KEEP IT SIMPLE

Bangkok, 19 November, 2014

I was in Myanmar last week for the first time in my life, with a team of colleagues. Unfortunately, our trip coincided with an ASEAN Summit in the new capital Nay Pyi Taw, which was attended by sundry political worthies, including President Obama and Premier Li Keqiang. We seemed to have spent most of the week fleeing from these worthies. We hurriedly visited various government Ministries in Nay Pyi Taw in the two days before the Summit started and rode out of town to Yangon the night the politicos started arriving. We were congratulating ourselves on having missed the craziness which usually accompanies the presence of political heavyweights, but we had not reckoned on President Obama following us down to Yangon. His motorcading around the city to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and do various other things like visit a church snarled Yangon’s already chronically congested traffic and made our lives a misery as we threaded our way through back roads to arrive more or less on time at our various meetings.

But actually this post has nothing to do with President Obama or any other Big Cheese. It has to do with a stop we made somewhere in all this threading, at a market. One member of the team had made promises to his wife to bring a little something back to her, and the other team members thought this was an ideal occasion to pick up some Burmese bibelots. Unwillingly, I tagged along. As I feared, the market was a tourist trap: store after store of rubbish and store keepers hovering ready to pounce. But I preferred to walk around grouchily than sit in the van grouchily.

I had a faint glimmer of hope when I came across a store which sold lacquerware from Bagan. I’d read about the ancient Burmese king who had conquered his way through northern Thailand, Laos and over to Yunnan, and brought back skilled lacquerware craftsmen in his baggage train, using them to create a new luxury industry in his capital Pagan. Might I find something worth contemplating in the store?

Alas not. For one thing, I cannot stand places which look like this.

image

All that stuff pressing claustrophobically in on you! The feeling of being the proverbial elephant in a china shop, bumping into something and bringing mounds of breakables crashing down around your ears! My immediate reaction is to run out of such places. But I controlled my urge to run and looked. And liked not what I saw. This picture shows the typical designs being offered for sale.
image
Too much, too much! Too – damned – much! All those dense, dense designs. It makes me think of Australian Aboriginal art, which I wrote about in an earlier post. In art, in design, the KISS principle applies (Keep It Simple, Stupid!). Now it could just be that modern makers of Bagan lacquerware use these designs because tourists have shown a preference for them, and he who pays the piper calls the tune. But a look at older designs suggests that the Burmese kings and their aristocracy also liked busy designs, although this is a good deal better than the modern stuff.
image
No, give me Japanese lacquerware any day. Look at this bento box in the maki-e style
image
Or this box in the Aizu style
image
Or this tray in the Negoro style (where the upper red layers of lacquer are intended to gradually wear away with use, revealing the black lacquer underneath).
image
These are old fashioned if not antiques. Modern Japanese lacquerware is just as lovely. Look at this:
image
Or if you find that this has strayed too far from lacquerware, how about this vase?
image
Or if you find the design too modern, how about this?
image
Beauty is in simplicity of form and of pattern.

I have spoken.

_____________________________

Myanmar lacquerware store: https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4106/4989036093_92231568aa_z.jpg (in https://www.flickr.com/photos/kelvinlls/4989036093/)
Typical modern Bagan lacquerware: http://www.travelwireasia.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/IMG_6223.jpg (in http://www.travelwireasia.com/2012/07/5-great-arts-and-crafts-to-buy-in-burma/)
Yun lacqerware tray: http://image0-rubylane.s3.amazonaws.com/shops/owensantiques/263.1L.jpg (in http://www.rubylane.com/item/197251-263/Burmese-Red-Lacquer-Tray-Court-Scenes)
Maki-e bento box: http://image0-rubylane.s3.amazonaws.com/shops/781325/ju7.1L.jpg (in http://www.rubylane.com/item/781325-ju7/Japanese-Traditional-Laquer-Maki-e-Bento)
Aizu box: http://www.swarthmore.edu/library/exhibitions/japan/gallery/images/lacquer-box-2f.jpg (in http://www.swarthmore.edu/library/exhibitions/japan/gallery/lacquer-box.php)
Negoro tray: http://content.ngv.vic.gov.au/col-images/xl/EPUB000495.jpg (in http://publications.ngv.vic.gov.au/essays/negoro-lacquer-the-refined-beauty-and-rustic-ambience-of-medieval-japan/#.VGyipmIaySM)
Modern Japanese lacquerware-1: http://www.materialtimes.com/files/files/2014/03brezen/uru.jpg (in http://www.materialtimes.com/vsimame-si/jedovata-kraska.html)
Modern Japanese lacquerware-2: http://www.orientaltreasurebox.com/item.php?id=1601&cat_id=8 (in http://www.orientaltreasurebox.com/category.php?page=3&cat_id=8)
Modern Japanese lacquerware-3: http://toku-art.up.n.seesaa.net/toku-art/image/mutsumi20104.jpg?d=a75 (in http://toku-art.seesaa.net/archives/200709-1.html)

Published by

Abellio

I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. http://ipaintingsforsale.com/UploadPic/Gustav Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.