Alice Stevenson


Tokyo Pattern

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On my return from Japan, fortified by my strange and joyful experiences of the country and my new, vibrantly hued watercolour set from Pigment Tokyo, I fell into a frenzy of painting. This geometric and colourful abstract was based on a plaster rendering in the style of a crazy paving path that covered the lower surface of a building near our hotel in Shinjuku, which we stayed in when we first arrived. The slightly seedy corner of the neighbourhood contained particularly extreme examples of the free-for-all architectural styles you find in Tokyo, exaggerated fairground style castles with painted on brick-effect, nestled up with blank, high-rise grey, concrete boxes crammed around tiny alleyways. I found the this crazy paving style pattern, oddly soothing and reassuring amongst the visual cacophony of those streets. I looked out for it as we went in and out of our hotel, and it imprinted into my memory, along with the Tskumi biscuits, decorated with deer and fireworks that I admired in the Takashimaya Department Store food hall as the sights that characterised those first two disorientating days.

Arriving in Tokyo, after 24 hours of flying and stopovers is challenging to the senses. By night Shinjuku is dazzling and extreme but not entirely unfamiliar, it is the Tokyo we see on TV: the abstract formations of neon kanji characters and giant video screens and the constant audio of bleeps, video and music that somehow manage not to be hellish when layered on top of one and other. Nighttime flatters Tokyo, the aggressively ugly buildings, the matrix of electric cables and the crammed layout of its structures recede into the darkness and becomes a moving world of lights which to float on a shadowy suggestion of structure. 

But the daytime is hard. The architecture we found ourselves walking amongst was vast, dense, ugly and so grey. The fierce heat and the jet lag combined to make it feel menacing, despite the peaceful goodwill that the population of the city emanated. I took few photos, and I wandered around spaced out, processing the news that North Korea had just launched a missile over this country whilst we had slept and soon gave up any attempt to make sense of my surroundings.

Eventually helped by the luxurious garden of the Nezu Gallery, the views from a skyscraper bar and sleep, my mind adjust my time in Japan became on of the most rewarding and inspiring travel experiences of my life and I saw a many things that were far more exquisite than that wall, yet it was one of the first things I chose to paint on my return, filling it with every colour in my paint set. It became more kaleidoscopic as I went on, spreading beyond the  confines of shape I remembered, becoming an abstract formation that bore little relation to that alleyway in Shinjuku yet transporting me to those dazed, early days each time I looked at it.