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Seikou Hirata Daruma

25 February, 2008 (05:00) | contemporary, japan, paintings | By: xensen

daruma image by seikou hirata

This painting by Seikou Daruma, chief priest of Temryuji, is easily recognizable as a Daruma image. Japanese Daruma images typically use a minimum of brushwork and exaggerate what are thought of as Indian facial features. The quality of the figure’s expression is key. This one is a little unusual because most often Bodhidarma is depicted in profile or three-quarter view.

Photo by hira3, some rights reserved.

Year of the Rat

12 February, 2008 (05:00) | china, medieval, paintings | By: xensen

rat painting by chinese ming dynasty emperor xuande

The Xuande emperor ruled China from 1425-1434. He was the fifth emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). His rule was one of relative stability, and he devoted much of his time to painting and writing poetry, activities at which he was accomplished. As a painter he had a free brush style. His paintings were often presented as gifts to favored members of the court; this painting, dated 1431, of a rat nibbling at lichee fruit is inscribed to a favorite eunuch.

2008 is the year of the rat in the Chinese calendrical zodiac. In the Chinese tradition the rat is regarded as clever, charming, and industrious, but also a bit of a schemer, who can at times be ambitious, selfish, and cruel. First among the signs of the Chinese zodiac — it is said that when the zodiac animals were crossing a river rat rode on the back of ox and jumped off his head just as they reached zhore, thus establishing his priority — people born in the year of the rat are leaders and innovators.

A rat year, although it may have have associations with death, is one of opportunity, especially in business. It is also a good year for socializing and enjoying food and the company of family.

Particularly in combination with many-seeded fruits (the seeds suggesting offspring), the rat is associated with fertility, and an image of rat and fruit, such as the Xuande emperor’s painting shown here, implies a wish for many offspring. What a strange gift to present to a eunuch!

The work is in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing.


Earliest known oil paintings

29 January, 2008 (05:00) | ancient, paintings, west asia | By: xensen

oils paintings in bamiyan caves, afghanistanAccording to a group of Japanese, European, and U.S. scientists restoring damaged murals in caves in the Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley (famous for the stone Buddhas that were destroyed by the Taliban) the cave paintings reveal a sophisticated technique of oil painting.

More than a third of paint samples analyzed by the Getty Conservation Institute, using gas chromatography methods, reveal the presence of oils.

The development of viable techniques of oil painting has been attributed to the European Renaissance, but Buddhist images painted in the central Afghan region, dated to around 650 AD, are in fact the earliest examples of oil used in art history, according to Yoko Taniguchi, an expert at Japan’s National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

Following is an excerpt from the Sri Lanka Daily News:

“It was very impressive to discover that such advanced methods were used in murals in central Asia,” Taniguchi said.

“My European colleagues were shocked because they always believed oil paintings were invented in Europe. They couldn’t believe such techniques could exist in some Buddhist cave deep in the countryside,” she added.

Painters of the Buddhist murals used organic substances — including natural resin, plant gum, dry oil and animal protein — as a binder, which even today is an important element in paint.

A binder keeps pigment particles together in a cohesive film and allows the paint to resist decay.

The researchers are trying to restore the murals amid international efforts to salvage what is left of Bamiyan.


Auspicious Tree with Birds and Two Elephants

17 January, 2008 (05:00) | contemporary, paintings, south asia | By: xensen

auspicious tree with birds and elephants

This painting comes from the region of Mithila in India, where domestic wall painting is traditionally practiced by village women on the occasion of marriages and festivals. Since the 1960s, thanks to an initiative launched by the Indian government, the women have also been painting on paper (and are sometimes now joined by men)

This is an image of an auspicious tree with colorful birds and two elephants (22 x 30 in.) The artist’s name is Nidhi, of whom I know nothing. I bought this painting from someone who had recently returned from the region. The elephants with their garland probably express a marriage motif. This image is rather unusual in Mithila painting.


Related: an auspicious tree of life from a Mesoamerican context.


