there is no end to seeing

There’s hardly a better window onto everyday life in Japan in the nineteenth century than the one Katsushika Hokusai opens in astonishing detail, and his studies in nature are pure nourishment for the soul.  This post is prompted by the current Hokusai exhibition at the NGV.  According to the media releases, 176 of Hokusai’s works will be shown, many for the first time in Australia.  (See gallery information below.)  The exhibition presents a rare opportunity to immerse ourselves once again in the genius of a brilliant Japanese artist and printmaker, who, on his deathbed at eighty-nine is reported to have exclaimed, “If I had another five years, I could have become a real painter.”

 

Katsushika Hokusai: Moon, Persimmon and Grasshopper 1807

 

Not having seen the exhibition, I can’t claim the works I’m posting here are included.  (You can find wonderful preview images on the NGV website and in this gallery at the Guardian.)  I’ve gone my own way instead, choosing a few favourite studies from nature that beautifully demonstrate Hokusai’s depth of “seeing” and the scope of his awakened eye.

 

Katsushika Hokusai: Frog On An Old Tile

 

Although I have posted Roger Keyes’ wonderful poem here before it seems timely to give it another airing.  What more heart-full, wise advice could we possibly need – artists and human beings all – as we learn to simply “let life live” through us?

 

Katsushika Hokusai: Surimono Totsuka, detail

 

Hokusai Says

Hokusai says Look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.

He says Look Forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat yourself
as long as it’s interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,

every one of us is ancient,
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive –
shells, buildings, people, fish, mountains, trees.
Wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw, or write books.
It doesn’t matter if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your verandah or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
are life living through you.
Peace is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.

– Roger Keyes

 

Katsushika Hokusai: Turtles

 

Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849) is regarded as one of the most influential and creative minds in the history of Japanese art.  His unique social observations, innovative approach to design and mastery of the brush made him famous in Edo-period Japan and globally recognised within a decade of his death.

The self-described ‘Old man mad about drawing’ was known by at least thirty names during his lifetime and was renowned for his unconventional behaviour.  Despite his fame, Hokusai never attained financial success and his years of greatest artistic production were spent in poverty.  He travelled and moved his resting place and studio regularly, finding inspiration for his unique style through close observations of nature and interactions with ordinary people.

 

Katsushika Hokusai: Bamboo and Morning Glory

 

In 1909 the NGV purchased five works from Hokusai’s iconic Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji series, including his most celebrated image The great wave off Kanagawa (The great wave), 1830–34; two works from his A Tour to the Waterfalls in Various Provinces series; and four other major works.  These astute acquisitions established a legacy of Japanese art in Australia that has now extended for more than one hundred years.

Hokusai features 176 works from the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum, Matsumoto, and the NGV Collection that encompass the artist’s remarkable seventy-year career.  For the first time in Australia, seven of Hokusai’s major series, including Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji, 1830–34; A Tour to the Waterfalls in Various Provinces, c. 1832; Remarkable Views of Bridges in Various Provinces, c. 1834; Eight Views of the Ryūkyū Islands; and One Hundred Ghost Stories, c. 1831, are on display, as well as selected works representing his great passion for the classical subjects of birds and flowers and historical poetry.  A selection of rare prints and paintings that show the stylistic and thematic changes of Hokusai’s formative years, as well as three sets of illustrated books that highlight the artist’s masterful and compositionally innovative book illustrations, including the complete set of fifteen volumes of Hokusai Manga, compete this comprehensive insight into the life and times of this major figure.

Source – National Gallery of Victoria
See the site’s Gallery of Themes for a feast of Hokusai’s work.
Showing until 15 October, 20017

 

Katsushika Hokusai: Okitsu

 

For biographical details: Katsushika Hokusai

 


Images sourced from the public domain.
1 – Moon, Persimmon and Grasshopper, 1807. Ukiyo-e.
2 – Frog On An Old Tile. Painting on paper.
3 – Surimono Totsuka (detail). Surimono.
4 – Turtles. Surimono.
5 – Bamboo and Morning Glory. Brush painting on paper.
6 – Okitsu. Ukiyo-e.


From the bookshelf:

Hokusai
Mountains and Water
Flowers and Birds

– Matthi Forrer


 

in search of the sublime and beautiful

The great “painter of light”,  Joseph Mallord William Turner,  now has a page at the artisans’ gallery.

Turner, and Turner only, would follow and render on the canvas
that mystery of decided lines,
that distinct, sharp, visible, but unintelligible and inextricable richness
which, examined part by part, is to the eye nothing but confusion and defeat,
which, taken as a whole, is all unity, symmetry, and truth.

John Ruskin
on the man he regarded as the greatest landscape painter of all time.

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner - Sunset at Margate

 

Turner travelled extensively in the search of the sublime and beautiful. The paintings on his page are a small selection which (admittedly to my very subjective taste) express these qualities, regardless of whether one knows their location or subject matter; paintings which, in Ruskin’s words, deliver to the soul “unity, symmetry and truth”.
 

