Friday, 28 May 2010

The attraction of ink

I was attracted to sumi-e paintings from a comparatively early age - true, I was even more attracted to the heroic warrior prints of Kuniyoshi that engendered a romantic idyll of life in 'samurai Japan', all colour and bombast - but even then, there was something I couldn't quite put my finger on that kept my interest in the more restrained, monochrome works.

To many, I'm sure, they are little more than quaint and anachronistic works that have very little relevance to our modern lives, particularly so in the west.

However, I find these paintings to be visceral works of art with a power that transcends cultures, at the same time accessing something that falls outside most other forms or art that I'm familiar with.

What is it about them that attracts me so strongly? On one level, it would be ingenuous of me to deny their power as representative of a culture, the study of which has taken a large and important part in my life. To see a painting, even out of its original setting is to, to some extent, be transported back to the age of which it was part. With their crossing of cultures, the effect is more pronounced - and that romance, both of the culture from which they came, and of the past itself, is a powerful attractant.

Beyond this, however, are the works themselves - in formal terms, though the paintings may be of varying quality, they convey great subtlety and depth through comparatively simple means. While the brushstrokes are not necessarily as few or as simple as sometimes made out (nor are they necessarily the product of a single brush or performed as an adjunct to spiritual practice), they are visible - the shape and quality of the strokes themselves as well as the image they delineate are there to be seen. This gives one a sense of looking under the bonnet (or hood) of an artists work - painters will understand the attraction.

Despite being open to our examination, they are still pervaded by a subtle mystery, that hints at something just beyond our vision - if the line provides charm... and the tones, subtlety, it is in the spaces that we can sense the power of this mystery.

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