Buddhist painting demonstration in San Francisco

16 January, 2008 (05:00) | contemporary, korea, paintings | By: xensen

korean buddhist painting demonstration at the asian art museum of san francisco

At San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum a group of Korean monks has been in residency, producing large paintings and also block prints (visitors can take home freshly printed copies of the heart sutra or other prints). The monks (seunim, a gender-neutral term) include two men, Myung Chun-seunim and Sung Ryun-seunim, and a woman, Seol Min-seunim.

The program will culminate on January 20 with a sacred eye-opening ceremony of two hanging scrolls — the Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara by Seol Min seunim and a guardian figure painting by Myung Chung seunim — that the monks are donating to the museum. During the ceremony, the guardian king’s spirit enters the painting through the eyes, which are the last elements completed. The monks chant invocations to all the Buddhas in the universe to witness the event.


Tsering Nyandak

7 January, 2008 (05:00) | contemporary, himalayas, paintings | By: xensen

tsering nyandak, buddha

I was reading recently about the inaugural show of London’s Rossi & Rossi gallery in its new, larger space at 16 Clifford Street. The show, an exhibition of contemporary Himalayan art called Consciousness and Form, is over now, but one of its artists, Tsering Nyandak, caught my eye. This wonderfully enigmatic painting is called simply Buddha (photo by Jason Sangster). According to the gallery

Tsering Nyandak was born in Lhasa in 1974. From 1985 to 1993 he lived and studied in Dharamsala (India). In 1993, after returning to Tibet, he started studying art under Tsewang Tashi. He has participated in various exhibitions in China, Germany and Nepal and is a founding member of the Gedun Choephel Artists’ Guild. For Tsering Nyandak, being an artist is about self-expression and is not culturally stereotypical.

The website of the Gedun Choephel Artists’ Guild is here.

The Khoan and Michael Sullivan collection of modern Chinese art

18 December, 2007 (05:00) | 20th c, china, paintings | By: xensen

Fu Baoshi, Landscapes of the Four Seasons, 1950.

Asia House Gallery in London is presenting twentieth-century Chinese works from the Khoan and Michael Sullivan collection in two rotations through 24 May 2008. Michael Sullivan is one of the most influential scholars of Chinese art. His book Chinese Art in the Twentieth Century (1959) was the first in English on the subject, which he continued to explore in Art and Artists of Twentieth Century China (1996).


Shown is Landscapes of the Four Seasons, 1950, by Fu Baoshi.


Indian art auction in Paris

6 December, 2007 (05:00) | contemporary, paintings, south asia | By: xensen

farhad-hussain.jpg paintingFarhad Hussain, a 30-year-old artist from Calcutta, is among the Indian artists being featured at an auction in Paris. The auction is being billed as the first major contemporary Indian art auction in that city. The auction is organized by Artcurial of France. The company’s Indian art consultant, Herve Perdriolle, explains:

After successfully entering the Chinese market with two auctions of contemporary Chinese art, Artcurial is now ready to focus on the Indian art market and is planning to stage two auctions per year.

We have decided to start the Indian sale now considering the growing interest among French collectors in this field for more than a year now. This strong and deep interest is illustrated by several important events like the Indian Summer in Paris in 2005 and Lille 3000 in 2006 to name a few. In step, we know of the famous relationship between Subodh Gupta and Francois Pinault. Pinault, the French billionaire and collector, has been picked by ArtReview as among the 100 most influential people in the international contemporary art world.

asian art newsHussein is also the subject of an article in Asian Art News by Uma Prakash, entitled “The Mundane Uncovered.” And he will appear in From the Everyday to the Imagined: An Exhibition of Indian Art at the Singapore Art Museum, November 16 – January 16.


The race to save the Mogao frescoes

4 December, 2007 (05:00) | china, classical, himalayas, medieval, paintings, sculpture | By: xensen

bodhisattva image from mogao grottoes at dunhuang, china

The Mogao grottoes at Dunhuang in China are one of the world’s richest art treasures. Dunhuang, though far from the center of Chinese civilization, was a key stop on the Silk Road. The Silk Road was not only a trade route for merchandise, it was also the route by which Buddhism was introduced to China, and Dunhuang is home to nearly 500 caves that served as Buddhist temples. The cave-temples are full of thousands of murals and sculptures, created between the fourth and fourteenth centuries.