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) was just 15 years old when he exhibited his first picture at the Royal Academy. His talent in the application of paint to render land, sea, sky and atmosphere was unmatched in his time. Commonly known as “the painter of light”, we can thank Turner for taking painting to the edge of abstraction and playing there, unafraid. His priceless legacy to the generations of artists who followed gave them (us) permission to engage this fearless and playful expression of the sacred sublime.

To continue reading, please visit the page:
Joseph Mallord William Turner

 


the awakened ear

While the emphasis of this website and blog is on the visual arts, from time to time offerings of other ways folk attempt to express the direct experience of inter-being are included. (Haiku poets Gabriel Rosenstock and Ron C Moss, for example.) This is the first time I have featured writing about the art of listening with the entire constellation of cells called a body – a somatic listening from silence that erases the perceived separation between the hearer and the heard in the same way that the awakened eye erases the gap between the observer and the observed.

I know of no one more capable and qualified than Suprabha Seshan when it comes to speaking and writing of these things. Suprabha is an environmental educator and restoration ecologist living and working at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary in the Western Ghat mountains of southern India – a community that has been focused on plant conservation and nature education for 40 years. She is an an Ashoka Fellow and a winner of the Whitley Award, the top prize from the UK for nature conservation. I first met her at Brockwood Park School – she is an alumna of the Krishnamurti Schools – and later, on visits to the Sanctuary, had the delight of witnessing her relationship with her jungle environment. She is clearly a woman in her element!

 

Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary

 

This post is a teaser of sorts – a sampling of excerpts from her article The Music of Everything – which was recently published in EarthLines Magazine. I hope you’ll click through to this page to read the whole piece, and see more of Meena Subramaniam‘s wondrous paintings.

 

Elephant, Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary

 

I sing to elephants. It’s what I do. I sing because I like to, and because I believe my elephant neighbours are comfortable in my singing presence. I sing all the time, and it’s when I sing that I know more precisely how I feel. My own speech never does justice to my thoughts and emotions: always a little clumsy and coarse, somehow inadequate, and inexpressive. It’s different when I sing. My utterances are more in tune with my intentions.

I also sing to the langur across the river, and the whistling thrush when he graces this ridge where I live. I sing to treefrogs in the monsoon. I sing to hornbills when they swoop by, matching their cackles and caws, so they swing their heavy-beaked heads to look at me. I sing to hill mynahs all through the winter, my favourite of all musical pleasures. I sing to crows several times a day. As they increase in number in this once crowless place, signifying changes both local and global, the crows here hold lessons in ecology, as well as in musical discovery. As do the macaques, with their so-called commonplace behaviours, and commonplace sounds.

 

Meena Subramaniam - The Wood Life

 

To live for long years in a place works the body, the vocal chords and the mind in a specific and exact way. Epigenetics is real. We are shaped by our environment, by everything and everyone we touch and are touched by, as well as all the stories and messages passing through. The body receives, remembers and transmits, evokes meaning through its very receptivity and eagerness to relate. The jungle tom-tom beats daily, not as the stereotype of a dark man beating a drum to warn other humans of portentous events, but in the million messages, prompts and invitations that pack any column of air or ground. The land, the forest, this community are all abuzz with vibrations: little sonic ripples, and dances of molecules. The art of listening is to be open to these, to become aware and conscious of the effect of them on your supremely conscious body. For life (tissues, cells, organs, bodies and minds) is suggestible. And moreover, it suggests. Not just now and then, but continually, through touch, movement, speech and song, wave and particle. It is a fact that all living beings are tuned in.

It was in going to the wildest places on the land by twilight, and many times in the night, often by moonlight, when my eyes fell quiet, that my ears opened out and shot through a sonic barrier to confound the rest of me.

To experience directly without recourse to authorized systems of knowledge is to be adrift in the open ocean, no anchor, no bearing, no rescue ship in sight. To listen to the night sounds of the forest is a particularly disorienting experience. The ventriloquists are busy, the eyes are dimmed, and the cranium is resonant with its own music; but the main problem is in accessing any thread of meaning. When I fully experience this lack of meaning, when I am aware of my utter lack of comprehension, when I cannot find a single marker or orientation to direct my mind, I can feel the physical impact of every sound, and also of every thought.

Given time, and a settling down of our ideas and preconceptions, we would perhaps have recourse to that infant wisdom we all came into this physical world with, that rippling openness to all sensory stimuli, that vibrant sea of awareness in which every sound causes a unique impression in our minds. When one is rested in this, as little children are, a different depth of discernment is born, and the more direct it is to one’s own experience, the more subtle the discernment is.


