Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Art of the Japanese Brush...


Art has so many different forms across the world.  Major types of mediums familiar to Western cultures, include oil, pastels, watercolor, acrylic and graphite (drawing).  In Japan, one of the most popular and historical mediums is known as ink brush painting.

Referred by many as "ink and wash" painting, it is an East Asian art originating in China.  Commonly known as Sumi-E in Japan (in Japanese it is suiboku-ga), it is typically a wash with only black ink.  Black ink is combined with water at varying levels to produce different shades of grey.  Similar ink/brush painting is applied to the art of Calligraphy.  But, for the purposes of this post - I am only going to focus on Sumi-E.

The Chinese name for ink/brush painting is shui-mo hua; Korean sumukhwa; Vietnamese tranh thuy mac.

http://www.ink-treasures.com/history/ink-painting/japanese-ink-painting/

History


It seems that the birthplace of ink wash painting is China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). An 8th century poet/painter known as Wang Wei is responsible for introducing color to existing ink wash paintings.  The art was further developed into a more during the Song Dynasty (960-1279).  After this, the art form emigrated to Korea and then arrived in Japan via Korean Zen Buddhist Missionaries during the mid-14th century.

Tools

To do basic Sumi-E painting requires 5 tools.  There is the Fude (Brush), the Suzuri (Ink Grinding Stone), the Sumi (Ink Stick) and the Kami (Paper): otherwise, known as the Four Treasures.  Then there are the water bowls for rinsing and mixing to create the many shades of black and grey.  Sumi-E is historically charcoal/ black ink brush painting.  The use of color was introduced to the art; which combined with the many types of brush strokes create works of art very unique in style.  The Art is in the brush and the stroke.  Understanding how much water and ink a brush can hold and WHERE in the brush the water and ink are being held can be the difference between a bold or delicate line.  (It can also be the difference between disaster and success...)
Of course, there are many types of brushes, paper, boards and panels that one uses when painting; but we all start with these basic tools in class.  

1) Brush (Fude) 2) Ink Grinding Stone (Suzuri
3) Ink Stick (Sumi) 4) Paper (Kami) 5) Water Bowls

Philosophy

There is a spirituality to Sumi-E painting and all ink wash paintings.  In class, we are taught to meditate and "calm" as we grind the sumi stick (ink stick) on the stone to make the black ink.  This can take up to 10 minutes while the fragrance of the camphor in the ink stick starts to waft through the air.  Yes, I'm serious. It actually smells calming and is quite an aesthetic experience!  

By the time the ink is made into a creamy black texture, the artist is "at peace in his/her zone" and ready to pick up the brush. The object of painting is to capture the spirit or essence of your subject matter - whether it be a flower, an animal, a bird, or a dancer.  When painting a landscape, the artist remembers the feeling of the nature surrounding him/her and what it felt and sounded like to be surrounded by beauty.  This "feeling" is then translated into every single stroke of the brush.  

Talented sumi-e artists are successful when the image they have painted communicates the essence of the subject; versus just the likeness.  The goal is for a sense of balance, rhythm and harmony.  This is achieved through patience, focus and a LOT of practice! Unlike oil, acrylics and pastels, brush painting is a "one-stroke" art - meaning; you can't cover your mistakes!  

http://www.sumiesociety.org/whatissumie.php


The Artwork

Every year my wonderful Sumi-E senseis host a "Kakizome" Party (an opportunity for all their students to display the Sumi-E artwork they produced in class).  I referred to them in my last blog as a source of inspiration; Shoko and Suiko Ohta and I re-visit them again because the result of their wonderful teaching talent was so evident at this party.  They are a mother/daughter team and are 3rd and 4th generation Sumi-E painters.  They literally teach hundreds of very lucky students. 

Kakizome Party at the Tokyo American Club


Panels of artworks on display at The Tokyo American Club







Attending the party, viewing the magnificent pieces of Art and simply being in the presence of so much beauty was so uplifting, I would be remiss if I did not share it on my blog.  I will let the photos speak for themselves - but you will see that it is evident how lucky we all are to be taught by such talented and wonderful women.  Once more, I am inspired by the use of gold and silver; along with the sheer size and details of the compositions on display.  The patience and tiring dedication many of these artists applied to their work is illustrated in every piece of artwork.



Dancers, so delicately rendered you
can hear the music and see the
air move around them. This was
painted by an artist who is a Doctor.
This screen must have been at least 5 feet wide and 3 feet high


This was a scroll, it took the artist one year from start to finish!
It spanned the entire length of the room - must have been at least 40 feet long.
  



Peacock on double-sided panel
Side 1
Estimated size: 3 feet wide x 2 feet high
Peacock on double-sided panel
Side 2
Estimated Size: 3 feet wide x 2 feet high



The Gold Peacock against the Blue Background and the Colorful Peacock against the gold background are actually painted on the same front and back of the same panel. It took the artist (who is also an eye doctor) 6 months, painting 2 days per week to finish both sides of this panel.

The use of gold allows for the painting to glow.  Imagine these panels in a room at sunrise or sunset, or by the fire of candlelight - the reflection of the warm light can only be soothing as you sip a glass of wine!


Sumi-E painting on boxes

Imagine using these boxes on your kitchen counter to hold tea, or on your desk to hold paper clips or business cards. 

The Artist found an old screen at an antique fair and
painted the paper panels to apply to the screen.
Estimated size: 6 feet across and 3-4 feet high

Just like an artist can re-use canvasses in oil or acrylics - so can a Sumi-E artist re-use materials to apply new works of art
A wonderful rendition of a music scene on a panel.
Instruments whose sounds I can imagine.
Estimated size: 4 feet wide x 2 feet high


The butterfly on one of the panels is painted with
such grace, you can imagine it flitting away.

Of course, the photos don't do justice to any of these artworks. The glow and light reflecting from these paintings in person is truly an inspirational experience; one I hope to learn and capture in my own work.  I leave you with my contribution to the Kakizome Party "The Blue Dragonfly" - which I am happy to say has been scooped up already!


"The Blue Dragonfly"
Sumi-E on Panel
48cm wide x 27cm high
2015
Remember this painting from my last blog?  Well, I finished it!

The Imperfection of Shape
Oil on Canvas
2016








Until my next blog!
(With) PEACE. (In) ART. (To the) SOUL.

Rajul







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