East to East Exhibition

East to East is an exhibition of 30+ artists and makers based in East Anglia, who share their appreciation for the aesthetic and techniques originating in Chinese and Japanese art and craft. They explore how a natural colour palette, handcrafted techniques in glass and ceramics, and structured textiles like weaving have struck a chord in the east of England, finding favour with an audience looking for more sustainable design principles.

Contributing artists and makers trace the most recent stages of the long and winding path between eastern and western art and craft, to the present day. They encompass sculpture and handmade objects, as well as paintings on canvas, wooden panel, paper or fabric, ceramics – with expertise in Japanese and Chinese techniques like raku, porcelain, decorative glaze and lacquer work, folded and cut paper as well as woodblock prints.

East to East will accompany the main exhibition of sculpture and paintings by Sean Scully at Houghton Hall – Smaller Than The Sky, also opening on 23 April and running into the autumn, until 29 October 2023. The exhibition will encompass Scully’s outdoor sculptures displayed in the grounds and parkland. Also included will be a selection of recent paintings, works on paper, and a few key works from earlier in his career. These will be displayed in the house, the North Colonnade and in the contemporary gallery.

East to East

Like Sean Scully, exhibitors taking part in East to East share an aesthetic that is free of visual noise. Most of the artists and makers follow in the tradition of creating their work by hand, using techniques that require skill in the manual manipulation of material. There is a conceptual precision running through all their work, with many working in series, producing variants on an initial idea. This is in line with Sean Scully’s long held belief that his work reveals its qualities slowly, and with material integrity.

East to East proposes that there is a bridge between art from the east and what is happening here, now in East Anglia. We hope that it will help lay to rest assumptions about the UK being a more isolated place post Brexit, resistant to cultural exchange. Historically, this was not the case. England’s maritime trade routes were opened up throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as western contact with China introduced new styles in painting, decor, ceramics, and garden and landscape design, which flourished in the eighteenth century. Europe’s infatuation with all things Japanese only took hold in the latter half of the nineteenth century upon the reopening of Japan to diplomacy and trade in 1853.

As Europe grew wealthy through its economic expansion from industrialisation and colonialism, naval merchants began importing Japanese artwork and objects in regular consignments. In France the Impressionist and post-Impressionist movement, including artists like Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and a little later, Henri Matisse, were heavily influenced by Japanese art, particularly Ukiyo-e, or colour woodblock prints as well as ceramics that were mimicking traditional Chinese designs. Within twenty years the birth of the English Aesthetic Movement cemented interest in Japanese culture. Their design principles, including approaches to subject choice, perspective, and colour, became distinctive features in European art and craft. The cultural significance of art from the east has travelled on throughout the twentieth century championed by figures like the potter Bernard Leach and, designer and silversmith Christopher Dresser, becoming part of modernism’s lingua franca, which has meant the influence has remained a feature in the arts and crafts to this day.

EAST TO EAST: Art and Craft with an Asian Influence
The Stables, Houghton Hall, Norfolk, PE31 6UE
23 April – October 2023

Contemporary and Country

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