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


 

Hokusai says

 

Hokusai: Hawk on a Ceremonial Stand

 

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

 


The poet Roger Keyes is an American professor of East Asian studies. This poem is apparently his cross-media translation of the art of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) into poetry.

Sourced from a year of being here – daily mindfulness poetry by wordsmiths of the here & now.

Gratitude!


Image: Katsushika Hokusai, Hawk on a Ceremonial Stand, Ukiyo-e

Source: wikiart


From the bookshelf: Hokusai, by Gian Carlo Calza


on mindfulness, contentedness and a tin mug

 

The contemplation of things as they are,
without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture,
is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention.

– Francis Bacon, 16-17th century English philosopher

 

Robert Spellman - Two Cups

Robert Spellman – Two Cups, acrylic on canvas

 

On his MoonBlog, painter Robert Spellman speaks of the challenge of contemplating “things as they are”. He points out that Bacon’s words above are a “good description of what meditators sometimes call “non-fabrication”, seeing things without opinion or subjective conceptual overlay”. Yet as all meditators know, this is easier said than done. Spellman observes:

It is one of the maddening things of artistic practice to not know what you are doing. It’s easy enough to come up with a scheme and easy enough to draw conclusions about what has been done, but clarity in the moment of doing is elusive. This, by the way, is why mindfulness practice holds my interest: it turns out to be quite difficult to steady the mind; it’s always on its way elsewhere. I suspect that this flitting quality of the mind is why artistic practice is both useful and surprisingly demanding.

Elsewhere he mentions in more detail how engagement in an art practice is not only useful for taming the monkey-mind, but also that it can lead to a sense of contented completeness:

… artistic practice of the most ordinary sort can lead to a recognition of wholeness, completeness. If you feel complete, you don’t consume so much. If you feel whole it seems natural to be curious about people and things and not so much about your self. This is no small thing if you multiply it by the billions of us on the earth right now. Our needy habits are neither fulfilling nor necessary, and are proving to be catastrophically expensive.

Recently I’ve been revisiting one of my favourite writers – Marion Milner – and I continue to be in awe of her persistent experiments with the processes of her thinking and perceiving. In A Life of One’s Own she sets out to grapple with the question “What do I really want from life?” and discovers that certain ways of attending, of looking, of moving, can bring surprising joy and contentment. Her professional background was in science rather than the arts, although she was a serious painter. To my knowledge she wasn’t a formal meditator, but I think that she and Robert Spellman are riding the same moonbeam when it comes to their diversely gained insights into the workings of perception.

One of her ongoing experiments involved simply sitting with a mundane object – for “it was obvious that I had so often failed to get the most out of whatever I did because my attention was always wandering to something else. So I began to try, and the result was a sense of new possibilities in richness of thought.” She turned her attention to a lump of coal on her hearth:

From having been aware of it simply as something to burn I began to feel its blackness as a quite new sensation, to feel its ‘thingness’ and the thrust of its shape, to feel after its past in forests of giant vegetation, in upheavings of the land passing to eons of stillness, and then the little men tunnelling, the silence and cleanness of forests going to make up London’s noisy filth.

Then I chose a small tin mug. It was an ugly object. Nevertheless I tried to keep my thoughts fixed upon it for fifteen minutes. This time I did not become concerned with its origin but simply let its form imprint itself upon my mind. Slowly I became aware of a quite new knowledge. I seemed to sense what I can only call the ‘physics’ of that mug. Instead of merely seeing its shape and colour I felt what I described to myself as its ‘stresses and strains’, the pressures of its roundness and solidity and the table holding it up. This sense did not come at once and I suppose it might never have come if I had not sat still and waited. But from this few minutes’ exercise on a tin mug I had found a clue which eventually led me to understand what was the significance of many pictures, buildings, statues, which had before been meaningless.

By a simple self-chosen act of keeping my thoughts on one things instead of dozens, I had found a window opening out across a new country of wide horizons and unexplored delights.

She expands this view with a beautiful account of the way her senses were restored from fragmentation to wholeness, bringing deep contentment:

I sat motionless, draining sensation to its depths, wave after wave of delight flowing through every cell in my body. My attention flickered from one delight to the next like a butterfly, effortless, following its pleasure; sometimes it rested on a thought, a verbal comment, but these no longer made a chattering barrier between me and what I saw, they were woven into the texture of my seeing. I no longer strove to be doing something, I was deeply content with what was. At other times my senses had often been in conflict, so that I could either look or listen but not both at once. Now hearing and sight and sense of space were all fused into one whole.

– Marion Milner, A Life of One’s Own


Have you ever sat with a mundane object – even something you would normally consider “ugly” – for fifteen minutes, with a mind totally empty of narrative? With no interest in its value, its history or its future? With what some meditators call “beginner’s mind”?

If yes – were you surprised at what revealed itself?

If no – please have a go… you wouldn’t want to miss out on those “wide horizons and unexplored delights” would you?


Robert Spellman and Marion Milner are also featured on pages in this site:

Robert Spellman at the artisans’ gallery

Marion Milner: knowing with the whole body


Marion Milner: A Life of One's Own

A Life of One’s Own


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