Research : Final Major Project
MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 5
The current BBC series, Civilisations provides historic and cultural contexts for artistic expression. During episode 6, series 1, ‘First Contact’, the historian David Olusoga sets out the flow of people, ideas and visual techniques via trade and the immediacy of expression via the paintings, sculpture and drawings that capture the diffusion that sparked new thinking.
Of particular note was the work by the late Eighteen Century Japanese artist, Maruyama Okyo who, based in Kyoto, a trading city with the Europeans, makes a rather beautiful work known as Cracked Ice, fig 1. This is made using ink on paper and it is a cultural synthesis of technique, the simple line of the ink pen on paper but with the added ‘visual depth’ allowing the eye is drawn deep across the scant, icy surface by the thinning of each line. This was opposed to the flat, two-dimensional representation of typical Japanese art. Olusoga notes that the work “Imperfections and impermanence typical of Buddhism and Japanese philosophy”, this appeals to me; the cracks are the imperfections in the purity of the ice sheet, the impermanence of the melt mean the scene would soon simply melt into a changed state; the solid simply passes the melting point and cracks have no place to be. A metaphor for life, human and environmental, for the liminal moment, for the pause state, hence my fascination with it.
Within my practice, I seek to place the lens to achieve a sense of place (the perspective, fig 2) and evoke the surface (as if the ink, fig 3), often in a frame that compresses and excludes the peripheral to draw the eye to the essence.
On Taking Tea
The Maruyama Okyo piece is cited by the British Museum website, where it is held, thus “Painting, two-fold screen for tea ceremony (furosaki byobu). Cracked ice: patch of ice just beginning to form; lines of ink along white surface. Ink on paper with sprinkled mica. Signed and sealed”
There are curator’s comments by Smith et al 1990, “As a young man, Okyo was employed by a Kyoto toy merchant, Nakajima Kambei, to design prints and paintings incorporating Western-style ‘vanishing-point’ perspective, for use with novelty viewing machines that contained a mirror and a lens to accentuate the three-dimensionality of the images. Okyo applied the lessons of these early experiments to his mature works which, for the first time in the history of Japanese art, have a structure based on integrated spatial recession”.
Under ‘further reading’ the site references Saint Louis Art Museum, ‘Okyo and the Maruyama-Shijo School of Japanese Painting’, Saint Louis, 1980.Hizo Nihon bijutsu taikan Vol 1′ “This work was likely used as a ‘furosaki’, or small, low screen placed near the hearth in a room devoted to the tea ceremony.”
With the reference to the tea ceremony, I am reminded about the writings of Juniper on Wabi Sabi, the Art of Japanese Impermanence (2003:40-42) the liturgy of the tea serving is epitomised by another son of Kyoto, Sen no Rikyo, who had trained as a Zen monk and became known as the master of masters, centred on this ritual. He eschewed the decorative chinoiserie elemental parts and chose to have simple clay utensils crafted for his routine. He created spaces to undertake the procedures in a “tearoom inspired by the simple and restrained designs of Zen temples. At every turn he aimed to par away everything that was not strictly necessary to leave only the most austere and yet sublimely refined the environment in which to enjoy the sharing of tea”. The cleanliness and preparation were epitomised by the account that Sen no Rikyo asked his son to spend a whole day preparing the steps and spaces in readiness for a ceremony; after triple cleansing the son was satisfied that perfection had been achieved, yet “Rikyo then went over to a Maple tree that was crimson with the autumn leaf and shook it so that some of its beautiful leaves fell randomly to the floor. He let the artistry of nature put the finishing touches to the earnest in endeavours of the son, and in so doing a perfect balance between the two. Wabi Sabi is not solely the work done by nature, nor is it solely to work done by man. It is a symbiosis of the two”.
In the method applied to the Pause Project, the handcrafted line, surface, space is often counterpointed by the unexpected or the unintended; the dust, the litter, the random, fig 5, that simply is, not designed, not crafted, just left, fig 6.
Civilisations, BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05xyfg6 (accessed 30.3.2018)
Juniper A. 2003. Wabi Sabi, the Art of Japanese Impermanence. Tuttle Press. Tokyo
1 British Museum – see above
2 Philip Singleton, Great Hampton Street, 2018
3 Philip Singleton, Snow, Harborne, 2018
4 From Wabi Sabi, the Art of Japanese Impermanence, see above. PP 32.
5 Philip Singleton, Spaghetti Junction, 2017
6 Philip Singleton, Roundhouse, 2017