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Daido Bunka enso

12 July, 2010 (05:00) | japan, modern, paintings | By: xensen

daido bunka enso

This unusual enso based on the character for heart/mind was made by Daido Bunka in the first half of the eighteenth century.

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The Character for ”Heart/Mind” as an Ens?, 18th century, by Daido Bunka (Japan, 1680-1752). Hanging scroll, ink on paper, image 11 3/16 x 21 in. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Edwin Janss, M.84.211.1.

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Indra’s lute

6 August, 2009 (05:00) | modern, paintings, southeast asia | By: xensen

Indra, a major Hindu deity, also figures in the Thai Buddhist belief system, where he seen as powerful but limited and subservient to the Buddha (and sometimes as one of the four guardian kings of the cardinal directions). He is recognizable by his green skin.

The image shown is a detail from a large painting of the story of the life of the Buddha in the collection of the Asian Art Museum (Scenes from the life of the Buddha, 1800-1850. Thailand; paint and gold on cloth. Gift from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Southeast Asian Art Collection, 2006.27.122.15).  The painting will be displayed during the museum’s upcoming Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma exhibition

In an essay I wrote on the subject of translation, I talked about the “middle way” of the Chinese translator Xuanzang (who lived in the seventh century but may be most familiar from his role in the Ming dynasty “Monkey” stories). Xuanzang insisted that translation be both “truthful” and “intelligible to the populace.” In the essay I go on to discuss other advocates of the middle way, such as the Mexican poet Octavio Paz.

In this detail Indra makes a case for the middle way in a charming manner. The Buddha-to-be (shortly before his enlightenment) has been troubled about whether to give up the extreme austerities he has been practicing. Here Indra appears to him and plucks three strings of a lute-like instrument. One string is too slack, and it makes only a dull sound. One string is too tight, and it breaks when plucked. Only the properly tightened string makes a beautiful sound.

Vajrabhairava’s war dance

9 February, 2009 (05:00) | himalayas, modern, paintings | By: xensen

Dancing Vajrabhairava

I love this very blue blue meanie from The Dragon’s Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan, a show that’s about to open at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

Despite appearances, he’s not really a meanie. He’s a wrathful deity and — so long as you are on the side of the true dharma — he’s your friend. Wrathful deities protect against malevolent forces. As a result, few images of wrathful deities were allowed to be removed from Bhutan for the exhibition, for fear of leaving the country unprotected.

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Walter Spies

23 June, 2008 (05:00) | 20th c, paintings, southeast asia | By: xensen

walter spies

The other day I commented on Deb Clearwaters’s new blog on Bali. Subsequently, I found this collection of paintings by the Russian-born German painter Walter Spies. Spies, who was born in 1895, moved to Bali in 1927. His painting swings between mannerist and expressionist tendencies, but often with overtones of the primitivism of someone like Dounier Rousseau. With decent connections to the international art community, Spies helped to popularize the notion of Bali as an idyllic and exotic Shangri-La. This painting dates from 1929.

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Birth

16 June, 2008 (05:00) | 20th c, paintings, south asia | By: xensen

birth by francis newton souza

Indian painting is hot these days. Francis Newton Souza’s Birth (oil on board, 48 x 96 in., 1955), shown above, recently sold for $2,487,931 at an auction at Christie’s London, a record price for modern Indian art.

Souza spent much of his life in London and is the only Indian artist to have a room dedicated to his works at Tate Britain. He was born on April 12, 1924, in Saligaon, Goa, India and died on March 28, 2002 , in Bombay, India. His website is maintained by his estate.

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Eyes and dolls

5 June, 2008 (05:05) | 20th c, japan, paintings | By: xensen

Fast Food

28 April, 2008 (05:00) | china, contemporary, paintings | By: xensen

fast food, oil painting by chinese artist kang can

This painting by Kang Can (Fast Food III, 2007, oil on canvas, 35.5 x 31.5 inches) is a good example of Chinese Neo-Pop art (it was shown at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries in Coral Gables, Florida earlier this year). In the contemporary Chinese context pop often has a satiric element, aimed at materialism and self-indulgence. At times, as here, the satire can get a little heavy-handed.

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Torei Enji enso

19 March, 2008 (05:00) | japan, modern, paintings | By: xensen

enso, or zen circle, by torei enji

Here’s another enso, or Zen circle, by Torei Enji (1721-1792). Compare this to the Torei enso posted 12 March. Here his brush is more unevenly inked, creating a range of grays, with the darkest areas either on the inside or outside of the line. As the brush approaches the top of the circle its pressure is lightened, then reapplied for the swooping downward motion. For this enso Torei adds a dot in the center.

