After so many years researching the life of William Hamilton Gibson, it was such a special privilege to have dinner in his home after the lecture. Designed by the New York City architect Ehrick Rossiter, the home was considered a true showplace in its time so much so that it was featured in an extensive New York Times article. An amazing experience to actually be able to be in his family home!
So this is the essence of summer to me. Long hours in the garden and long walks, just filling up with the quiet and the sights. Currently, I'm reading The Hidden Life of Trees which has me questioning ever definition of sentient life I have ever heard. Coupled with my class in Buddhism, I find myself pondering quite a bit lately and feeling that perhaps, I've been sleep walking through life thus far. Along with this I've been wandering through the Blue Cliff record.
So what have I been making? Well, my focus, when I'm not working on my bonsai project, has been on honing my skills in Japanese printmaking through an excellent online course in Mokuhanga by Terry McKenna at the Karuizawa School in Nagano, Japan. I know I've mentioned before in my blog how much I love online learning, but, I really do. What a treat to learn and travel the world without having to leave my beloved home, a home bodies' dream! I've been continuing sketching, refining and carving my series of blocks of images inspired by the Blue Cliff Record.
Today however, I am starting something new. I'm designing a hand printed book that will feature blue birds or rather birds that are blue. This was inspired from checking my email and learning that the Book Workers Guild is planning an exhibit of books that have a "blue" theme. Nothing like a deadline to get you moving! Stay tuned for sketches and bonsai updates!
My class had everyone from just about every walk of life and quite an age range: from recent college grads to a fellow who quietly but proudly proclaimed he graduated from college in 1952...do the math. He is my hero. I hope I'm still pursuing my curiosities and questions when I reach the same age-Inshallah!
Taking classes for a teacher has a dual advantage. For me, I think it keeps me in touch with my "beginner's mind" as the Zen masters would say. I hope that it helps me stay more thoughtful and sensitive to my students' needs and perspective. Watching others teachers teach is the second benefit. I learn so much about different pedagogies, styles, and approaches.
Basic Buddhism was a wonderful insight into the spiritual context that has shaped Asia. In returning to school to study Eastern Classic, this was one of my primary goals: to gain a deeper understanding of the mind set and perspective of the artists who created so many great masterpieces. I think the main thing I learned is there is nothing "basic" about Buddhism. And like the texts of other religions, there is historical context and the varying interpretations and insights into each work. Stylistically the detailed imagery of each story appeals to me artist's eye greatly, for the lesson of the Buddha and his followers, like those prophets and great thinkers of the West, are more often than not told in the form of a story. Stories that you glean new, and different wisdom and lessons from each time you visit them because we all grow and change throughout our lives.
I truly learn the meaning of Aristole's quote, "The mark of the educated mind is to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it" in our class discussions. I have seen this quote many times in our faculty mail room. Initially, I interpreted it to mean that you could think about something you didn't agree with. But, I think Eastern thought is good for me, it's taking the "I" out of my thinking. The educated mind (that I aspire to) can look at a thought without passion, without commitment, can turn it around, and consider it from all perspectives without espousing belief, just thinking. There is a freedom in this, a letting go that every intellectual act is performance for evaluation. I could let go of having to have or form an opinion and give my mind and heart time and space to listen, absorb and consider quietly. I know I learned more this way because quite honestly I was listening better, frankly because I got my own voice in shut up in my head. All in all a good class.
My next week was a dive into one of my favorite subjects, the world of Tang Dynasty poets (8th century CE). This is way I've included my favorite poet of this periods portrait here, Du Fu. Translation is a powerful tool for poetry, I've learn it can reveal nuances of social and historical context, subtleties of the poet's perspective and personality. In other words, it allows you to step into another world. A world that for me prior to this past year was completely curtained off by the translations of others. You can imagine my excitement. It was a profound artistic experience for me for I became a true fan of Du Fu a poet who can touch the sky yet has his perspective about how to live one's life grounded in realism with a touch of humor. If you haven't read him, please do. I discovered too that Du Fu and Li Bai, another great Tang Dynasty poet, were great friends and I was reminded of Coleridge and Wordsworth. Certainly a doctoral dissertation there for someone to write.
