Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Art of the Japanese Brush...

Art has so many different forms across the world.  Major types of mediums familiar to Western cultures, include oil, pastels, watercolor, acrylic and graphite (drawing).  In Japan, one of the most popular and historical mediums is known as ink brush painting.

Referred by many as "ink and wash" painting, it is an East Asian art originating in China.  Commonly known as Sumi-E in Japan (in Japanese it is suiboku-ga), it is typically a wash with only black ink.  Black ink is combined with water at varying levels to produce different shades of grey.  Similar ink/brush painting is applied to the art of Calligraphy.  But, for the purposes of this post - I am only going to focus on Sumi-E.

The Chinese name for ink/brush painting is shui-mo hua; Korean sumukhwa; Vietnamese tranh thuy mac.


It seems that the birthplace of ink wash painting is China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). An 8th century poet/painter known as Wang Wei is responsible for introducing color to existing ink wash paintings.  The art was further developed into a more during the Song Dynasty (960-1279).  After this, the art form emigrated to Korea and then arrived in Japan via Korean Zen Buddhist Missionaries during the mid-14th century.


To do basic Sumi-E painting requires 5 tools.  There is the Fude (Brush), the Suzuri (Ink Grinding Stone), the Sumi (Ink Stick) and the Kami (Paper): otherwise, known as the Four Treasures.  Then there are the water bowls for rinsing and mixing to create the many shades of black and grey.  Sumi-E is historically charcoal/ black ink brush painting.  The use of color was introduced to the art; which combined with the many types of brush strokes create works of art very unique in style.  The Art is in the brush and the stroke.  Understanding how much water and ink a brush can hold and WHERE in the brush the water and ink are being held can be the difference between a bold or delicate line.  (It can also be the difference between disaster and success...)
Of course, there are many types of brushes, paper, boards and panels that one uses when painting; but we all start with these basic tools in class.  

1) Brush (Fude) 2) Ink Grinding Stone (Suzuri
3) Ink Stick (Sumi) 4) Paper (Kami) 5) Water Bowls


There is a spirituality to Sumi-E painting and all ink wash paintings.  In class, we are taught to meditate and "calm" as we grind the sumi stick (ink stick) on the stone to make the black ink.  This can take up to 10 minutes while the fragrance of the camphor in the ink stick starts to waft through the air.  Yes, I'm serious. It actually smells calming and is quite an aesthetic experience!  

By the time the ink is made into a creamy black texture, the artist is "at peace in his/her zone" and ready to pick up the brush. The object of painting is to capture the spirit or essence of your subject matter - whether it be a flower, an animal, a bird, or a dancer.  When painting a landscape, the artist remembers the feeling of the nature surrounding him/her and what it felt and sounded like to be surrounded by beauty.  This "feeling" is then translated into every single stroke of the brush.  

Talented sumi-e artists are successful when the image they have painted communicates the essence of the subject; versus just the likeness.  The goal is for a sense of balance, rhythm and harmony.  This is achieved through patience, focus and a LOT of practice! Unlike oil, acrylics and pastels, brush painting is a "one-stroke" art - meaning; you can't cover your mistakes!

The Artwork

Every year my wonderful Sumi-E senseis host a "Kakizome" Party (an opportunity for all their students to display the Sumi-E artwork they produced in class).  I referred to them in my last blog as a source of inspiration; Shoko and Suiko Ohta and I re-visit them again because the result of their wonderful teaching talent was so evident at this party.  They are a mother/daughter team and are 3rd and 4th generation Sumi-E painters.  They literally teach hundreds of very lucky students. 

Kakizome Party at the Tokyo American Club

Panels of artworks on display at The Tokyo American Club

Attending the party, viewing the magnificent pieces of Art and simply being in the presence of so much beauty was so uplifting, I would be remiss if I did not share it on my blog.  I will let the photos speak for themselves - but you will see that it is evident how lucky we all are to be taught by such talented and wonderful women.  Once more, I am inspired by the use of gold and silver; along with the sheer size and details of the compositions on display.  The patience and tiring dedication many of these artists applied to their work is illustrated in every piece of artwork.

