Asia Society art exhibition: “Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan”

Nyoirin Kannon. Kamakura period, early 14th century. Japanese cypress (hinoki) with pigment, gold powder, and cut gold leaf (kirikane). H. 19 1/2 x W. 15 x D. 12 in. (49.5 x 38.1 x 30.5 cm). Asia Society, New York: Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Asia Society/Wall Street Journal:

Last week, the Wall Street Journal featured Asia Society‘s upcoming Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan exhibition as one of several ways to “travel the world” and absorb international culture without ever leaving New York:

This exhibition links artistic style to spiritual practice. As religious trends of the time brought worshipers closer to their deities, sculptors pursued innovations in woodwork, carving expressive, humanlike forms that were intended to “come alive” during public ritual and private devotion. The show features a stellar lineup of figures, mostly carved in cypress and adorned with gilding and lacquer. Look for the miniature Buddha figures and sutra text, fascinating examples of tiny items that artists left embedded in hollow spaces to empower their figures from within.

The Kamakura exhibition begins on February 9 and goes through May 8.

Click here for more information about the exhibit.

Ikenaga Yasunari’s dream-like paintings of women using the traditional Japanese style of Nihonga

Ikenaga Yasunari - Painting

Beautiful Decay (by Hayley Evans): 

Ikenaga Yasunari paints tranquil portraits of women immersed in elegant floral patterns. His work is a curious blend of traditional Japanese-style paintings (nihonga) and modern imagery. Whereas nihonga manifests itself in Yasunari’s bold, monochromatic contrasts and the absence of outlines in the patterns, the subjects are all donned in modern clothing, and their hair and makeup also convey a distinctly contemporary style. Yasunari’s chosen materials are based in tradition, involving a combination of sumi-ink (soot ink) and mineral pigments painted on linen cloth. In exploring modern subjects using traditional techniques, he reinvests an older cultural, artistic practice with an ongoing significance.

The beauty of Yasunari’s work arrives in the interplay between complexity and serenity; much like Gustav Klimt’s decorative paintings wherein patterns coalesce around a highlighted female figure, Yasunari’s works strike a balance between the undulating, seamless background and the subject embraced in its flow. The gentle sepia tones likewise enhance the paintings’ quiet, almost autumnal, atmosphere. Blending gentle imagery with harmonious compositions, Yasunari’s works are meditative portraits embodying youth, reverie, and dreams.

Visit Yasunari’s website to view more of his works.

Ikenaga Yasunari - Painting

Ikenaga Yasunari - Painting

Ikenaga Yasunari - PaintingIkenaga Yasunari - PaintingIkenaga Yasunari - PaintingIkenaga Yasunari - PaintingIkenaga Yasunari - PaintingIkenaga Yasunari - PaintingIkenaga Yasunari - PaintingIkenaga Yasunari - Painting

Animated GIFs illustrate traditional Japanese woodblock prints with humor

Segawa 37 - Gif 1

Beautiful Decay (by Tamar Akcay): 

Segawa 37 pays tribute to Japanese art by creating GIFs from the original work of traditional Japanese woodblock prints, “pictures of the floating world’.

Originally, Japanese woodblock paintings, also called Ukiyo-e, were depictions of everyday scenes in Japan. Affordable, they represented the possibility for the mass to access art. Segawa 37 gives a new life to these prints by altering their core. From hyper realistic to surreal, the artist offers to the modern world a new way of looking at a classic form of art. 

The most emblematic representation of Japan, a contemplation of movements; calm and serene, but always intense remains within those wooden prints. The artist’s reinterpretation of Katsushika Hokusai’s images is disturbing the stillness and tranquility of the scenes… What is meant to be admired in almost a meditative state is now entertaining.

Discover Segawa 37’ series of Gifs on the GifMagazine award page sponsored by Adobe.

