Tam Visual Arts in Japan

Mirror display captured at teamLab Bordless in Tokyo
Mirror display captured at teamLab Bordless in Tokyo
Caitlin Benedict

With carry-ons full of sketchbooks and film cameras, 18 Tamalpais High School visual arts students were bound for Japan on March 31. The group of juniors and seniors represented students from each of Tam’s three advanced placement (AP) art classes: AP Drawing and Painting, AP Photography, and AP Ceramics. The respective teachers of these courses, Zachary Gilmour, Mary Krawczyk, and Gray Douglas, chaperoned the 10-day trip. 

The first five days were spent in Tokyo, keeping students on their feet as they adjusted to the 16-hour time difference. Sheri Leigh O’Connor, a former ceramics professor at Sierra Nevada University and current travel guide, led the group through museums that celebrated traditional art and modern exhibits that tested the limitations of visual art. Among these latter galleries was teamLab Borderless, an art collective that utilizes projectors to create installations that spread across every wall, floor, and ceiling. 

“Artworks move out of rooms, relate to other works, influence each other, and at times intermingle … one continuous world without boundaries is created,” teamLab Borderless’ website states. 

To explore traditional practices, students also participated in an indigo dyeing workshop. The 90-minute class immersed the group in Japanese culture, which has been prominent since the sixth century when China introduced indigo plants as a plentiful dye source, according to the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. 

“The indigo workshop was really fascinating … I thought the way [the people leading the class] spoke was very dramatic and engaging. It made me care about the workshop and the historical aspects of the indigo dying,” AP Drawing and Painting senior Quinlyn Kennel said.

The remaining half of the trip was spent in Kyoto. Students traveled from the two cities by bullet train, covering the 283-mile-long distance in a mere two hours. After several days of touring historical monuments including Nijo Castle, a palace from the early 1600s, and Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple with over 1200 years of history, the group took a closer look at the prevalent art practices in the region. 

On the eighth day of the trip, students participated in a hands-on Wood Block Printmaking Workshop at Takezasado, a local gallery. The class explored how to intricately take a chisel to a piece of wood, cover the carved block in vibrant ink, and hand-press the pattern onto paper. This experience specifically was influential for many members of the group.

“I purchased woodblock tools to continue printing at home,” AP Drawing and Painting senior Caitlin Benedict said. “I have five artworks planned out from everything I saw in Japan.”

“I was kind of amazed by the wood printing … I was always interested in it but had never had the opportunity to learn it. So after I did the class, we were in an art shop and they had the tools, so I got them,” AP Photography senior Donovan Walter said. “[The workshop] inspired me to try a new form of art.”

For Walter, experiencing life in Tokyo and Japan was an artistic awakening in and of itself.

“Usually, when I’m doing photography, I have to look for situations where there are a lot of colors that align with each other. But the way the cities we saw are designed, they actually really think about the use of color,” Walter said. 

The trip also offered insight into the work he does for Tam’s Conservatory Theatre Ensemble. 

“I think the set designer in me was very inspired by [this] along with the use of space,” he said.

The students returned on April 10, bringing with them fresh ideas, techniques, and lifetime memories.

“It’s hard to even quantify just how much students got from the trip … In Japan, they approach their traditions of craft and making of things with such reverence, and I think the students got to see that, be it through studio visits with artists or workshops,” AP Drawing and Painting teacher Zachary Gilmour said. “I think the students can’t help but have that sort of sink-in.”

Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Lauren Felder
Lauren Felder, Editor-in-Chief
Lauren Felder is a senior and Editor-in-Chief for The Tam News. When she’s not reading or changing her hair, Lauren enjoys watching cartoons like Adventure Time and Steven Universe. She loves thrift shopping, going on hikes, and analyzing movies with her friends. 

Comments (0)

All The Tam News Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *