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.