Segawa 37 - Gif 3Segawa 37 - Gif 6Segawa 37 - Gif 2

Segawa 37 - Gif 7Segawa 37 - Gif 5

Edo and Meiji era Japanese artwork now available for free download

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Attention all designers, artists, fashion enthusiasts and people who just appreciate some nice Japanese artwork: The Smithsonian Libraries should be your best friends.

Among their thousands of other free artwork and books, The Smithsonian Libraries and the Freer and Slacker Galleries, Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Arts now offer free downloads of thousands of beautiful Japanese prints.

Haven’t you ever wanted the simple yet colorful and whimsical prints of Meiji era (1868-1912) artwork as a digital file on your computer? Yeah, we have too and we’re really excited about this cool find.

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The collection is in fact a series of monthly design magazines, entitled Shin-bijutsukai.They were released in 1902 to show various designs by famous artists of the day. Artists featured include the editor himself, Korin Furuya, and his predecessor, Kamisaka Sekka. Sekka is known for being one of the first to incorporate Western tastes, styles and methods into traditional Japanese-style works. Furuya carried on this new, modern Japanese style and helped spread it around the world.

▼ Can you see the Western influence?

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Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 17

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 17

If you want digital access to the pictures above and hundreds more, head to The Smithsonian Libraries website. There are two volumes of Shin-bijutsukai and both can be downloaded in their entirety by clicking the links towards the bottom of the website here.

Be aware, the files are kind of big, so you might want to stick with computers, not smart phones for this one.

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If you’re more into traditional artwork, the Freer and Slacker Museums also offer countless free downloads of artwork from all over Asia here. In the Japan section, you can find Edo period woodblock prints from world-famous artists, such as Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige.

▼ “Wood-block Print of Two Fish with Floral Sprays and a Poetic Inscription” by Utagawa Hiroshige.

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▼ “Merry Makers at Cherry Blossom Festival” by Yeisen

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Sometimes staring at pictures in museums just isn’t enough; you want to get them from the wall and onto your computer. Now you can and what’s even better, is that they’re available for free. Thank you technology and thank you Smithsonian Library.

Kumiko: The exquisitely delicate side of traditional Japanese woodwork

shippou

RocketNews 24:

A few weeks ago we introduced you to the world of traditional Japanese woodwork, a technique that uses no nails or hardware, just precise joints, to keep furniture and even buildings together. This technique is also used to create intricate, wooden, functional artwork, known as kumiko, which is used within Japanese style-rooms to create a stunning atmosphere.

The traditional handicraft has been passed down for centuries, however, the trade is sadly dying out. In response, artisans are taking the age-old concept and applying the designs to more modern-day household items, such as chairs and lampshades. The results are nothing short of exquisite!

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According to Tanihata Co., a kumiko workshop in Toyama Prefecturekumiko has been around since the Asuka era (600-700 AD). The craft was originally used almost exclusively for sliding doors, room dividers and ramma (the decorative wooden piece above many doors in traditional Japanese buildings). While providers like Tanihata still make these products, modernization has brought a decrease in demand for such traditional room components, so craftsmen are broadening their horizons.

Ramma, the decorative section above doors and walls

らんま

Regardless of what they are making, the time and care put into each piece never changes. If you thought making buildings and furniture in the traditional Japanese style was painstaking, prepared to be wowed.

Just like furniture-makers, kumiko artists are very particular about the wood they use. While, it’s easier to use mass-produced particle board, you lose the ability to be as precise, the elegant atmosphere of real wood, and of course, the great smell! When choosing wood, they prefer to use that of coniferous trees, namely cedar and cypress, because they grow straight and the wood has a high-quality fine grain.

▼ Kumiko is often made of wood from tall, thin, Japanese cypress trees.

Japanese_cypress_woods_C032473

Once the wood is picked out, cut and planed, they make the frame for the piece, whether it be a coaster or a ceiling lampshade. Next comes the difficult and intricate part of the process, which makes kumiko what it is. Hundreds of small pieces of wood are thinly sliced and shaved with a variety of tools, such as old-fashioned knives and saws, plus new machinery too. These tiny pieces have to be precisely cut down to the micron (1/1000 mm) or they won’t fit together perfectly! Once cut, the pieces are carefully assembled by being slid into place in an elaborate design within the frame.