I'll write again shortly, to update you on my summer reading and latest creations!
Making the book:
Stitching the Binding
After a recent close encounter with a LFF, low flying fox, Sasha reminded me of my unfinished series of fox prints. I've completed two new fox sketches and begun two new woodblocks for carving.
I've started a Japanese album dedicated to the pileated woodpeckers we hear laughing in the forest during our early morning walks. Now that the sketches are complete, I've decided to create wood block backgrounds: forest, sky, sky with clouds. I'm hoping to get to printing these this week. If all goes well, I'l then paint in the birds in water soluble graphite and watercolor.
I completed a drawing of daffodils I started during the spring semester for my niece, hoping to get that in the mail this week as well. I'll be sure to post the work on my portfolio page after I'm sure she has received it.
This week my focus was on teaching myself Japanese book binding. I made four small books, each with a different binding. It's been a fascinating adventure and the various bindings and book forms have me thinking not only about new ways to design and present my work, but as book structures as a kind of architecture. I'm not sure what I mean by that quite yet, need to think about it all more. I'll have time as I need to make one more small book and then I will have samples that I hope to use in book binding workshops in conjunction with our school librarians in the upcoming school year. The book that inspired all this can be seen in the picture with the books I made.
Still finished up reading the Natural History of Seashells which is inspiring me to draw shells. I'm also taking an online course in Basic Buddhism. In that course, we just read the Kalama Sutta. A simply magical descriptive work that reminded me very much of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, and I have to believe it was some inspiration to J.R.R. Tolkien, but more about that next week.
Hope the summer finds you relaxing, making art and reading inspiring works as well!
Because I keep this blog as a record for myself and as a model for maintaining the practice of artistic reflection for my students, I'll share my summer goals. But keep in mind, its the ellipsis time that will be first and foremost, for not only is that the time and space where my creative batteries recharge, but its the space where the happy accident, the place where what started as diversion becomes a new passion or old ones become more deeply ingrained.
This spring I stumbled on to the contemporary Japanese novel (based on a true encounter by the poet, Takashi Hiraide and his wife), The Guest Cat. I am pleasantly surprised to find that the Japanese seem to love cat stories at least as much as I do. So my evenings are spent reading:
The Cat Who Saved Books by Sôsuke Natsukawa
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
To feed my endless curiosity about the natural world:
A Natural History of Shells by Geerat J. Vermeij, which makes me wish I had been a better student of mathematics
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, I can't wait to dive into this one because the preface alone changed how a look and feel in the forest forever!
The Unknown Craftsman by Soetsu Yanagi. Recommended by my ceramics colleague, a delightfully accessible insight into Japanese aesthetics.
So what am I doing...besides reading and gardening and most importantly, trying to keep my practice of drawing and painting everyday:
1. Continue my on going bonsai project
2. Taking a Mokuhanga course from Japan online-super excited! My first formal instruction in this wonderful technique!
3. Exploring photo etching with a colleague.
4. A little bookbinding and printmaking
5. Possibly starting a new project: images inspired from the Zen Buddhist text "The Blue Cliff Record"
...stay tuned to see what actually happens I will be posting here and under my "Works in Progress" page...art will be made...just not sure if it will be as planned!
It's a pleasure and honor to be able to lend a hand in the celebration of World Bonsai Day at the museum which has been such an inspirational in my current body of work. The above is one such work. In many ways this bonsai was my first love, it was literally the first tree I saw when I walked into the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum after they opened following the pandemic. It is a Japanese Black Pine. I've sketched this tree in graphite, painted it in watercolor, and created a wood block print of it. It seems each medium, for me reveals a different aspect of its beauty.
I've also enjoyed learning more about World Bonsai Day by reading the words of its founder, Master Sabuto Kato.