The calligraphy is translated by Stephen Addis as “The images presents itself, nothing more.” This work, from the Gitter-Yelen Collection, appeared in an exhibition at the Asian Art Museum.

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Hakuin enso and Daruma

18 March, 2008 (05:00) | japan, modern, paintings | By: xensen

hakuin enso

Here’s a delightful enso by the Rinzai Zen master Hakuin Ekaku Zenji (1686-1769). Unassuming and unaffected yet not at all reticent, it displays an exceptionally even and steady hand, with only a hint of the beginning and end at bottom left.

As a bonus, here’s a Hakuin Daruma, which reveals some of the same qualities.

hakuin daruma

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Torei Enji enso

12 March, 2008 (05:00) | japan, modern, paintings | By: xensen

zen circle by torei enji (1721-1792)

This enso is by Torei Enji (1721-1792), who excelled at the Zen circle. Torei began this one by pressing his brush down hard at the lower left and swiftly continuing around the circle while lifting the brush.

The calligraphy says “In heaven and on the earth, I alone am worthy of honor,” lines attributed at birth to the historical Buddha.

Yoko Woodson, curator of Japanese art at the Asian Art Museum, thinks that the curious smudgy echo of the enso at the lower left represents a shell.

Kanjuro Shibata enso

11 March, 2008 (05:00) | 20th c, japan, paintings | By: xensen

kanjuro shibata xx enso

Form is void and void is form.
– The Heart Sutra

Let’s have a look at some Zen circles, or ensos. A symbol of wholeness and cyclic return — and some would say of enlightenment — this simple figure seems ideally suited to brush and ink, and it can be surprisingly expressive. Every good enso has some individual quality that sets it apart from others.

This enso, by Kanjuro Shibata XX, who served as the bowmaker to the Emperor of Japan from 1959 until 1994, has a twist — literally. Kanjuro Shibata puts a sort of lock on the join in his circle, perhaps much as an archer locks in on his target.

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Wang Yi Guang

10 March, 2008 (05:00) | 20th c, china, himalayas, paintings | By: xensen

wang yi guang

Wang Yi Guang is a Chinese artist who studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. He has produced a series of romanticized visions of gambols in the fields of Tibet. According to Paintalicious

Wang’s fond memories of Tibet — particularly catching sight of young girls running and laughing across the magnificent Tibetan plains, their sheep and cattle in tow — remind the artist that Feitain (or flying Devi, a mystical character, which is primarily found in the murals at Dunhuang and in sculptural forms in a handful of cave grottoes in China) does exist in life.

Do these paintings have a political agenda? I’d like to think not.

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Shown is River to Paradise, O/C, 130 x 140 cm, 2004.

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Chinese botanical motifs: orchid

5 March, 2008 (05:00) | china, early modern, paintings | By: xensen

orchids, chiense brush painting by shitao

These leaves from Shitao’s album depict orchids, with an accompanying verse on the opposite page. Orchids are a popular subject for brush painting, in part thanks to their simple, rhythmic form. According to the Met’s entry on this object, “the calligraphy of the poem, in the manner of Zhong You, with its softly undulating strokes and gently rising and fading ink tones, simulates the swaying orchid leaves and blossoms.”

The best-known or at least longest-established orchid in China is the cymbidium (lanhua), which is noted more for its fragrance than its floral display. The opening lines of the verse, which quote the Classic of Songs, allude to this:

Words from a sympathetic heart
Are as fragrant as orchids

The orchid is regarded as a symbol of spring, and the verse goes on to develop this association.

Together with the plum, the chrysanthemum , and the bamboo, the orchid is known as one of the “four gentlemen of flowers.”

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Chinese botanical motifs: peanut

4 March, 2008 (05:00) | china, modern, paintings | By: xensen

chinese painting, peanut

This late eighteenth- or early nineteenth-century painting by an anonymous Chinese artist is in the collections of the V&A in London. According to the V&A entry,it was probably commissioned from a Chinese artist by a European botanist, and it does have something of the precise quality of a European botanical painting. At the same time, it does not quite have a European sense of perspective.

