Euphemisms for Seasonal Affective Disorder

The artist Tetsuya Noda (b. 1940) makes prints of such commonplace objects as dishes drying in a drainer, a tomato plant, a pile of laundry, and an ashtray stuffed with cigarette butts.[1] Butts because he worries about his son, a chronic smoker. What father-artist wouldn’t worry, unless he’s a smoker, too, and inured to the risks associated with tobacco? Then he should have his vice without bringing his son into it. Anything else suggests a level of codependency that some see as touching and others as neglectful. The artist-father and his son meet in the backyard to breathe in and blow out smoke, look absently at each other’s hands and mouths, breathe in, blow out, glance skyward past birds on wires at the mood of the sky, breath in, blow out, listen for incidental sounds of neighborhood, breath in, blow out, smother butts under rubber soles to sweep up later. Everyone knows it’s the son alone who smokes and not the artist-father, whose dirty prints double as anti-smoking propaganda aimed at his child.

Tom’s second cousin Susan wants to know what his habit of arriving early reveals about his personality. What’s he supposed to tell her? That when he’s waiting outside the museum and she’s late, he experiences a dreamlike understanding that he’s living in the wrong time and place while looking in every direction to see if she’s coming? That the stakes are high even if to the naked eye he’s not suffering? She’ll be here soon, and it will be fine, and they will see the Noda exhibition and part ways at five. On his way home will he go grocery shopping for what his mother calls the essentials.

What’s a mimeograph machine anyway? Can a mimeograph smell good like a cigarette smells good or are all chemical odors off-putting to almost everyone these days? Unless his sense of smell is compromised, Noda must take it in while mimeographing his photographs to make his stencils. He must breathe it in while affixing stencils to silkscreens to transpose everyday images onto fine Japanese paper (washi). One image is the artist-father’s wife slouching in a Bergère chair. In another she undoes her trousers. In still another she sits beside her husband. They sit on their knees with one of their children peeking out from behind them. Elsewhere a child kicks up into a headstand while in an adjacent gallery a translucent daughter rises from dining chair ghostlike. When Tom asks Susan if the Noda process is overwrought, a little gimmicky, she thinks for a minute before advising him, when he sees the artworks for himself, to get out of the way of his emotions.

Seeking proof for Tom’s sake of the artist’s ‘deeply-engrained aesthetic consciousness’ surfacing in the prints of Noda, Susan warns him that a rose may act surreally large. “Take a step back,” she advises, “and look all around you.” It’s no rose though but the lower half of a daikon becoming the lower half of a pale lady, and the top, torso-like half, bushy greens. To impress him, it seems, Susan is calling this biomorphic as a segue into a print of a pair of walnuts hung on wood, their husks split without revealing the fruit inside. Or it’s the yonic peach hanging in a pose of vulnerability beside a scene from a race riot in America, beside the temple where the artist-father converts, beside an apartment building blurred in passing, beside the long road ahead. Whose may be this bellybutton? Tom blushes not because he feels inexperienced but because, given the ordinariness of the stuff, he’s not always sure what he’s looking at. He calls the picture forming in his mind “Twenty-something on First Date,” in which he alone is the subject.

A snapshot of Tom as a small child weeping makes him laugh because he has no recollection of what upset him. Overexposed, he looks like he has the sun at his back and is in a sense being born from it. He won’t share this with Susan for fear she’ll think he claims for himself a special solar status. Suffice to say that if he were a Noda publicizing his own aesthetic consciousness, he’d start not with that old photo in his mind but with a panorama of an overcast day containing long gray clouds, waterways carved into peninsulas, canal barges drawn by horses, channel locks of bygone days. Why channel locks now? What bygone technology? Why low-lying houses with flat roofs squatting in bunches up from tawny surfaces? Where are the people anyhow? These are family dwellings with no signs of sons and daughters and never any mention of those true individuals who, overexposed in childhood photos, carry within themselves such features of the mythical imagination as a firebird, the phoenix rising. But this is a horrible waste time, isn’t it? If only he could go now, if he could slip away without hurting Susan’s feelings, he might at last formulate in his exposed mind an apology to a world that finds his love of the old, the love itself, boring.

Tetsuya Noda print artist seasonal affective disorder first date first cousin self loathing

[1] Born in 1940, Tetsuya Noda is a print-artist and educator. Not only is he seen by many as Japan’s most important living artist, but he is also one of the most successful print-artists in the world.