For centuries the region’s remoteness and arid climate preserved that artworks is good condition. But today, according to this report, the murals are “fading away from age, tourist pressures and climate change.” The report goes on to describe efforts to photograph and preserve the art works.

restroing the mogao grotto frescos at dunhuang

A race is on to arrest the deterioration of the UN World Heritage site, which occupies 492 different cave temples along a 1.6-kilometre (one-mile) long cliff face near the ancient Silk Road oasis town of Dunhuang.

That decline has accelerated in recent years due in large part to desertification caused by climate change, said Wang Xudong, head of the Dunhuang Academy, the state-run institution that studies and maintains the grottoes.

More-frequent sandstorms from the nearby Kumtag desert are upsetting the fragile environmental balance inside the caves.

“Our biggest challenge is protecting the interior environment of the caves, especially from sandstorms, which are the biggest risk here,” he said.

But it’s a complex and painstaking task.

“Each cave has its own unique mineral, temperature, and moisture situation. We have to treat each one differently. We are learning every day,” Wang said.

The top image of a bodhisattva appears in a Tantric Buddhist painting in Cave 14. Dating from the Tang dynasty (618–906), it probably reflects a Tibetan influence; Dunhuang was under Tibetan rule during a some of the Tang. The second image accompanied the news article; I have done a little restoration work of my own on it.


Patterned Feathers, Piercing Eyes

3 December, 2007 (05:00) | japan, modern, paintings | By: xensen

jakachu tiger

That’s the unfortunate and desperate-seeming title of an exhibition at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. From that title, would you guess that the exhibition was a collection of Japanese paintings from the Edo period (1615–1868)? But in fact the display features paintings from the Etsuko and Joe Price Collection, one of the leading collections of Edo paintings. The title apparently alludes to the representations of birds and animals that are a frequent theme in the paintings.

A good example of the latter is this image of a tiger by Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800). Jakuchu was the son of a greengrocer. After his father’s death he ran the business for some 15 years before turning it over to a brother. He took the name Jakachu after a phrase in the Daode jing meaning “like the void.” He became associated with a Kyoto Buddhist temple, and this painting, produced in the summer of 1755 when Jakachu abandoned the greengrocer business, has Buddhist overtones. According to the exhibition website

The choice of subject is deeply informative of the artist’s state of mind. Jakuch? was thoroughly imbued in the practice of Zen Buddhism, and his most important works were commissions for major temples. In Zen thinking, the tiger represents a natural power that can be controlled through enlightenment seeking discipline. In the act of grooming, the tiger suggests a self-intention to move beyond a conflicted mental state and toward a focus of energy.


29 November, 2007 (05:00) | contemporary, japan, paintings, sculpture | By: xensen

takashi murakami, And Then, and Then and Then and Then and Then

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, (MOCA) is hosting a major exhibition of the work of Takashi Murakami through February 11 (the show opens October 29). Murakami is much influenced by anime and manga.

Murakami tends to work with flat planes of color. His often oversized work evokes otaku culture. He combines high and low art, slyly critiquing consumerist culture while being complicit in it. Like manga pioneer Tezuka Osamu, he has made his art a big business, mass producing items for sale in many types of venues. Sales of Louis Vuitton handbags are a prominent feature of the MOCA show.

The MOCA show website features 11 different videos, 8 of which make up an exhibition tour. Which is fine, but there is a dearth of text content to accompany the videos. This makes it difficult for the casual visitor to get a quick sense of the show. But maybe a video-only approach works in L.A.


Image: And Then, and Then and Then and Then and Then, 1996-97. Acrylic on canvas mounted on board (2 sections), 110 1/4 x 118 1/8 inches (overall). Image from the Marianne Boesky Gallery.

Monks with Traits of a Crow

28 November, 2007 (05:00) | contemporary, paintings, southeast asia | By: xensen

monks with traits of a crowThis painting by Anupong Chanthorn (sorry I haven’t been able to find a higher-resolution image) has caused quite a stir in Thailand. Entitled Bhikku Sandan Ka (Monks with Traits of a Crow), it suggests immoral behavior (avarice, it would seem) among some of Thailand’s Buddhist monks. The title comes from a phrase attributed to the Buddha to describe a kind of immorality.

