhibition.
audiences in reexamining Ruskin's legacy and its contemporary relevance through exhibition, artist talk and workshops.
Promote the project to as wide an audience as possible working with host organisations and through various social media platforms.
Take on a challenge to maximise the visual impact in a body of work with consistent and elaborative concept for appealing to a wider audience.
Champion creative expertise by realisation of the project and publishing a limited edition book.
Exert maximum effort to contribute to host organisations with the project to develop their profiles.
Hideyuki Sobue’s Conversation with Ruskin was a revelation. It added a new dimension t o t h e h i s t o r y o f R u s k i n p o rt ra i t u re , combining Ruskinian principles of close, careful observation with materials and
methods from beyond the cultural traditions with which Ruskin engaged.
I very much appreciated the artist tour Hideyuki led at The Ruskin during the exhibition; the event afforded special insights into the depth of his work, and it deepened my appreciation of the unique vision of Ruskin he presented.
--- Participants in the Artist-Led Tour at The Ruskin
What I Learned...
hen I was awarded the “Grant for the Arts”
career. It has given me a clear focus, a future direction and
from Arts Council England for the touring
an insight into a new level of potential for my art practice.
art project “The Way I See” in 2013, social
Secondly, it gave me an extraordinary opportunity to hold a
networking service (SNS) was less highly regarded as an
museum-level touring solo exhibition. This has inspired me
important tool for promoting a variety of businesses, and
to push myself to a higher level in the future. Lastly, I have
websites were considered more important. However, artists’
learned the importance of resilience. By this, I mean not
websites were often very poor and amateur. Six years later
mere persistence or endurance but flexibility, positivity, self-
in 2019, the SNS environment has completely changed.
awareness, risk-taking and humility.
It is said that Instagram has championed new businesses, prompting major business players to join the service to
Working with museum professionals with creative minds has
deploy strategic promotions. “Instagrammable” is a key word
been a gem of my experience in this project. Without their
in promoting businesses.
continuous support, encouragement, commitment and sheer professionalism, I couldn't imagine completing this project
Recently I have heard a professional art consultant saying,
and achieving great success. I owe a deep debt of gratitude
“Many gallerists are now looking for new talent through
to Mr Howard Hull, the director of the Brantwood Trust and
Instagram.” I became aware of this dramatic change in
Prof. Sandra Kemp, the director of The Ruskin at Lancaster
the period between my previous project supported by
University and all the staff of both organisations. Most of all,
Arts Council England in 2013 and now, and as such I have
the generous financial support by Arts Council England, who
developed an online presence and network as a professional
endorsed my project, allowed me to accomplish this project
practicing artist on various social media platforms. I have
with the highest quality possible, in celebration of the legacy
also improved my website through trial and error. As a result,
of the Victorian giant John Ruskin. I would like to express my
by the time this project was confirmed by the Brantwood
deepest gratitude to Arts Council England for their support.
Trust director in late 2018, my social media platform had been well prepared. However, if these efforts spoiled the time taken to research and create works, it would be like putting the cart before the horse. This is what I have learned: the more chances become available to showcase your artistic talent online, the more time you have to invest in promotion. However, creating a stronger body of work with each step is essential. This project “Conversation with Ruskin” has become a new milestone of my artistic career on many levels. Firstly, I believe that I achieved the highest possible quality conceptually as well as technically. The project represents, in a way, the culmination of my twenty-odd-year artistic 12
At the Blue Gallery in Brantwood, the exhibition was held immediately after the first major Turner exhibition. At The Ruskin: Museum, Library and Research Centre at Lancaster University, where my exhibition was held simultaneously with the “Ruskin: Museum of Near Future” exhibition at the different gallery, I had the honour of closing the year-long celebration of the bicentenary of John Ruskin’s birth. I feel extremely honoured and privileged to hold my solo exhibition at such stunning museum galleries.
