Do You Know What Suiboku-ga Is?

Hello! It’s March, almost spring and I can hardly wait. In fact I’m looking forward to it so much I’ve created a series of paintings with that in mind. But it’s more than that….being an expressionist painter I look for colour, form and shape all the time but I wanted to add more to my work and quite by accident stumbled upon Suiboku-ga and my mind exploded with ideas. It was like the missing piece.

Suiboku-ga (Japanese) is the monochrome ink painting technique where bold use of black ink strokes and washes allowed the artists to eliminate from their paintings all but the essential character of their subject, an aim closely related to the pursuit of Zen Buddhism.

The goal of Suiboku-ga painting is not simply to reproduce the appearance of the subject, but to capture its’ sprit. To paint a horse, the artist must understand its temperament better than its muscles and bones. To paint a flower, there is no need to perfectly match its petals and colors, but it is essential to convey its liveliness and fragrance. Suiboku-ga painting may be regarded as a form of expressionistic art that captures the unseen.

Suiboku-ga has long inspired modern artists in the West. In his classic book Composition, American artist and educator Arthur Wesley Dow wrote this: “The painter…put upon the paper the fewest possible lines and tones; just enough to cause form, texture and effect to be felt. Every brush-touch must be full-charged with meaning, and useless detail eliminated. Put together all the good points in such a method, and you have the qualities of the highest art.” Dow’s fascination with ink wash painting not only shaped his own approach to art but also helped free many American modernists of the era, including his student Georgia O’keeffe, from what he called a ‘story-telling’ approach. Dow strived for harmonic compositions through three elements; line, shading, and colour. I’ve added a fourth which is texture, perhaps because I’m a latent sculptor or maybe just because I like to touch things.

The above painting depicts red hibiscus in a sunny afternoon in the most simple of that method. And as I began to play around with this idea I couldn’t help but be reminded of intricately beautiful kimonos. This then led me to treat the canvas as though it were a sculptural element by making it into the shape of a kimono. This series and other works are available for purchase at my studio or during my upcoming show at Azuridge Estate Hotel.

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