▼ A variety of machinery and hand-tools are used to make and assemble the delicate pieces.

hammer

The designs for kumiko pieces aren’t chosen randomly. In fact, many of the nearly 200 patterns used today have been around since the Edo era (1603-1868). Each design has a meaning or is mimicking a pattern in nature that is thought to be a good omen. The designs are not just pretty, they also distribute light and wind in a calming and beautiful way.

▼ The Shippou design. In Buddhist scripture, shippou refers to a set of treasures (which includes gold, silver, lapis lazuli, quartz, coral and agate), and the never-ending, circular design represents harmony.

shippou

▼ The goma design is suggestive of nutritional and abundant sesame flowers, which are thought to promote longevity. This design is often used for ramma.

gomadai

▼ Sanjyu-hifu is a design that utilizes thin strips to create diamond shapes. It’s thought to mimic very fertile water plants, a good omen for prosperous offspring and good health. With this is mind, sanjyu-hifu is often used in hotels and wedding halls.

sanju

▼ The Asanoha pattern takes after the hemp leaf. Hemp plants are known for growing quickly and straight-up, as well as for being sturdy plants. For this reason, the design has come to be used commonly with baby clothes too.

asadai

▼ These are some of the more common designs.

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As we mentioned earlier, artisans are turning their focus to bringing their trade to the modern world, while still sticking with the traditional roots of kumiko. With this in mind, they have been creating beautiful art that can be used on a daily basis in any home.

ceiling

▼ You can even get kumiko chairs!

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lamp 2

round lamp

Due to the drop in demand for traditional Japanese interior decoration, such as ramma,the kumiko trade has also seen a decrease in the number of young craftsmen. But hopefully, with the technique being applied to modern living, more young people will step up to the challenge and carry on this intricate and beautiful craft for future generations.

Incredible origami dinosaurs, angels, flowers, and other creatures created by artist Adam Tran

Big Jaws

Laughing Squid:

Adam Tran, a skilled origami artist from Vietnam and member of the Vietnam Origami Group (VOG) has created an incredible series of dinosaurs, flowers, and other creatures, all through the beautiful craft of folding paper.

 

Green Dinosaur

Angel

Centipede

Red Flowers

Skeleton

Orchids

Praying Mantis

photos by Adam Tran

Check out “The Delicate Art of Creating Bonsai Trees”

American Bonsai tree nursery Bonsai Mirai has commissioned filmmaker Ryan J. Bush to create a film featuring Bonsai master, Ryan Neil. The Bonsai master has been practicing the craft for over twenty years, perfecting the challenges that come with honing this historic art.

Check out the seven-minute film, and take a look into Neil’s mind and the broad and generally mysterious art of Bonsai tree planting.

Profile: Essayist Masako Shirasu helped define the tastes of postwar Japan in almost every aspect of aesthetics and design

Japan Times:

If you use beautiful things every day, you will naturally cultivate an eye for beautiful things without giving it a second thought. In the end, you will be repelled when you encounter the ugly and the fake. If only all Japan would come to see this, how much more joyous our lives would be and how genial and gentle people would be!”

Few Japanese lived a life in closer contact with everyday beauty than the woman who penned these words, Masako Shirasu, and I suspect that no Japanese has as much to tell us today about how to revitalize a culture caught in the cul-de-sac of value stagnation.

She published more than 50 books during her lifetime, although she did not start writing in earnest until she was in her early 30s. Her complete collected works, published by Shinchosha in 2001-02, include more than 60 books, not counting those she co-authored.

She defined the tastes of postwar Japan in almost every aspect of aesthetics and design. Yet despite the immense erudition underpinning her principles and the uncommon elegance of her style, she was totally lacking in pretense and affectation.