When the painting was awarded a prize and an annual art exhibition in Bangkok, some monks staged a protest. Led by Satian Wibhroma, a member of a Buddhist group known as the People’s Network to Protect the Nation, Religion and the Monarchy, they accused the painter of insulting Thai monks. They asked Silpakorn University to revoke the prizes awarded to Anupong, which the university refused. The story is told in Asia Times Online.

An editorial in Thailand’s The Nation asserts that

People who consider themselves good Buddhists, who really care about their religion, should thank artist Anupong Chanthorn for creating a pair of award-winning paintings that honestly reflect the precipitous decline of Buddhism in this country.

Buddhist temples used to be centres of learning, and monks were the guardians of our cultural heritage, but many temples have turned into dens of iniquity. The failure to reform Buddhism and keep it up to date with the drastic social and economic changes has not only resulted in the religion’s diminished influence as a force for good but also contributed to corruption and social decay. Thai society needs more artists and lay Buddhists like Anupong, who care enough about Buddhism to criticise, to satirise, to put pressure on the monastic order to reform. These people deserve praise, not condemnation.


Philadelphia deer mandala

27 November, 2007 (05:00) | japan, modern, paintings | By: xensen

deer mandalaAmong the recent acquisitions of Japanese art currently on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (through fall 2008, in galleries 241, 242, and 243 on the second floor) is this lovely deer mandala. The deer was regarded as a sacred animal messenger of the Shinto deities. I suppose that the background depicts Mt. Mikasa, the sanctuary of Kasuga Shinto shrine; deer were visual embodiments of the shrine, and conical mountains were sometimes regarded as sanctuaries for deities.

Shintoism (literally, “the way of the gods”) is the indigenous religion of Japan. Its core premise is that deities inhabit all natural things. A scroll such as this would probably have been commissioned by priests for a temple, and used as an aid to meditation.

Deer Mandala, 17th century. Japan, Edo Period (1615-1868). Colors on silk; mounted as a hanging scroll, 35 7/8 x 15 3/8 inches (91.2 x 39 cm) Mount: 62 13/16 x 20 1/8 inches (159.5 x 51.1 cm). Purchased with the Hollis Fund for East Asian Art Acquisitions, the J. Stogdell Stokes Fund, and the George W.B. Taylor Fund, 2005-145-1.

Roger Shimomura’s internment camp memories

26 November, 2007 (05:00) | contemporary, japan, paintings | By: xensen

roger shimomura, justified internment

An exhibition of Roger Shimomura’s paintings that recall his experiences as a young boy in a Japanese internment camp, called Minidoka on My Mind, is at the Greg Kucera Gallery, 212 Third Ave. S., Seattle, through Dec. 22. Shimomura’s images are effective because he does not appear to editorialize but presents his recollections in an almost noncommital mode. He blends elements of ukiyo-e Japanese prints with an American pop art tradition (he is, of course, an American of Japanese descent). As Regina Hackett notes, compared to Masami Teraoka, Shimomura prefers harder and flatter forms.

The image is from the Kucera Gallery site. I think it is called “Justified Internment,” but I was not able to locate information about it on the site.

Himalayan art on a giant scale

23 November, 2007 (11:13) | contemporary, himalayas, paintings | By: xensen

giant tibetan thangka

This image of a giant thangka (devotional painting on cloth) produced for the annual Shoton festival in at the Drepung monastery in Lhasa, Tibet, was taken by Chris Webster.

The monastery was founded in 1416, and remains a popular pilgrimage destination. Shoton means “yogurt banquet,” and the Autumn festival celebrates the yogurt that was traditional provided to monks following their austere hundred-day summer retreat.

The Ruben Museum in New York is showing an exhibition of such large objects, through March 17, 2008. The museum’s website offers this brief description of the show, entitled BIG! Himalayan Art:

This exhibition presents the largest objects from RMA’s collection in a dazzling display of brightly colored paintings and explores the reasons for creating the even larger tangkas (Tibetan scroll paintings and textiles) that are majestically draped over mountainsides and in valleys. These large works are the focus of community celebrations and accrue merit for all who participate.