"I thought it might be interesting to paint the postcard still lifes monochromatically in aizome blue."
It is a really exciting time for Aaron Caycedo-Kimura.
His debut collection, Ubasute, is a gorgeous chapbook. I am going to talk about his chapbook in RHINO Reviews (forthcoming). His full-length book will be available in 2022.
He shared his new project, Aizome postcards. It is a strange coincidence, but my grandmother had practiced Aizome, Kusaki-zome, & Shibori for a long time. I still have some her works with me, so I just opened up my old suitcase thinking of her. Now, her Alzheimer's condition is worsening, and she was just moved to a hospital.
Aizome blue is different from any other blue. It is dark, slightly brighter than the bottom of ocean. It is a blue mixed with both sunshine and shadow. It is the color of Japanese everyday life. Caycedo-Kimura's paintings captured it.
When I was in elementary school, I tried Aizome-Sibori with my grandmother. Even though I wore gloves, I ended up died blue from the head to toe. I had blue spots on my cheeks all afternoon. My sister had a flower pattern and she succeeded. Mine was an incomplete mess with blue and white dots on a cloth.
I feel close to my Japanese identity with Caycedo-Kimura's works today.
by Aaron Caycedo-Kimura
Every year from December through January, I participate in an exhibit at the Chester Gallery in Chester, Connecticut, now owned and operated by artist Nancy Pinney. The exhibit is called the Postcard Show, a magical gathering of pieces that are 4” x 6” or smaller from about sixty local and regional artists.
Inspired by Sol Lewitt, who had much of his framing done at the gallery and was an early contributor to the show, the former owners Jack and Sosse Baker came up with the idea more than twenty years ago, just because they liked postcards. The work ranges from watercolors to oils, from photographs to collages, from multi-media to the three-dimensional. Over the years, I’ve painted still lifes, landscapes, and buildingscapes in oil for this show. Since many of my still lifes sold in 2018 and 2019, I decided to make them again for the 2020 holiday season, but I wanted to try something a little different.
In May of 2020, I started following the Instagram account of a boutique in Tokyo called Blue & White (@blueandwhite_japan) at the recommendation of writer Mari L’Esperance, author of the poetry collection The Darkened Temple. The store, which collects and sells blue and white crafts, is one of her favorites. The clothing and textile items in their inventory are all aizome products (indigo-dyed). They also collect old handmade tools and furnishings, which appeal to my rustic tastes.
After following the account for a while, I thought it might be interesting to paint the postcard still lifes monochromatically in aizome blue. At the same time, I felt it was a bit risky. Part of the appeal of my previous still lifes was the handling of temperature—the degree of warmth and coolness in colors and their interrelationships—to create harmony, atmosphere, and depth. I had some experience years ago painting monochromatic figures and portraits, and so I knew that without a full palette of colors, including yellow in particular, one had to rely just on tonality to make a compelling image.
My first challenge was getting the right hue. I drove to the art store and bought a 200 ml tube of “indigo,” thinking that would be the easiest solution. I started by painting a white Chinese soup spoon. I like to paint from life whenever I can and used one that belonged to my mother. For paper, I used Wallis Archival Sanded Paper (museum grade), which is hard on the brushes—I use inexpensive ones that I buy every year—but I like the way it holds the paint. On finishing the painting, I loved the color; however, it wasn’t as blue as I thought aizome products usually are. It was grayer. So I mixed it with ultramarine and a bit of cerulean. I painted the spoon again, almost an exact copy of the first image just to compare. Satisfied with the new blue, I painted a series of fourteen postcards, the first five for the gallery and then an extra nine to sell from my studio.
To test whether or not people would respond well to them, I started posting the first ones on my social media accounts starting in November. I still wasn’t certain the general public would “warm” to the them because of their lack of temperature. Many times I find that what I like isn’t necessarily what everyone else does. To my delight, they were well received. I think blue is just an appealing color.
The most challenging aspects of painting these were making the relationships of light and dark accurate, or at least convincing, and also choosing objects that would give the paintings nice ranges of lights and darks. I usually block out a painting first by starting with the lightest tone then working my way down to the darkest, keeping in mind that the highlight will be pure white and needs to pop, even when it’s on a white object. The relationship between a white object and its highlight is greater than one might think.
I tried different objects and combinations of objects, trying to keep the tonality dynamic. Generally, I found that white objects worked the best, standing out to the eye like an actor onstage in the spotlight. There were a couple of exceptions where I chose as the main object something dark, accented with a smaller, lighter object or objects. These seemed to work well, too.
One special outcome of this endeavor is that many poets and other writers I know now own some of these postcards. I love the thought of these paintings in their homes as they create their own work, keeping them company, and maybe inspiring them in some way. I'm currently working on some larger monochromatic “aizome paintings” with the hope that they will be equally successful.
Aaron Caycedo-Kimura is a writer and visual artist. He is the author of Ubasute, which won the 2020 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition, and the author of the full-length collection Common Grace, forthcoming from Beacon Press in Fall 2022. His poetry has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Poet Lore, DMQ Review, Tule Review, Louisiana Literature, The Night Heron Barks, and elsewhere. Aaron earned his MFA in creative writing from Boston University and is a recipient of a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship in Poetry. He is also the author and illustrator of Text, Don’t Call: An Illustrated Guide to the Introverted Life (TarcherPerigee, 2017).