Dancers, so delicately rendered you
can hear the music and see the
air move around them. This was
painted by an artist who is a Doctor.
This screen must have been at least 5 feet wide and 3 feet high

This was a scroll, it took the artist one year from start to finish!
It spanned the entire length of the room - must have been at least 40 feet long.

Peacock on double-sided panel
Side 1
Estimated size: 3 feet wide x 2 feet high
Peacock on double-sided panel
Side 2
Estimated Size: 3 feet wide x 2 feet high

The Gold Peacock against the Blue Background and the Colorful Peacock against the gold background are actually painted on the same front and back of the same panel. It took the artist (who is also an eye doctor) 6 months, painting 2 days per week to finish both sides of this panel.

The use of gold allows for the painting to glow.  Imagine these panels in a room at sunrise or sunset, or by the fire of candlelight - the reflection of the warm light can only be soothing as you sip a glass of wine!

Sumi-E painting on boxes

Imagine using these boxes on your kitchen counter to hold tea, or on your desk to hold paper clips or business cards. 

The Artist found an old screen at an antique fair and
painted the paper panels to apply to the screen.
Estimated size: 6 feet across and 3-4 feet high

Just like an artist can re-use canvasses in oil or acrylics - so can a Sumi-E artist re-use materials to apply new works of art
A wonderful rendition of a music scene on a panel.
Instruments whose sounds I can imagine.
Estimated size: 4 feet wide x 2 feet high

The butterfly on one of the panels is painted with
such grace, you can imagine it flitting away.

Of course, the photos don't do justice to any of these artworks. The glow and light reflecting from these paintings in person is truly an inspirational experience; one I hope to learn and capture in my own work.  I leave you with my contribution to the Kakizome Party "The Blue Dragonfly" - which I am happy to say has been scooped up already!

"The Blue Dragonfly"
Sumi-E on Panel
48cm wide x 27cm high
Remember this painting from my last blog?  Well, I finished it!

The Imperfection of Shape
Oil on Canvas

Until my next blog!
(With) PEACE. (In) ART. (To the) SOUL.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Artists Inspiring Artists Creating Art...

It is not unusual for an artist to have a muse.  One of the most famous Indian artists, M F Husain, had a muse for many years in Bollywood actress, Madhuri Dixit.  The movie "The Girl with a Pearl Earring" highlights Vermeer's muse as a maid working in his home.

Inspiration can come from anywhere; as I said in my first blog.  It can come from a person, a poem, a movie, a song, a sunrise/sunset...  The list goes on...

Every now and then, inspiration comes to an artist from other artists.  Well, actually; this happens more often than we think.  In the music industry, an artist will do a "cover" of another artist's famous work.  A guitarist will do his/her rendition of a pop song; a pianist can have still, another interpretation of the same song.  And a painter, sculptor or photographer will have a piece that is inspired from other famous painters, sculptors or photographers...

The Masters as Sources of Inspiration

Throughout history, there are many such examples.

To talk of a few in the contemporary art world include Andy Warhol's The Last Supper inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper.  Liechtenstein's 1992 painting Bedroom at Arles is a version of Van Gogh's original from 1888.

Van Gogh's Bedroom at Arles

Liechtenstein's Bedroom at Arles

Whether as parody or tribute, many artists have found inspiration in works that have come from others.  Even the "Masters" as evidenced by Claude Monet's Le dejeuner Sur l'herbe inspired by Edouard Manet's Le de-jeuner sur l'herbs.

There is a sculpture by Tobias Stengel called Die Woge located in Dresden which commemorates the flooding of the Elbe River in 2002 that is taken from a wood block print by Katsukisha Hokusai called The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa
Wood Block Print
Katsukisha Hokusai
Die Woge
Tobias Stengel
And so it goes...We go to museums to be in there presence of great art - to feel, to ponder, to think.  Even if you are not an artist who creates actual paintings or photographs; you still come away inspired by the greatness that surrounds you.  As artists we study color mixes and brush strokes of famous masters to learn and apply to our own works.  We study the use of light and darks, the use of space, the use of different mediums... and then...       We can't wait to get back into our studios.

