Live in simple faith
Just as this trusting cherry
Flowers, fades and falls – Basho
The words of this beautiful Basho poem eloquently capture the wisdom and grace of being aware of and applying the concept of transience. Western culture appears to identify so heavily with the permanence of material form, thought and emotion, and could perhaps live in a more balanced way through acceptance of the popular Buddhist concept that “This too shall pass.” Rather than becoming lost in the world of things, emotions and events we should flow with grace and trust life and its experiences.
Mono No Aware (pronounced - “moh-noh noh ah-wah-ray”) is a Japanese term which arose from the Buddhist culture of the Heian Period (794-1185). This term describes the awareness of the transience of things, and both a joy and intense appreciation as well as a gentle sadness at their passing. Poet and artist Motoori Norinaga (1730 -1801), describes the term as “sensitive, exquisite feelings experienced when encountering the subtle workings of human life or the changing seasons.” In Norinaga’s interpretation, the phrase speaks of a refined sensitivity toward the sorrowful and transient nature of beauty. According to mono no aware, a falling or wilting autumn flower is more beautiful than one in full bloom; a fading sound more beautiful than one clearly heard. The Sakura or cherry blossom tree is the epitome of this conception of beauty. They explode in beauty after winter’s doldrums, trumpeting life for only a few days before they die.
Beauty is a subjective rather than objective experience, a state of being ultimately internal rather than external. Based largely upon classical Greek ideals, beauty in the West is sought in the ultimate perfection of an external object: a sublime painting, perfect sculpture or intricate musical composition; a beauty that could be said to be only skin deep. The Japanese ideal sees beauty instead as an experience of the heart and soul, a feeling for and appreciation of objects or artwork—most commonly nature or the depiction of—in a pristine, untouched state.
The paintings in this exhibition combine the influences of the ancient artwork from Japan, an understanding of Zen Buddhist philosophy and a contemplation of the transient nature of life.
This body of work contains floral imagery such as the cherry blossom as well as bees and birds which again symbolise the transient life of the natural world. Materials used in these paintings incorporate a collection of vintage Japanese fabrics, wallpapers and metallic leaf and foil; combined onto the canvas with screen printed patterns, paint and encaustic wax. As when Japanese golden screens first appeared in the fourteenth century they functioned as a background on which to paste painted fans or square poem cards. Similarly, these paintings are a combination of both paper and material collage and painted areas.
Pattern is also an important element in this collection of paintings. I am contemplating both the pattern of the life cycle and seasons, pattern within sound, music and the written language, patterns in nature (honeycomb, petals of a blossom, waves etc) and the deeper, more geometric patterns that man has recognized in nature including the Fibonacci sequence, Mandelbrot set and Golden Mean.
Segments of the paintings appear as though they have aged over time. Tarnish, wear and decay also represent the transient nature of passing time. Areas of space represent that which has passed before or that which is yet to come into form. They suggest a magical, ‘alive’ dimension of true beauty beyond the 3D form that we, as humans so heavily identify with.
The paintings are material objects that depict an image which arose from the essence and which, at their highest function, will offer the viewer a window to their own eternal essence within.