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he thinks you are a genius

Post #347 • August 17, 2004, 2:45 PM • 6 Comments

From Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration:

I had sent a watercolor gouache over to Japan for the master printer to work on it ahead of time, and I was shocked to see when I got there that it had become his piece. Then I had to wrest it away and make it mine again. The printer I was working with, Tadashi Toda, is very highly regarded in Japan. With us also was Hidekatsu Takada, a printer who had spent the first twenty-one years working with American artists in California as an etching printer with Crown Point. He was acting as translator. When we arrived, a lot of work had already been done. I pointed to a specific shape and said to Takada, "Tell him it is too green." He started talking and talking, and there was an intense reaction from Mr. Toda. Finally I asked, "Why is it taking so long?" Takada said, "You don't understand, what I have to say is, 'Chuck is thrilled with what you have done, he thinks you are a genius. He thinks it is perfection. Beyond his wildest dreams. Nothing could be done to improve it. However, in the interest of intellectual curiosity, not that it would be better than what you have done, just to see what would happen, could you possibly make it a little less green?'"

Comment

1.

Jack

August 18, 2004, 12:26 AM

I'm hardly an expert on Japanese mores, so maybe this is simply a matter of a culture that's alien to me, but I can't help thinking that Toda is yet another example (of which there are far too many) of someone with delusions of grandeur, not to say infallibility. It would be comical, if it weren't so irritating.

2.

eddie

August 18, 2004, 12:29 AM

Chuck Close gave a lecture at miracle theatre on miracle mile about a month or two ago where he described this incident. Everyone thought it was pretty amusing.
He also said he turned to making prints becuase his works are so labor intensive that he couldn't turn out as many for the public as he liked. I don't know how I feel about prints but Chuck is definetly inspiring in person. Mostly for the grandeur of his work but it's also as if his disability gives him a Stephen Hawking sense of authority and presence. I don't know if that makes sense. Anyway, it was pretty motivating.

3.

Michael Betancourt

August 18, 2004, 4:46 AM

I'm no expert on Japan or its culture, but the things I've heard suggest this rather elaborate statement was necessary to avoid giving offense, not because of inflated egos (I'm sure they're part of it) but because the culture is highly stratified, and still functions in feudal ways that dropped out of our culture centuries ago.

Communication is always more difficult when you must pay respect to rank constantly.

4.

Franklin

August 18, 2004, 5:00 AM

Also, it's not so galling coming from someone like Toda, a legitimate master in a culture that values skill more seriously than ours does for the most part, than the same sentiment in a recent art-school graduate expressing concern that he or she has yet not received a solo museum show at the age of 25. (Which happens, as was recently confided to me by a local gallerist.)

5.

Jerome du Bois

August 19, 2004, 1:02 AM

Franklin et al:

Since you posted this, it's been itching my mind: why? Why did you, who, I simply assume from the Zen thang, knows a lot about Japanese culture, post this thing? And the previous commenters haven't got a handle on it either. It bothers me that it bothers me.

I remember that scene from Sultan's book. But nothing is simple, especially with the Japanese. (You people -- not Franklin -- act like you've never read Shogun. It's nothing to be ashamed of either way!)

But let's not get too culture-specific here. I can imagine a lot of 25-year-old Japanese artists who are indignant not to have had a solo museum show yet. I can't name one, but I'll bet you the best dinner in Miami there are dozens.

Maybe Toda was thinking, "Haysoos, this Takada is long-winded -- I'll change the green, no problem, I'll lighten it, come on, I gotta pee! -- but he seems so traditional I don't want to offend him, so I'll listen politely."

While Takada was (maybe) thinking, "How do I honor these two men, who I admire so much? I've been away so long that I wonder . . . "

And Chuck Close was thinking, "This guy's great, this is going to be beautiful, just a few tweaks here and there, we'll work it out -- damn, what's taking so long, I need a smoke!"

I grew up in Hawaii in the late 50s and early 60s. Most of my friends were not Caucasian. In fact, I was a minority white -- a poi dog haole -- for fifteen years. Anyway, though my Asian friends always paid respect to their parents, as I did (my Dad was a Marine), we often banged our heads together making fun of their parents' elaborate manners.

What's the point? That it's complicated. My friends were trying to balance the past, the present, and future; just what we all do, every day. We Western folks have our own elaborate rituals.

Sincerely,

Jerome du Bois

6.

Franklin

August 19, 2004, 1:43 AM

I think that's why I put it up, and why I found the story amusing - sometimes things are complicated.

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