Monday, May 23, 2011

Fukushima Samurai in the nuclear fires

Fukushima Samurai in the nuclear fires, oil and bitumen on board, 90x120 cm

UPDATE 8-8-11: 
Fukushima samurai in the nuclear fires has been published in the tri-annual journal Sortir du nucléaire, by the French anti-nuclear network Réseau "Sortir du nucléaire", a federation of over 900 anti-nuclear groups from around the world with a membership of over 53,000. It is out in the Summer edition, No. 50, which you can read HERE. Xavier Rabilloud, the editor, found my Fukushima work on line and asked if i would allow him to publish a reproduction.

I find it very satisfying that my art is seen as a relevant contemporary voice in the world and is sought out for publication.

 I guess that makes the whole of my Fukushima series a sort of Neo-Arte Nucleare. (Arte Nucleare was a French art movement of 1950's Art Informel).

Now there were three children from the land of Israel
    Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego!
Ah they took a little trip to the land of Babylon
    Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego!
And ol’ Nebudchanezzer was the king of Babylon
    Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego!
So they took a lot of gold, and made ‘em an idol
    Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego!
“Oh, you gotta bow down and worship the idol!”
    Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego!
Ah, but the children of Israel would not bow down!
    Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego!
So the king cast the children in the fiery furnace
    Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego!
He heaped on coal and red-hot brimstone
    Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego!
Even made it seven times hotter than it oughtta be!
    Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego!
Now they burned up the soldiers that the king had put there
    Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego!
Oh, Shadrack! Meshach, Abednego!
Shadrack, song written by Robert MacGimsey In 1930.

Hear the inimitable Louis Armstrong perform this song on Youtube here.

Which leads us to story-time.

Nebuchadnezzar ran a prosperous economy. Soon everyone in Babylon worshipped the golden idol of high dividend yields and strong capital gains. Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego, three foreign workers, would not bend the knee to Babylonian glory. So Big N had them cast into the fiery furnace.

Both the energy company's plant operating procedures and government regulations specified the permissible upper ranges for thermal production. But there is no rage like that of an emperor who has been revealed to have no clothes, so Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace stoked seven times hotter than it ought to be.

The plant CEO, seeing an opportunity for greater shareholder returns, was only too willing to bend the rules. Security personnel patrolling the facility, believed to be a safe distance from the thermal source, were consumed by the radiant heat in direct violation of the occupational health and safety standards for all non-engineering human resource units. Dutiful workers became collateral damage to a boom economy.

It was into this furnace that the Babylonian State executive, with the connivance of the courts, condemned Shadrack, Meshach, Abednego, while Nebuchadnezzar, from the safety of his ziggarat penthouse God-King suite overlooking the Tiber, watched them on TV as they pushed on through the flames .

His spin doctors were already working on the press release: something about "volunteer plant workers suffering regrettable collateral damage while struggling to contain Unit One" but that "the government assures the populace that there is absolutely no risk to nearby residents" because "a meltdown of the furnace core is an impossibility" given the advanced state of Babylonian technology.

And, gentle reader, you may make your own connections, if any, between this story, that song and this my latest painting, Fukushima Samurai in the nuclear fires.

This is not a large format painting. In terms of my art practice, this one is about consolidating an artistic concept.  The concept in question is the motif of the hazmat suit as metaphor for the events at Fukushima Daiichi. 

And so a fragmanted figure, all identity swallowed in the shell of the suit and by the ambiguity of smokey fallout, struggles through the consuming elemental fluxus all around.

These events in turn, to my mind, are representative of the limitations of human endeavour, that is, the feet of clay in all human enterprise - human imperfection.

But my Masters Degree research project is about expressive mark-making, and therefore I also wanted to refine my monoprinting mark-making technique. Through creating this particular work i now have far greater understanding of the degree of randomness of the mark. Tis a function of: the wetness of the paint, the amount of pressure during printing, and how various tools maybe used for applying that pressure.

However, i never want complete control or anything near it because that would rob the paint of its unique material agency and so remove happen-chance from the work. Serendipity is not only essential to the technique but, subliminally, to the expressive force and meaning of the work.

The chaos of the flow of paint is eloquent about the chaos of events, the chaos at the edges of civilisation, the chaos in the heart of human social organisation ... and the unpredictable fluxus in our own lives. 


  1. Harry, these Fukushima Samurai works are of course disturbing but they are incredibly powerful. I like your views on the control of the paint. Must be where some of the power of your paintings come from. A bit of chaos.

  2. Morning Harry,
    Or should I have said, "mourning"? This is the most horrible, terrifying, scary and intense of your entire far.
    I really don't know how much further this can go, but with the obvious fires burning Hades-hot in your belly, who knows?
    And when this magnificent body of work is housed in a museum, as it surely will be, your dedicated followers will take pride in their (our)immediate recognition of it's significance, creative process and terrible beauty.
    Harry, you've hit a grand-slam home run and I hope the world will soon see this monumentally important work.

  3. The way you have rendered the haz-mat man is poignantly monstrous. It embodies the fearful awareness that there is a real human being within the faceless anonymity of the suit. The threatening red marks of the background mimic the suit. It's as if this 'person's' life source had already left the suit and is hovering over him.

  4. This is a wonderful post, Harry, full of things to ponder and take to heart. It is a pleasure and a privilege to see where this series is taking you - and anyone else who views it. Many thanks.

  5. A beautiful but frightening painting.

    I will think about this--we have the CEO bending the rules for money, and we have you, the artist, bending the rules for art--in doing so, you show us the hell of Fukushama. Randomness, imperfection, intention.......connections.

  6. you are a great painter and writer, Harry

  7. Harry,
    this is so great! the tratament is amazing!
    intense and very expressive, [reminded me Rembrandt...] allied with this song and his narrative...
    this work is fantastic!

  8. Beautiful and frightening.

    Somehow, there is a connection between the CEO's bending the rules for money, and your bending the rules for art. One led to disaster and the other to triumph. Great work and thought.

  9. Hi John. I'm delighted you are interested in my views on paint management in monoprinting, sine you are the artist to whom i'm indebted for developing an interest in the process in the first place, thanks to your evocative landscapes.

    If there is a power in the work, then yes indeed, it is little more than me harnessing chaos, rather like a physicist holding anti-matter in a magnetic bottle! How else does one control the uncontrollable?

  10. Your optimisim is a real tonic, Gary. I'm afraid mine is student work and no gallery would look seriously at it. But that doesn't stop having to something to say.

    Trouble is, there is no market for troubled or troubling work. Who would want it on their apartment walls? So i'm caught between a rock and a hard place, lol.

  11. I've become more aware of that truth, Davida, that there is someone inside that suit. My next post is almost ready.

  12. Thanks to you Gabriella for following the evolution of the work. It's not everyone's cup of tea, i know, but at this point on my student learning curve, and this point in the turn of world events, it's what i have to do. You interest and support means a great deal to me.

  13. A poetic turn of mind there, Hallie, and it's just how one needs to come at this work.

    I wrote some posts back that i wanted to move further away from realism and i guess i meant by that 'move away from literalism'. I come at this theme with a poetic turn of mind.

    So i'm thrilled that you are seeing paradoxes, ironies, & metaphors in my work and though that, in the events that inspire the work

  14. Thanks Celeste. Though i did wonder what people would make my out-break of parable-telling. Promise not to do it too often, haha.

  15. So pleased the work and its setting speaks to you, Denise. Thank you.