There are two exhibitions in Cambridge this month which are totally independent of each other but which invite comparison. One is the work of a student, the other of a lifetime. Their qualities are unlike and their eras disparate. Oddly, their weaknesses are much the same and a lesson lies therein.
Yoshiaki Shimizu has been in and out of Harvard pursuing a painter's education for the past few years and his work is well known in the Square. That he is a person of talent and considerable ability is an acknowledged fact. It is about time for Shimizu to begin buckling down to the less glamorous chores of the metier.
His sensitivity lies especially in the realm of color, which he uses lyrically and not without the oriental mystique. His drawing partakes of the same spontaneity but here the trouble begins. In a work like Blue Caduveo Shimizu conjures lovely and effective nuances of tone. Then, examining it closer, one finds a great deal of fiddling around and many squiggles which are without meaning. If these comprise a kind of patina they may or may not succeed. Unfortunately, in many of Shimizu's things they are more than patina. They constitute a shortcut, however unconscious, a device which meets a multitude of problems without solving them.
What is missing is much of the necessary battle with structure, fundamental and unromantic, which should be taking place. Shimizu's shimmering drawings are really quite handsome. What will evolve from them, however, is the question in the case of an artist so young. These compromise far too readily with surface effect and fail to establish the foundation Shimizu needs.
The wages of distraction make their appearance in no uncertain terms when Shimizu attempts to deal with the figure. In Wind Child, Rope Jumper and Red Mantle, the walls come tumbling down. Here are problems which cannot be sidestepped. Rope Jumper epitomizes the situation. Against a sensitively painted background Shimizu has superimposed a figure which does him no credit at all. It is coy, purposeless and arbitrary.
Of course, one can't do it par excellence on every occasion. What hurts is that the best of Shimizu's work is weakened by the same deficiency. The poetic gift, is at a premium these days. It would be a shame to see Shimizu's very real talents stray along a path of lesser resistance.
Lovis Corinth, whose hundredth anniversary exhibition is now at the Busch-Reisinger, shares much the same fate. Corinth, of course, shows the experience which the young Shimizu lacks, but often not enough when the chips are down.
The fact that Corinth's instincts were always poetic makes his flaw particularly lamentable. Shimizu might take his cue. When Corinth does a watercolor like The Beautiful Imperia, a loose wash of lucid color, he arrives at a quality which most of his Teutonic contemporaries generally lack--a naive loveliness, (the word used wholly in complimentary fashion.). The same goes for Susanna and the Elders or Imperial Palace. But when he draws, or tries to draw, his linear Knight, the result is nothing short of inexcusable.
Corinth's capacities as draughtsman are somewhat extended in his series of self-portraits. They are by no means inept but they are far from au juste. They simply lack authority, and this is not quite enough. His illustrations for Gulliver's Travels are more happily resolved through chiaroscuro; but at this point one tends to view alternative techniques with a distrustful eye. It is significant that Rembrandt, the master of chiaroscuro in paint, worked in his drawings for complete structural clarity.
In the larger watercolors Corinth suffers from a variation of the same problem--lack of structure; in this case a simple lack of cohesion. His poetic touch spreads only so far without firm organization.
Most of the Corinths were done in the Europe of the early twenties. Shimizu, working in the America of the fifties, will have an even greater struggle with form because exalted amorphousness abounds in our day. The impetus, if it is to come, must come from within. Shimizu has the temperment and we shall all be fortunate if he succeeds.