I believe, without a doubt, culture to be something that exists in the life of every single person as a part of their life from one day to another,” she wrote in a notebook in 1947. “Being faithful to yourself and becoming engrossed in your work, that’s culture.”

The evolution of this iconic figure from pampered little princess to Japan’s premier advocate of the simple, the austere and the unadorned in Japanese art brings to light a remarkable story.

Masako was born on Jan. 7, 1910, in a mansion at Nagatacho, Tokyo. Both of her grandfathers were admirals in the Imperial Japanese Navy. Just 2½ years before the death of Emperor Meiji, Japan was on the cusp of monumental change both domestically and internationally. Cultural and political democratization were to be the hallmarks of the new Taisho Era (1912-26), and the Japanese people aspired to be the equals, on the world stage, of the dominant European powers. And yet the society itself had only half-emerged out of the hard shell of the feudalism that had confined its progressive growth for centuries.

Masako had a foot in both camps from a very early age. At the age of 4, she began taking lessons in noh theater, the ritualistic performance art that had come to be the symbol of staid refinement during the Edo Period (1603-1867). When she was 14, she became the first female to perform on a noh stage. At the same age, she left Japan to enter school in the United States.

She studied at Hartridge School (now Wardlaw-Hartridge School) in New Jersey. Hartridge was known as a girls’ prep school for the exclusive Vassar College. Her experiences there, and at summer camp in Massachusetts among the privileged classes, turned her into a cultivated native speaker of English. But they weren’t to last long.

Her father, a man of stalwart morality and, apparently, unending generosity, lost his money in business, and Masako was forced to sail back to Japan in 1928. As fate would have it, another bankruptcy — that of the father of Jiro Shirasu — also saw the young son returning to Japan from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom the same year. Once back home in Japan, Masako and Jiro met and were married the next year, when she was 19.

Jiro, born on Feb. 17, 1902, was more than 6 feet (183 cm) tall, devastatingly handsome and a man of highly sophisticated westernized tastes. He had been sent to the United Kingdom after graduating middle school and had immediately taken to the lifestyle of the country gentleman, driving a Bentley around town and racing a Bugatti on weekends. Up to the end of his life in 1985, he drove a Porsche about the Japanese countryside.

When, shortly after the war, he was appointed by Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida as councillor of the Central Liaison Office and given the task of being go-between for Yoshida with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the Allied powers, Masako called him “a straightforward obstinate samurai,” a fitting adversary to the pontifical general. A little later, Jiro played an instrumental role in laying the groundwork for Japan’s postwar economic recovery as deputy head of the Economic Stabilization Agency. (Incidentally, Jiro worked, for a time, for The Japan Advertiser, an English-language newspaper that was absorbed by The Japan Times in 1940.)

But Masako and her obstinate samurai both realized as early as 1940 that Japan was destined to lose the war in Asia. Concluding in 1942 that Tokyo was bound to suffer mass destruction, they purchased a dilapidated thatched-roof farmhouse in what is now Machida, then a village located away from potential targets. There, at least, they could grow their own food while they waited for the war to end. They collected butterbur sprouts, myōga (Japanese ginger) and seri (Japanese parsley) from nearby fields, ate bamboo shoots from their backyard garden and baked bread from homemade flour. (This house, called Buaiso, is now a museum that is open to the public.)

Masako’s sharp eye on the mores of her people can be seen clearly in something she wrote in “Shirasu Masako Jiden” (“The Autobiography of Masako Shirasu”):

During the war there was a thing called the tonarigumi (neighborhood association). They would come to the aid of people in need. I didn’t take to this institution. The Japanese may be an honest people, but when they start helping you they also begin to tell you what to do. That’s fine up to a point, but it gradually escalates and they are soon telling you what you have to like and dislike and what you have to do in your daily life. All of a sudden, your clothes are too loud or your manicure too conspicuous. We are still a people like this even though the era has changed.