The Sumi-E Influence

I have been studying the Japanese brush painting art of Sumi-E for the past 2 years with 3rd and 4th generation Japanese Sumi-E artists, Shoko and Seiko Ohta - a mother/daughter team.  While Sumi-E is typically a black/white based art, the use of the brush to illustrate color is fascinating.  What I love most is the use of gold and silver metallics in the colored paintings.  I love way the gold and silver reflect light and highlight the paintings in a delicate, yet very bold manner.  I am finding ways to incorporate this with oil and having great fun!

The Blue Dragonfly
Sumi-E on panel
Rajul Shah

An impromptu birthday card I made for a friend
Sumi-E ink on Watercolor Paper
Mt. Fuji
Experimenting with Sumi-E and silver leaf
on Watercolor Paper

Work in Progress..  Oil on Canvas
Background is influenced by Sumi-E Art which uses
the same type of metallic square in some pieces
Rajul Shah
Work in Progress...  Oil on Canvas
Background of Gold and Silver
Use of a knife for this background allowed for deeper
texture and color.
Rajul Shah

The Element of the Artiste!

Recently, I have also had the fortune of meeting two artists whose works have given me much to ponder as I approach my own work.  Their use of metallics (albeit for different reasons) is refreshing and exciting.

Aude de Saint-Exupery likes to work with a metallic palette as it reminds her of the sun and heat.  Her work is inspired by her travels and living in Africa, the Pacific Islands and in Asia.  She uses metallics to highlight a landscape and/or call attention to detail.
Aude de Saint-Exupery
Aude's use of gold highlights the
foreground and background of this
piece drawing the eye to the woman
as the subject
le Pavillion d'Or
Aude de Saint-Exupery
The use of metallic gold highlights
the temple behind the tree

Another artist, Gwen Anderson, incorporates silver leaf or aluminum leaf into her collections, which I find to be haunting and intricate.  Gwen's work is influenced by her experiences as a child, surviving a shipwreck along with her sister and friends; while losing her father and others.  The mental images from this event, which have developed over time, are both "harrowing and beautiful" and an inspiration to her work.  In Gwen's works, the corrosive nature of the metals allows for her interpretations to reflect the distortion and change of memories through time.  Her use of metallics as a medium is interesting to me as an artist and motivates me to explore use of the color in my own artwork.

Gwen Anderson
The outline of a ship is is in the foreground against
the silver backdrop of the memory - the intensity of the
color in the ship can illustrate the emotion of the memory. 

Gwen Anderson
Another outline of a ship against the
backdrop of sea and land.
The distance of the island or the distance
of the memory comes into debate.

Metallics & Me...

Being of Indian descent, I grew up in a culture that celebrates the brightness of color.  Gold and Silver, in jewelry or any other form, is considered an investment.   "Jewel tones" which allow for reflective qualities in fabric and paintings, have always excited me.  But, it is the underlying use of reflective metallic color that has always attracted me.  The use of gold, silver and other precious metals in threads to adorn a border, a sari or interweaved into an outfit give it an ethereal quality.  The use of precious metals to outline precious and semi-precious stones within intricate designs are truly works of art as the contrast of color between the stones and the stone and the metal are definite considerations so that when the particular piece of "art" is viewed, there is a feeling of Joy that goes with it.  Of course, one could argue that any precious metal and/or stone would bring joy to its owner - but it is my belief that the design of such things is what brings one to "Succumb", to "Be Drawn into" the art of the textile or jewelry itself.  Forcing one's eyes to "linger" for just that one last sigh or just those.. added.. few seconds....

It is my hope that I can bring some of this quality forward in my artwork.  As such, I have been experimenting with the use of silver and gold...below is a metallic abstract I recently completed using 3 colors plus black, white, silver and gold.

Mandela & Butterfly
Oil on Canvas
Rajul Shah

And now...  I can't wait to get back to my studio!

Until my next blog...
With PEACE. In ART. To the SOUL...


R. Shah Studio