Weaver Ant

How to hear an ant:

To hear them one has to be prepared to hear nothing, or what appears to be nothing, silence. One has to get past the tinnitus, past your baseline brain sound, past the wordstream, past the big sounds in the environment, past the littler sounds, then the fainter ones, and further, further and further, and still further, softer, quieter, until you go so far out and so far in, past the sound of the mist, past the sound of the sun, past the silence, past the confusions. Did I actually hear that, did that actually make a sound, did I just make it up, am I hearing what I think I’m hearing? Then you will hear the ant.

The Music of Everything


Painting by Meena Subramaniam – The Wood Life, acrylic on canvas

meenart.in


earthlines magazine


education for wholeness


 

David Bohm and Rouault’s clown

Appreciation of contemporary art doesn’t always come easily.  We “know what we like” and often resist the unfamiliar.  It has always been thus – to the educated eyes of French art connoisseurs in the 1860s the new paintings of the Impressionists were ugly beyond belief.  Yet a mix of curiosity and patience, coupled with a willingness to suspend our preferences, inevitably causes a shift in perception.  Physicist David Bohm was a man with a seriously scientific mind; he was tirelessly curious about the dynamics of creativity and thinking.

In the remarkable collection of letters exchanged between Bohm and artist Charles Biederman,  The Bohm–Biederman Correspondence,  Bohm describes an encounter with one of Rouault’s paintings of a clown.  It’s a fascinating and delightfully honest account of the way the painting literally rearranges his perception, revealing a two-way energetic “flow” between the painting and himself.  He begins by confessing that he found Rouault’s paintings difficult to like, but that a deeper engagement caused his perception to “give way to a remarkable new steady vision which I can best describe as seen in a new dimension.”

 

Georges Rouault - Clown, ca 1937

Georges Rouault, Clown ca 1937

 

I should perhaps [mention] here that my first reactions to modern art were almost entirely negative.  However, in some respects, I have changed my mind.

For example, with regard to Rouault, I first felt that his pictures were very discouraging and depressing.  Gradually, I began to see them in a new light.  In particular, last year in London, I saw a picture of his, The Old Clown …

At first, it seemed to be rather a mixed up set of patches of colour.  But gradually, it began to take shape. In particular two patches struck my eye, one in the face of the clown and another outside him, which seemed to complement the first.  My eye began to move back and forth from one patch to the other, a pulsation was established, and suddenly it ceased, to give way to a remarkable new steady vision which I can best describe as seen in a new dimension.  It was not so much that the clown became visible in three dimensions, this was true but only a minor point.

The major point is that there seemed to be a flow or a current in which the whole being of the clown poured outward to reveal itself, all his feelings, thoughts and emotions etc., and a counter-flow in which the outside (including the viewer) was drawn into him, to emerge again in the outward flow.  It was a very striking experience for me, one that I shall always remember.  Whether the artist intended the picture to be seen in this way, I don’t know of course, I would be interested in knowing whether it struck anyone else in this way.

David Bohm
Bohm–Biederman Correspondence, Vol 1: Creativity and Science
Edited by Paavo Pylkkanen


Charles Biederman


Also see:  scientist meets philosopher (David Bohm in dialogue with J Krishnamurti)


David Bohm, Paul Cezanne and Creativity – F David Peat, a close collaborator and friend of David Bohm, shares insights into Bohm’s creative ideas and process.


 

it’s all about relationship

For a few months – more than I intended as it turned out – I had a trial relationship with Facebook. I set up a page associated with this site, for the sole purpose of nudging readers over to explore its contents. It didn’t take long for the page to gather almost 500 followers, meaning folk who liked the page itself, not just the posts.

Several things happened. I discovered the existence of two separate audiences for my blogs – those who use FB and those who don’t – and noticed how different these audiences are; I learned that putting up good  material on FB (which I endeavoured to do on a daily basis) was no guarantee that anyone would click through to the website – in fact the average was about one per week; I noticed that it became somewhat stressful to ‘feed’ the page and monitor the activity;  and further, I learned that FB was not actually showing the page to its followers in their feeds. Why? Because I wouldn’t give them $ to do so. I grew weary of the constant harping for payment to “optimise” my posts.

In short, I realised that the cyber-world of blogging is much more satisfying to me.  While I will always value my FB friends and continue to use my personal timeline as a noticeboard for the things that are important to me, I am making the return to the deeper and more rewarding blogosphere.


Sean Scully‘s video is a good example of the kind of post that I’d have shared on the now-retired FB page. It’s an apt one for my post today, because he too realises that creativity and painting (and life) is all about relationship. But there’s so much more. Whether you appreciate his work or not, his observations are worth consideration. I love the way he speaks of his obsession with “repairing the world”, and how he wants his work to express “a kind of subjective universality” rather than “telling stories.” How knowledge + craft = freedom. These notions are in alignment with all that this site, and yours truly, values.

 

 


If you landed on this page via an email notification or social media link, it probably won’t be obvious that the site has had a complete overhaul – including a new theme. The ‘home’ page is now a portal that makes the enormous amount of material in the archives more readily accessible:
theawakenedeye.com
Feedback is most welcome!


Relevant reading: how painting can help to change the world, actually