“The government and the military were overly optimistic and thought you could protect yourself against bombing by passing around buckets and waving broomsticks in the air. When we left the city, the word sokai (evacuation) was not yet in use, and anyone who escaped from Tokyo was labelled a traitor.”

It was the experience of living in the farmhouse, I believe, that transformed Masako, instilling in her the sense of what is absolutely necessary to survive in body and spirit. After all, the Japanese aesthetic is founded on the essence of all things.

Not long after the war she met brilliant men such as Hideo Kobayashi, Japan’s foremost literary critic; antiques’ guru Jiro Aoyama, about whom she subsequently wrote a book; and Hidemi Kon, author and, from 1968, the first director of the newly-created Agency for Cultural Affairs.

Masako blossomed as a fiercely original essayist on all subjects relating to culture. Late in life, Jiro wrote of her, “My old lady is amazing. Everyone else just reads about a place without going there, but she always sets out to wherever it is even just to write a few pages about the place. No one does that anymore.”

When Tokyo hosted the Olympic Games in 1964, she left the capital for Shikoku to walk the island on a pilgrimage to its many temples. She visited scores of out-of-the-way places in Japan to view old noh masks. These masks are primarily held in private collections, and owners are reluctant to send them away for display. In preparation for a ground-breaking study of the old temples and stone art in rural Nara described in a book titled “Kakurezato” (“Hidden Village”), she made monthly trips to the area over a period of years and trod every path there.

The key to understanding her passion for Japanese art can be found here, in the rough beaten paths leading to it.

As noh theater has its hashigakari (bridge to the stage) and kabuki its hanamichi (runway from the stage through the auditorium),” she wrote, “life’s charm is not a result but rather the journey toward a result.”

She saw Japanese art, in all its spare simplicity, as an unending process leading to natural imperfection.

He hates being called an auteur or a ceramic artist and never uses the word ‘a work of art’ when talking about his pots,” she wrote of the renowned Iga-ware potter Masatake Fukumori in her book “Nihon no Takumi” (“The Ingeniousness of Japan”). “The reason why he became so interested in food is because he wanted to create the plates to put it on.

Her entire life she was attracted to the act of creativity, focusing on the creators and their pure relationship to their materials. “What we need is not artists but artisans,” she wrote in 1947, referring to the craft of dyeing, but applying the statement to all the arts. “People attempt to create art and fail. If you create something with great skill, it may very well result in art.”

She went so far as to view nature through the lens of its fashioning at the hands of those artisans. She professed a love for things that displayed an ubuna (artless) art. She loved the phrase hana o ikeru (arrange flowers) because of its connotation of “bringing flowers to life.”

The fleeting nature of the flower,” she wrote, “is brought to life for the first time as the perfect harmony of stillness and movement, immutability and fluidity, thanks to the vase it’s in.”

And there you have it: It is the artificial container that gives life to nature as a medium to experience something spiritual and profound. The vessel is the message. Nature gives rise to art, and art illuminates it in return.

She spent more than half a century after the war probing the relationship between nature and art, concluding that “there is nothing in the world as all-encompassing as Japanese nature. Religion, art, history and literature are latent within it.”

She was a superb dresser drawn to the craft of fabric making, in her later years favoring clothes designed by Missoni. She traveled extensively around Iran, France, Spain and Hungary.

She was a lover of Japanese cuisine who said, “Eat what you feel like eating all the time. Those food connoisseurs and gourmets who glow with self-satisfaction give me the creeps.”

At Katsuragi, Nara Prefecture, she went straight back to the very roots of Japan’s culture, from the time before influences from China and Korea swayed it.

Nothing stirs the human imagination as the primeval natural landscape and faith as found in Katsuragi,” she wrote in “Kakurezato.” And yet her library of some 10,000 items — a collection that is still preserved at Buaiso — has a great many books relating to world culture, from texts in Latin to Proust and Gide, from Dostoevsky to Elle.

Masako died on Dec. 26, 1998, and is buried at Shingetsuin Temple in Mita City, Hyogo Prefecture, beside her husband, Jiro, who predeceased her by 13 years.