In the Chinese tradition the peanut plant is associated with longevity. Its name, changsheng guo, sounds like the words for “Live forever and never grow old” (changsheng bulao). Moreover, the plant’s extensive root system suggests an impulse to survival. Eating the peanut fruit was thought to improve longevity.

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Chinese botanical motifs: narcissus

3 March, 2008 (05:00) | china, early modern, paintings | By: xensen

narcissus by shitao

This image of a narcissus is from an album of twelve paintings and twelve caligraphic verses by Shitao (Zhu Ruoji; 1642–1707), a member of the Ming dynasty royal family, who became a monk-painter following the Manchu conquest of China in 1644. The painting, from the P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Family Collection, Gift of Wen and Constance Fong, in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Dillon, 1976 (1976.280), is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The album alternates landscapes and flowers, with verses in a similar brush style on facing pages.

I’d like to spend a few posts discussing botanical motifs in Chinese art. An authority, and my guide, on this subject is Terese Tse Bartholomew, curator emeritus of the Asian Art Museum. According to Bartholomew, the narcissus, which was imported to southern China from Europe at least by the Tang dynasty (618-906), is known as the “immortal of water” (shuixianhua). The xian in its name is the character that means “immortal,” so a clump of narcissus may be used to signify a group of immortals. For example, since the word for bamboo is a punfor “congratualte,” a clump of narcissus together with bamboo may signify “immortals congratulate you” (on a birthday, perhaps).

In the accompanying verse the narcissus is here associated with plum blossoms. Plums are a symbol of longevity, and the two plants together may suggest “May the immortals honor you with longevity.” Following is a free translation of the verse; for another versions, see the Met’s website.

Narcissus and plum blossoms,
enjoyable together,
vie for glory in winter;
I sit by my bright window,
holding my brush in my hand,
while my thoughts wander freely
far beyond the boundless shores

The narcissus is also a symbol of purity, good fortune, and prosperity. Because it is such an auspicious symbol, it is encouraged to bloom around the new year, and is often featured in new year’s celebrations.

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Nakahara Nantenbo Daruma

28 February, 2008 (05:00) | 20th c, japan, paintings | By: xensen

nakahara nantenbo daruma zen painting, 1912

Seven Junipers continues Daruma week with this bold image by Nakahara Nantenbo (1839-1925), which is more than five feet tall. The work was painted ni 1912. The thin lines outlining Bodhidharma’s face (which lacks a nose) contrast with the broad arc that suggests his robe in the most minimalist manner possible, as well as with the rough, energetic calligraphy. The arc of the robe is drawn with such force that it has splashed ink over Bodhidharma’s left ear, from which an earring hangs.

Nantenbo, the artist’s priest name — he was abbot of the Zen monastery of Myoshinji in Kyoto — derives from bo (staff) and nanten (a kind of tree), alluding to the staff with which he struck practitioners whose attention faltered.

The epigraph reads “A flower opens five petals and bears fruit — all in its nature.”

The work is in the collection of the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

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Soga Shokaku Daruma

27 February, 2008 (05:00) | japan, modern, paintings | By: xensen

daruma image by soga shohaku

Keeping on our Daruma theme, here is a standing version by the Kyoto painter Soga Shohaku (1730-1781). While Shohaku sometimes produced paintings of the greatest care and precision, he also worked in a freer style, as in this example.  Bodhidharma’s body is quickly outlined in broad strokes. His face, which turns back to the viewer, brings the painting alive through a few masterfully rendered strokes that produce a typically enigmatic expression.

Shohaku’s sprawling inscription informs us that the work was painted in a drunken state, and no doubt this contributed to the painting’ spontaneous quality. The attitude is consistent with a Zen value of freedom from restraint, which is seen in many eighteenth-century works from Kyoto. The painting is about four feet tall, and it was probably painted with a large straw brush.

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Yoshitoshi Daruma

27 February, 2008 (05:00) | japan, modern, paintings | By: xensen

daruma by yoshitoshi

Moving on with our Daruma week, here is an image by the great 19th-century printmaker Yoshitoshi. Yoshitoshi produced this woodblock print in 1887.

Yoshitoshi is famous for his images of ghosts, gruesome images, and battle scenes. As a result, like his near contemporaries Baudelaire and Poe, he has been dismissed as an artist of the macabre. In fact, he was a great artist who witnessed and chronicled the painful transition of Japan from a feudal to a modern society.

His Daruma is a somewhat rough-looking, battle-scarred fellow; there is a degree of weariness in his meditative post under the full moon.