japonisme: the abstract

09 January 2009

the abstract

i sat on the swing out back this afternoon, trying to cajole ruby into sitting with me. yellow leaves were falling from the chinese evergreen elm.

i found myself wondering whether a leaf is considered an animate object. and if so, when is it animate no longer. when is it dead? what if it falls when it's crimson, then turns brown and dries out on the ground.

a few days back i drove by a chain-link fence with a vine crawling along it, or rather hanging from it, now. i suddenly realized how often the dead leaf is part of japanese art and how rarely in the west.

can you tell which of these images are by eastern or western artists? ironically, much was written in the west about the incredible influence of japanese design on design in the west. the western images here illustrate that.

but the japanese images here were seen as strongly western in style! "Seiho Takeuchi was trained in traditional Japanese Shijo painting. Soon he developed his own style. And after he had been in Europe for two years, his style had become even more messy seen from the eyes of a strict Shijo painter. Takeuchi became famous as a distinctively Western style painter. " 1

the artists of the 20th century often developed styles that were so closely linked that easterners saw their own artists, now, as western, and vise versa. seitei watanabe also studied in paris, and was considered a western painter. to us they look asian. they do to me.

methods of teaching, though, were very different. seiho could be a rigid disciplinarian, in a way filled with heart. "[An artist] was appren- ticed to the late great Seiho Takeuchi who made him study the lives and habits of wild fowl for 16 years before he might set brush to silk panel.

For several hours a day he was made to squat in the marshes, by the duck ponds, silently meditating. When Seiho Takeuchi decided that [the artist] knew enough of the plumage, the habits, the anatomy, the temperament of ducks he was allowed to begin painting on silk panels with a camel's hair brush, not with oil paints, but with Chinese ink or Sumi." 2


One chemical afternoon
in mid-autumn,
When the grand mechanics of earth and sky were near;
Even the leaves of the locust were yellow then,

He walked with his year-old boy
on his shoulder.
The sun shone and the dog barked
and the baby slept.
The leaves, even of the locust,
the green locust.

He wanted and looked for
a final refuge,
From the bombastic intimations
of winter
And the martyrs a la mode. He walked toward

An abstract, of which the sun,
the dog, the boy
Were contours. Cold was chilling the wide-moving swans.
The leaves were falling
like notes from a piano.

The abstract was suddenly there and gone again.
The negroes
were playing football in the park.
The abstract that he saw, like the locust-leaves, plainly:

The premise from which
all things were conclusions,
The noble, Alexandrine verve. The flies
And the bees still sought
the chrysanthemums’ odor.

Wallace Stevens

“Contrary Theses (II)” from Collected Poems. Copyright 1923, 1951, 1954 by Wallace Stevens.

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Blogger Lysithea said...

Lovely birds ! ^^

10 January, 2009 03:08  
Anonymous evan said...

Wow. What amazes me (& I've discovered this mostly by following this blog) is how later Japanese artists, & the western artists they influenced, manage to break up space in suck a poetic way. I'm only just figuring out how far to take the use & manipulation of negative space. I'm getting some of my best lessons from the images here. Thank you. ~Evan

10 January, 2009 15:30  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

thanks, evan. that's terrific. yeah--this is the work i was referring to when i had some images coming up that i thought would be of interest to you.

and interesting that you should put it that way--the next post may interest you too....

10 January, 2009 16:14  
Blogger here today, gone tomorrow said...

Lily...truly this must be the most beautiful blog on the internet.

11 January, 2009 05:14  
Blogger lotusgreen said...


you leave me speechless.

11 January, 2009 07:13  
Anonymous evan said...

oops...spell check doesn't always save me- "...break up space in suck a poetic way".

I meant SUCH a poetic way. This time of year puts me in a semi-coma.

11 January, 2009 11:01  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

well, as long as it doesn't put you in a semi-colon i think it'll be all right.

11 January, 2009 13:38  

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