She stands as a prime and perfect symbol — I would even go as far as to say, a beacon of light — for the coming decades in Japan, where a renewal of the spirit is the sine qua non of social and economic regeneration. I think she should appeal to young Japanese, this fascinating and free-spirited woman who wrote:

Looking back, it seems that I’ve spent my whole life dawdling by the wayside, from one road to another. . . . I may have lost something on the way, but I think I have gained more.”

Takashi Murakami “In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow” @ Gagosian Gallery New York

Image of Takashi Murakami "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" @ Gagosian Gallery New York

Contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami is currently showcasing his major exhibition, titled ”In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow,” at Gagosian Gallery New York. A range of new paintings and sculptures was created as a result of Murakami’s exploration of Japanese art made following historic natural disasters.

Combining classical techniques with the latest technologies, the artworks feature elements of religious symbols, self-portraits, science fiction and manga imagery. The ”In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow” exhibition will run until January 17, 2015, so make sure to check it out if you’re in the area.

 

Gagosian Gallery New York
555 W. 24th St.
New York, NY 10011
United States

 

Image of Takashi Murakami "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" @ Gagosian Gallery New York

 Image of Takashi Murakami "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" @ Gagosian Gallery New York

Image of Takashi Murakami "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" @ Gagosian Gallery New York

Image of Takashi Murakami "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" @ Gagosian Gallery New York

Image of Takashi Murakami "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" @ Gagosian Gallery New York

Image of Takashi Murakami "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" @ Gagosian Gallery New York

Image of Takashi Murakami "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" @ Gagosian Gallery New York

Image of Takashi Murakami "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" @ Gagosian Gallery New York

Image of Takashi Murakami "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" @ Gagosian Gallery New York

Image of Takashi Murakami "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" @ Gagosian Gallery New York

Image of Takashi Murakami "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" @ Gagosian Gallery New York

Image of Takashi Murakami "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" @ Gagosian Gallery New York

Image of Takashi Murakami "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow" @ Gagosian Gallery New York

Artist Profile: Tomokazu Matsuyama’s “Outside Looking In” exhibition at Lesley Kehoe Galleries (Melbourne)

Image of Matzu "Outside Looking In" Exhibition @ Lesley Kehoe Galleries

 

Following a successful landmark showcase at Harbour City in Hong Kong, New York-based Japanese artist Tomokazu Matsuyama, also known as Matzu, travelled to Melbourne for his next project. “Outside Looking In” is the second installment of Lesley Kehoe Galleries’ Spring Series, which focuses on Japanese artists based in New York.

The show features a wide array of Matsuyama’s colorful paintings in addition to some of his sculptural works, which demonstrates his signature modern twist on Japanese art from the Edo and Meiji eras. The exhibition runs through until October 25, so make sure to check it out if you’re in the area.

Lesley Kehoe Galleries
Ground Floor, 101 Collins St
Melbourne, Victoria
Australia

 

Image of Matzu "Outside Looking In" Exhibition @ Lesley Kehoe Galleries

Image of Matzu "Outside Looking In" Exhibition @ Lesley Kehoe Galleries

Image of Matzu "Outside Looking In" Exhibition @ Lesley Kehoe Galleries

Image of Matzu "Outside Looking In" Exhibition @ Lesley Kehoe Galleries

Image of Matzu "Outside Looking In" Exhibition @ Lesley Kehoe Galleries

Image of Matzu "Outside Looking In" Exhibition @ Lesley Kehoe Galleries

Image of Matzu "Outside Looking In" Exhibition @ Lesley Kehoe Galleries

Image of Matzu "Outside Looking In" Exhibition @ Lesley Kehoe Galleries

Image of Matzu "Outside Looking In" Exhibition @ Lesley Kehoe Galleries

Image of Matzu "Outside Looking In" Exhibition @ Lesley Kehoe Galleries