THE Japanese kabuki theatre has no equivalent in our culture.
With melodramatic intensity, it tells traditional stories with famous actors as virtuoso performers of favourite roles.
Now popular with tourists, kabuki has a long history as a staple of the Japanese stage, with elaborate traditions of staging and performance and film-star status for its actors.
For more than a century, famous male players of female roles have conveyed in words, music and gymnastic mime violent plots full of deception, betrayal and historical murder.
Much more accessible than the endless rhetoric of the more classical Noh drama, it is equally focused on dramatic intensity.
The National Gallery of Australia possesses a set of the highly expressive kabuki portraits of famous actors from the 1920s.
They are still the mass-market woodblock prints we know better from the landscapes of Hokusai and Hiroshige.
The images, drawn on wooden blocks by Natori Shunsen (1886-1960), are cut into component colours by highly specialised craftsmen and then coloured and printed in sequence by professional printers. With up to seven or eight colours involved, it is a laborious and skilled process to depict the elaborately decorated costumes and wildly emotional expressions of the actors.
This touring show from Canberra has been a dramatic and popular exhibition at the Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery. It's last day is on Sunday.
Also on view until Sunday are works on paper by indigenous artists newly acquired for the gallery. Artists from many areas of the Aboriginal art world are now experimenting with printmaking, drawing and watercolour.
Works so far include a Hermannsburg landscape, meaning-rich abstraction from remote communities and two magnificent images by artists with both Chinese and Aboriginal background.
This is a promising start for a new focus to the collection, touching many bases.
- SCULPTURE in the Vineyards is now a welcome reason for visiting Wollombi and its arcadian surroundings. Saturday is the spectacular conclusion to the 2014 formal exhibition with a 7pm tour through illuminated sculptural pieces at the Undercliff vineyard.
A recent spin-off from this annual event has been an exciting exhibition at Cessnock Regional Art Gallery, with new work from five of the artists who participated in last year's show.
The works displayed here were clearly designed for indoors; the airy, linear forms would be lost in the landscape. Simon Hodgson's openwork welded cage-like structures throw expressive shadows. Catherine Kingsmill's balletic branches are dramatic against a white wall.
Akira Karada models delicate wisps of his own hair into suspended teardrops. Mark Booth fashions reptilian knots from plastic piping.
A group show of such sophistication is rarely found in a small regional gallery.
- JUDY Hooworth is a distinguished textile artist who has recently travelled the Silk Road.
At Timeless Textiles until December 12, an exhibition of fabric works and photographs documents her discovery of the extraordinarily rich and diverse heritage of this still remote area of deserts, high mountains and ancient trade-route cities.
A major quilted hanging, printed in blue and white, is a tribute to the walls of decorative tiles in far western China as well as the traded Ming ceramics. Centralised circular medallions are a prominent motif in textiles found right across Central Asia.
Formal photographic collages combine traditional decorative techniques, illustrating still further this significant cultural crossroads.
- AFTER 35 years, members of the Newcastle Printmakers Workshop are still enthusiastically making prints, but many of the founding generation are no longer as active.
There are several new members exhibiting at Studio 48 until tomorrow. There are experiments with monoprints and solar etching, with some notable successes.
However, the role of printmaking as an instrument for social change, as was the case when the workshop was established, is now far in the past.
There is now much more pressure on the individual artist to establish a vision, as Vale Zakarauskas and Helene Leane so ably demonstrate.
Among the accompanying sculptures, Gary Boote's plunging limestone whale is a standout.
- PETER Tilley and Andy Devine's joint works based on coal were a highlight of 2013. They are now on a tour of regional galleries, currently in Moree.
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