Category Archives: Paintings on shikishi board

LOVE (Keisen)

Among the words of a language few words, like “love”, reflect in their etymology, or in our case in the meaning of the signs that compose the ideogram, the deepest and archetypal instances of a civilization. The kanji “ai” (愛) is composed of three ideograms that return its final meaning, and which we summarize with the word “love”. Looking at the kanji from the bottom to the top we find: 夂, a pictogram depicting a foot that drags wearily; 心, or the heart, the symbolic core of human feelings; 旡 (indeed in a completely different modern form), which means filled, full. The end result of this composition is a heart full of pain that is dragged by suffering.

From here it is easy to frame the role of love in a philosophical religious vision in which the transcendence of feelings puts us in a state of grace and peace while, on the contrary, amorous transportation places us in the flow of things that brings with it the pain of participation in things that change.

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JAPAN (Keisen)

The word “Wa” is the oldest name of Japan recorded by historical documents. The Chinese, Korean and Japanese writers, until the eighth century, regularly wrote Wa or Yamato with the Chinese character 倭. This character, however, had been conceived by the Chinese with a negative connotation: it indicated the Japanese as the people of “bent men”, that is, submissive, docile, obedient. Around 757 AD the Japanese scholars therefore decided to replace the Chinese logogram 倭 with the current 和.

According to some researchers, the origin of the ideogram 和 can be traced back to two kanji: 禾 and 口, that is the entrance of a military camp and the casket in which the peace agreements were placed. Literally then it presents the act of entering into an agreement on a battlefield but, in the broadest sense that is still used, it simply means “harmony”, “peace”.

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ENSO (Ougai Kofude)

Refined shodo (書道) work by the master calligrapher Ougai Kofude (小筆凰外) depicting an enso (円相), that is a circle. The enso is perhaps the most common subject of Japanese calligraphy. It symbolizes illumination, strength, the universe. It is believed by many that the character of the artist is completely revealed by the way he designs this circle; moreover it is believed that only those who are mentally and spiritually complete can draw a true enso. Some artists draw an enso every day, like a sort of spiritual diary.

Some draw the enso with an opening in the circle, while others complete it. The opening could symbolize that this circle is not separate from the rest of things but is part of something bigger. The enso is a sacred symbol in Zen Buddhism, and is often used by Zen masters as a signature in their works.

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The ideogram 福, depicting the blessing, but also more simply happiness and good luck, in its ancestral form appeared as two hands raised towards the sky that offered a wine cask over an altar. In its current form it is composed of the ideogram 示, which means omens from heaven, and 畐 a container filled with votive offerings.

In the tradition of the Far East this kanji represents, together with prosperity (禄) and longevity (寿), one of the three most important auspicious symbols of life. These three goals, visually represented in the Chinese mythology by the Three Stars (三星), ie the three deities Fu Xing (福星), Lu Xing (祿星) and Shou Xing (寿星), in Japan are summarized in the figure of Fukurokuju (福禄寿), one of the Seven Lucky Gods shichifukujin (七福神).

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LUCK (Keisen)

The etymology of the ideogram 幸 depicting luck and happiness, two meanings that are easily overlapping, is not easy to reconstruct. Although this seems far-fetched, given its positive meaning, it seems that originally this kanji depicted the handcuffs of a prisoner and that then it ended up indicating, in a reverse sense, the fortune of a rediscovered joy following a liberation.

Others believe that it derives from the two ideograms 屰 (opposite) and 夭 (death) and therefore underlines the good fortune of being alive. There are also those who claim that it is the simplification of kanji 倖, indicating an imperial inspection and therefore, in a broader sense, the good fortune of being honored by the visit of a high-ranking person.

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LONG LIFE (Keisen)

The ancient ideogram 壽 depicting longevity, which in this beautiful shodo (書道) calligraphy work we see written in its simplified form 寿, in the tradition of the Far East represents, together with happiness (福) and prosperity (禄), one of the three most important auspicious symbols of life.

These three goals, visually represented in the Chinese mythology by the Three Stars (三星), ie the three deities Fu Xing (福星), Lu Xing (祿星) and Shou Xing (寿星), in Japan are summarized in the figure of Fukurokuju (福禄寿), one of the Seven Lucky Gods shichifukujin (七福神).

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In the ideogram depicting the enjoyment (楽) some like to see a pictogram representing a little white bird (白) flapping its wings (羽) on the top of a tree (木) as a sign of joy. Others, instead, believe that this kanji derives from the ancient 樂, or a wooden (木) drum (白) mounted on two stands (幺) and ready to be played on a festive occasion.

Whatever is the correct origin, to date this kanji is used to signify both joy in itself (楽しみ), and the pleasure inherent in the concatenation of harmonic sounds, that is in music (音楽).

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DREAM (Keisen)

The kanji 夢 depicting the dream is composed of four ideograms: the first 艹 represents the grass, the second 罒 an oblique look, the third 冖 is a blanket and, at last, the fourth 夕 is a crescent moon evening. As a result, it is easy to imagine a person with half-closed eyes dozing on the lawn and sheltering, with a blanket, from the cool of a moonlit evening.

Others read, in the composition of the four kanji mentioned above, the act of waking up with flower petals on the eyes after having had a beautiful dream, a nice crowning of a pleasant evening.

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In Japan, the plum blossom (梅の花) is very popular because its flowering occurs early, during the winter months when the ground is still covered with snow. For the courage with which this flower challenges the rigors of winter, it represents the hope and resistance to the difficulties of life, but also the highness of feelings, nobility of spirit and strength.

This very refined painting on shikishi (色紙), entitled “Crimson and White Plum Blossoms” (紅白梅), was made by the artist Okuda Kei (奥田渓), born in 1976 in Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県) and specialized in ink painting and representation of human figures, flowers and birds.

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SAKURA (Adachi Mako)

In Japanese society the cherry blossom (桜の花) has many symbolic values and, even today, can arouse strong emotions; it is enough to remember that during the flowering period the whole nation seems to stop to take part in the great collective ritual of hanami (花見): in often gray cities, which suddenly turn pink, crowds of students, families, employees gather joyfully to eat under the trees in bloom. Among the many meanings attributed to the cherry blossom, stands out undoubtedly that of the transience of life: the extreme beauty of these flowers and their rapid fall seem to remind people both the good fortune to participate in the magnificent cycle of life, and the ineluctable brevity of the human parable.

The artist Adachi Mako (足立真瑚), author of this delicate painting on shikishi (色紙), was born in 1961 in Hyogo Prefecture (兵庫県) and studied Nihonga (日本画) painting at the Kyoto Saga University of Arts (嵯峨美術大学). Specializing in the creation of drawings for the decoration of sensu (扇子) fans and awarded in 2006 with the Nara Education Superintendent’s Award (奈良市教育長賞), she lives and works in the city of Kyoto.

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