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Wabi-Sabi and the Practice of Ink Painting

‘To those who awaits only the cherry blossoms,

Let me point to the spring in grassy patches amid the snow

of a mountain village’

Fujiwara no Taika

This poem has been used to explain the very essence of wabi-sabi by Sen no Rikkyo, master artist of Japanese tea ceremony. Wabi-sabi as an aesthetic concept evolved with the tea ceremony in Japan by Sen no Rikkyo during the 16th century, yet it is rooted deep in Zen Buddhism already in the 12th century.

Although strongly embedded in Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi as a concept is not always easy to define. It can however, be felt. This is perhaps its most clear element, the use of the senses for the aesthetic experience.

While the 21st century is riding into a digitalisation of the senses, wabi-sabi takes us back to the touch and the taste, the sound and the fragrance of things, as well as their visual experience. To hold a tea cup with both hands and be touched by its textured material is the heart of the experience. While sipping tea, to feel the tongue sticking a little to the fired clay, these sensual feelings are woven into the ceramic beauty impact.

In similar way to the tea ceremony, the ink artist takes a step back from the mundane daily world into their own rhythm, holding a raw ink stick and grinding it on an ink-stone to make ink. Feeling the rough texture

of the stone and taking in the fragrance of the ink as it blends with water, the artist dip the brush to make that first brush stroke - this preparation time creates a unique intimacy of nearness to the natural materials.

The love of the textured material and its simplicity, define wabi-sabi artistic aesthetic, where possible, keeping materials not fully processed, so one can still get a glimpse of their original state.

The soot of which the ink is made of, kept its true nature for many years whilst being exposed to the elements. Be it fire or rain, heat or cold weather, it gifts the sense of humility and humbleness away from pretension and arrogance.

The power of simplicity

Wabi (侘び) carries the idea of elegant beauty that is reflected in simplicity itself. Simplicity that has its core in humbleness. A will to be with the essence of things and not their external cover up.

‘Get rid of the non essential’ - is the wabi-sabi artist most valuable instruction.

The interaction of modest intelligence with a clean, efficient arrangement, allow wabi-sabi artists to keep with the integral component of its creation, and avoid unnecessary details.

Ink painting will reveal just enough details

for the viewer to identify the subject painted, but not more than necessary. The ink painting is intended to echo the very nature of its subject matter, not to copy it.

Rustic beauty

Sabi (寂び / 錆び) translated from Japanese, to mean ‘rust’. It suggests the nature of the ever-changing experiences and things that weathered, fade away or dissipate. It signifies not the ending of things, but actually the flow and continuity of the creative process.

Sabi aesthetic does not find a need to ‘hide’ the ongoing ageing of the art created, on the contrary, the moss on the stone sculpture, the rustic wood pillar inside a home, or the ragged ink brush stroke on textured paper - are all part of cherishing the beauty of time passage. The way ink becomes even more distinct as the paper ages, turning yellow in time, is part of the magic celebrated by the aesthetic of sabi.

This ever-changing state of materials far and beyond the artist work, emerges because of time throwing its magnitude flow upon everything. And while doing so, revealing a tranquil beauty within the greater creation and its ongoing powerful laws of transformation, extinction and reformation. Finding and enjoying the rustic beauty of this is the aesthetic of sabi.

Cherishing the creative process

Within the aesthetic of wabi-sabi , the creative process is exposed and emphasised. It is original in a moment in time, and thus a unique experience.

The ink painting is not intended to be perfect. On the contrary, not the complete figure is painted, nor the whole landscape is seen. The painting will hold spaces and gaps ready to be completed with the viewer’s imagination.

In ink painting, one can appreciate the aesthetics of wabi-sabi where the flow of the brush and ink emphasise the wellness experience of imperfection. It is imperfect because no hand can make a ‘perfected’ line in that sense. Each line and mark is raw and organic, rich in wonder and mystery, reflecting the nature of both artist and viewer at any given time.

Wabi-sabi aesthetic practice in ink painting offers an intimate experience. It unfolds the feeling that even the minute and seemingly insignificant painted theme, can have an insight into the warmth and beauty of a growing and becoming creation.

For an in-depth ink painting course you are invited to join ArtBrush Online Foundation course

All paintings in this article are by Talia and can be viewed in GALLERY



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About the Author

Japanese Ink Painting Instructor & Artist, Talia Lehavi - Standing with a brush in front of Notes on Pine collection in Mallorca Studio

Talia LeHavi is a professional artist and a certified teacher of Japanese ink painting. Exhibiting both in the UK and internationally, she is known for her cross-disciplinary paintings, prints and ceramic tiles.

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