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The spirit of stones

17 August, 2009 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, japan | By: xensen

Stones in Japan are used for bridges, water containers, lanterns, and many other purposes. They are especially used as steps on paths.

In an echo of Japan’s animistic native beliefs, stones are chosen for the spirit they emanate. They form a link between people and the earth. Stones that are scored or pitted or covered with moss evoke the spirit of wabi-sabi — of harmonious simplicity and impermanence (more on this in a subsequent post).

This image of petal-covered stepping stone as Shokokuji, a Rinzai Zen temple in Kyoto, comes from EYLC’s photostream.

Kazuaki Tanahashi, part 2

18 August, 2008 (05:00) | japan | By: xensen

Kazuaki Tanahashi

11 August, 2008 (05:00) | japan | By: xensen

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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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.