Hideyuki's exhibition at Brantwood contained work which had an aesthetic mixture of a very recognisably Japanese character and a very modern and intellectual approach which had the unmistakeable individuality of Hideyuki's work. The double '3D' portrait of Ruskin, with his tear for modern times was undoubtedly the centrepiece. It is a difficult work to completely understand but the craftmanship is of the highest level and of course is made with precision and a good degree of imagination. The 3D effect didn't work for me unfortunately but that is unimportant. What were perhaps more striking were the small works which dealt with Fibonacci sequences, like the calf's head and the flower (so essentially Japanese in subject and treatment) and in all the works, the essence of Ruskin's thoughts regarding the balance of nature, it's slowly revealing laws and of how the whole is composed of ever-decreasing macro 'worlds', is clearly revealed. Science and 'art' in perfect balance. Martin Greenland Artist/ John Moores 24 first prize winner
Feedback "It was a pleasure for my wife and I to attend the preview
"The gentle, gentleman that Hideyuki Sobue is, meant
of Hideyuki Sobue's 'Conversation with Ruskin' exhibition,
that his talk at Brantwood about his â€œConversation with
at Brantwood. Seeing the exhibits touch on Ruskin's love
Ruskinâ€? indicated his genuine absorption with his subject.
of nature and attention to deep inquiry we were greatly
His presentation was thoughtful, spiritual and sensitive
struck by Hideyuki's large central portrait - a double, even
showing his great respect for the character of Ruskin.
triple portrait in one. It not only conveyed to us, Ruskin's
Hideyuki combined his admiration & skills in his brilliantly
deeply complex nature, his analytical mind and attention
unique and beautiful por trait of Ruskin. He fur ther
to detail but also the visionary and seer. The Patriarch. Plus,
demonstrated his individual style and depth of observation
the inner spiritual aspect was revealed too - saddened by
with a few of his own paintings including some of The
the world's indifference to his high ideals.... In this portrait
Lakes that Ruskin so loved. It was a joy & privilege to meet
we feel that Hideyuki has taken his own artistic practice
to new heights and achieved a striking and monumental
--- DEE Diana Cosford (Artist)
image of a national icon..." --- Kevin Chester (Artist/ President of the Lake Artists
"Your portraits of Ruskin are superb. I really feel that you
have come to know the man and that you can explain him to us. And wonderful to see the actual work not just the illustrations in your book, excellent though they are. The
"I thoroughly enjoyed Hideyuki's workshop at Brantwood.
exhibition as a whole looked and felt terrific and I hope you
I attended as I was intrigued how Hideyuki creates such
are justly proud of yourself."
finely detailed and beautiful work and really wanted
--- Annabel Hunt (Friend)
to learn about his line hatching technique. During the workshop Hideyuki initially talked us through the technique and showed us an animation of how he created
"Hideyuki demonstrates a deep insight in ar t history
his beautiful Ruskin portrait, it was very interesting to
by incorporating references to the great masters in
have the opportunity to see the process. He then took us
his work such as Da Vinci's Mona Lisa as well as a well
through it step by step as we attempted the same approach
thought through application of the Fibonnaci principle.
to create our own pictures of leaves gathered from the
His work combines these references in a fine balance
grounds of Brantwood. Working in such a detailed way
with contemporary references such as the launch of the
was quite a change from my usual approach, but I really
Apollo 11 last year. Given that I was part of this artist's
enjoyed it and feel that I learnt a skill that I can develop in
demonstration of the technique of cross-hatching, I was
my own artwork. The workshop was informative, inspiring
able to experience for myself how only gentle hands can
as well as great fun and I would be keen to attend further
master the technique as Hideyuki does. It only made my
workshops run by Hideyuki if the opportunity arose."
appreciation for his art grow deeper. I will stay on the look
--- Ally Keogh (Artist)
out for future works of art Hideyuki will create!" --- Kelsey Lindsey Pinna (Student, Lancaster University)
Touring Solo Art Project
CONVERSATION WITH RUSKIN Celebrating the Bicentenary of John Ruskin's Birth by Hideyuki Sobue
The Blue Gallery, Brantwood
The Ruskin: Museum, Library and Research Centre
8 August - 17 Novermber 2019
The Brantwood Trust
23 January - 28 February 2020
Tel: +44 (0)1524 593587
Tel: +44 (0)15394 41396
Touring Solo Art Project
CONVERSATION WITH RUSKIN Celebrating the Bicentenary of John Ruskin's Birth by Hideyuki Sobue