World-renowned 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. The butts because he worries about his son being a chronic smoker. What father-artist wouldn’t worry unless, a smoker too, he’s 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 some see as a sign of parental neglect and others as the artist-father and his son stepping out into the backyard to breathe in and blow out smoke, look absently at each other’s hands and mouths, smother butts under rubber soles to sweep up later, gaze skyward past birds on wires into the mood of the sky, listen for incidental sounds of neighborhood. But this is a construction. Everyone knows it’s the son alone who smokes and not the artist-father, whose dirty prints double as anti-smoking propaganda.
Tom’s friend Susan wants to know what his habit of arriving early reveals about his personality. What’s he supposed to say? 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, he’ll do some grocery shopping.
What’s a mimeograph machine anyway? Can a mimeograph smell good like cigarette smoke smells good or are chemical odors off-putting to almost everyone these days? Unless his sense of smell is compromised, Noda must catch a whiff 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). Defamiliarizing an image with woodblock accents may at last make something old new again: see how the artist-father’s wife slouches in a Bergère chair. She undoes her trousers. She sits beside the husband. They sit on their knees with one of their children peeking out from behind them. A child kicking up into a headstand. Translucent daughter rises from dining chair ghostlike. When Tom asks Susan if the Noda process is overwrought and a little gimmicky, she thinks for a second before advising him, when he sees the prints for himself, to get out of the way of his emotions.
It’s around here somewhere. Speaking of a ‘deeply-engrained aesthetic consciousness’ in the prints of Noda, Susan shows Tom something one must not miss: the lower half of a daikon looks like the lower half of a pale lady, and the top, torso-like half, stark greens. Susan calls this biomorphic as she exposes him to a print of two walnuts, a dry pair hung on wood, husks split naturally without revealing the fruit inside. See next one yonic peach, next a pose in human frailty, now a scene from a race riot in America, now the temple where the artist-father converts, now an apartment building blurred in passing, now the long road ahead, now whose bellybutton. Tom blushes not because he’s inexperienced, but because he doesn’t always understand the relevance of what he’s looking at. He calls the picture fading in his mind “Nervous Youth On First Date,” in which he is one of the subjects.
It’s around here somewhere: A childhood snapshot of Tom weeping used to make him laugh because he has no recollection of what upset him. Overexposed, it looks as if 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. Instead, he imagines the print he’d make if he had the power of a Noda to share his personality with everyone: a panorama on an overcast day contains long gray clouds, waterways carved into peninsulas, canal barges drawn by horses, and channel locks. But why channel locks? What rueful technology now? And why low-lying houses with flat roofs sitting in bunches up from the the water? Where are the people anyhow? These are family dwellings, for sure, but with no outward signs of good sons around and never again a thing, as concerns the Toms the world, like a phoenix.