Wednesday 24 October 2012

Words : SUIBOKUGA 水墨画‎

Hasegawa Tohaku 長谷川

Suibokuga (or suiboku; or sumi-e painting) refers to the Japanese tradition of ink drawings, that was introduced from China by Buddhist priest-artists in the late Kamakura period.

水 - water
墨 - ink
画‎ - picture

Suibokuga is "completely unconcerned with producing a literal representation. Its emphasis is completely upon the spirit. Japanese monochromes put no emphasis on scientific or rational realism. The Nanga school, especially, aims at the representation of the state of mind, using serenity as a keynote. (keyhole? - a Freudan slip?) Thus, the most prized masterpieces are those which are thought to display a noble soul rather than an exact reproduction. Suiboku is not photography or the copying of natural things, the shape and colour of which is seen with the eyes; it is the expression or the idea the artist received when he viewed the object."*(p.11, Ryukyu Saito Japanese Ink-Painting).

The artists use sumi-e ink (which is made of soot) and a soft animal hair brush. The drawings are all monochrome. The skill lies in the ability to control the balance of black and white through single brushstrokes to achieve minimalist drawings. The artist draws surfaces (no outlines); the ink runs and merges with the layer below. The strokes cannot be corrected or removed.

There seems to be some disagreement if suibokuga draws on the philosophy of Zen Buddhism (Ryuku Saito) or whether it has no relationship to it (Tsugako Shimada). From my very Christian seat here in London, it looks like suibokuga very much embraces Tao and Zen line of thought, especially the idea of intuitive understanding rather than rational representation of form. The minimal means of expression aim to capture the essence of the object.

Like a visual haiku.

Ike no Taiga 池大雅 Zhuang Zi dreaming of a butterfly

Josetsu 如拙 Catching a Catfish with a Gourd

A Chinese painter was once commissioned to paint the Emperor's favorite goat. The artist asked for the goat, that he might study it. After two years the Emperor, growing impatient, asked for the return of the goat; the artist obliged. Then the Emperor asked about the painting. The artist confessed that he had not yet made one, and taking an ink brush he drew eight nonchalant strokes, creating the most perfect goat in the annals of Chinese painting.

* The quote comes as it is in the book. Amusing it may be, but poor wording is not my choice.

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