Asia Society art exhibition: “Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan”

Nyoirin Kannon. Kamakura period, early 14th century. Japanese cypress (hinoki) with pigment, gold powder, and cut gold leaf (kirikane). H. 19 1/2 x W. 15 x D. 12 in. (49.5 x 38.1 x 30.5 cm). Asia Society, New York: Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Asia Society/Wall Street Journal:

Last week, the Wall Street Journal featured Asia Society‘s upcoming Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan exhibition as one of several ways to “travel the world” and absorb international culture without ever leaving New York:

This exhibition links artistic style to spiritual practice. As religious trends of the time brought worshipers closer to their deities, sculptors pursued innovations in woodwork, carving expressive, humanlike forms that were intended to “come alive” during public ritual and private devotion. The show features a stellar lineup of figures, mostly carved in cypress and adorned with gilding and lacquer. Look for the miniature Buddha figures and sutra text, fascinating examples of tiny items that artists left embedded in hollow spaces to empower their figures from within.

The Kamakura exhibition begins on February 9 and goes through May 8.

Click here for more information about the exhibit.

Ikenaga Yasunari’s dream-like paintings of women using the traditional Japanese style of Nihonga

Ikenaga Yasunari - Painting

Beautiful Decay (by Hayley Evans): 

Ikenaga Yasunari paints tranquil portraits of women immersed in elegant floral patterns. His work is a curious blend of traditional Japanese-style paintings (nihonga) and modern imagery. Whereas nihonga manifests itself in Yasunari’s bold, monochromatic contrasts and the absence of outlines in the patterns, the subjects are all donned in modern clothing, and their hair and makeup also convey a distinctly contemporary style. Yasunari’s chosen materials are based in tradition, involving a combination of sumi-ink (soot ink) and mineral pigments painted on linen cloth. In exploring modern subjects using traditional techniques, he reinvests an older cultural, artistic practice with an ongoing significance.

The beauty of Yasunari’s work arrives in the interplay between complexity and serenity; much like Gustav Klimt’s decorative paintings wherein patterns coalesce around a highlighted female figure, Yasunari’s works strike a balance between the undulating, seamless background and the subject embraced in its flow. The gentle sepia tones likewise enhance the paintings’ quiet, almost autumnal, atmosphere. Blending gentle imagery with harmonious compositions, Yasunari’s works are meditative portraits embodying youth, reverie, and dreams.

Visit Yasunari’s website to view more of his works.

Ikenaga Yasunari - Painting

Ikenaga Yasunari - Painting

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Animated GIFs illustrate traditional Japanese woodblock prints with humor

Segawa 37 - Gif 1

Beautiful Decay (by Tamar Akcay): 

Segawa 37 pays tribute to Japanese art by creating GIFs from the original work of traditional Japanese woodblock prints, “pictures of the floating world’.

Originally, Japanese woodblock paintings, also called Ukiyo-e, were depictions of everyday scenes in Japan. Affordable, they represented the possibility for the mass to access art. Segawa 37 gives a new life to these prints by altering their core. From hyper realistic to surreal, the artist offers to the modern world a new way of looking at a classic form of art. 

The most emblematic representation of Japan, a contemplation of movements; calm and serene, but always intense remains within those wooden prints. The artist’s reinterpretation of Katsushika Hokusai’s images is disturbing the stillness and tranquility of the scenes… What is meant to be admired in almost a meditative state is now entertaining.

Discover Segawa 37’ series of Gifs on the GifMagazine award page sponsored by Adobe.

Segawa 37 - Gif 3Segawa 37 - Gif 6Segawa 37 - Gif 2

Segawa 37 - Gif 7Segawa 37 - Gif 5

Edo and Meiji era Japanese artwork now available for free download

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Attention all designers, artists, fashion enthusiasts and people who just appreciate some nice Japanese artwork: The Smithsonian Libraries should be your best friends.

Among their thousands of other free artwork and books, The Smithsonian Libraries and the Freer and Slacker Galleries, Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Arts now offer free downloads of thousands of beautiful Japanese prints.

Haven’t you ever wanted the simple yet colorful and whimsical prints of Meiji era (1868-1912) artwork as a digital file on your computer? Yeah, we have too and we’re really excited about this cool find.

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The collection is in fact a series of monthly design magazines, entitled Shin-bijutsukai.They were released in 1902 to show various designs by famous artists of the day. Artists featured include the editor himself, Korin Furuya, and his predecessor, Kamisaka Sekka. Sekka is known for being one of the first to incorporate Western tastes, styles and methods into traditional Japanese-style works. Furuya carried on this new, modern Japanese style and helped spread it around the world.

▼ Can you see the Western influence?

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If you want digital access to the pictures above and hundreds more, head to The Smithsonian Libraries website. There are two volumes of Shin-bijutsukai and both can be downloaded in their entirety by clicking the links towards the bottom of the website here.

Be aware, the files are kind of big, so you might want to stick with computers, not smart phones for this one.

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If you’re more into traditional artwork, the Freer and Slacker Museums also offer countless free downloads of artwork from all over Asia here. In the Japan section, you can find Edo period woodblock prints from world-famous artists, such as Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige.

▼ “Wood-block Print of Two Fish with Floral Sprays and a Poetic Inscription” by Utagawa Hiroshige.

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▼ “Merry Makers at Cherry Blossom Festival” by Yeisen

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Sometimes staring at pictures in museums just isn’t enough; you want to get them from the wall and onto your computer. Now you can and what’s even better, is that they’re available for free. Thank you technology and thank you Smithsonian Library.

Kumiko: The exquisitely delicate side of traditional Japanese woodwork

shippou

RocketNews 24:

A few weeks ago we introduced you to the world of traditional Japanese woodwork, a technique that uses no nails or hardware, just precise joints, to keep furniture and even buildings together. This technique is also used to create intricate, wooden, functional artwork, known as kumiko, which is used within Japanese style-rooms to create a stunning atmosphere.

The traditional handicraft has been passed down for centuries, however, the trade is sadly dying out. In response, artisans are taking the age-old concept and applying the designs to more modern-day household items, such as chairs and lampshades. The results are nothing short of exquisite!

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According to Tanihata Co., a kumiko workshop in Toyama Prefecturekumiko has been around since the Asuka era (600-700 AD). The craft was originally used almost exclusively for sliding doors, room dividers and ramma (the decorative wooden piece above many doors in traditional Japanese buildings). While providers like Tanihata still make these products, modernization has brought a decrease in demand for such traditional room components, so craftsmen are broadening their horizons.

Ramma, the decorative section above doors and walls

らんま

Regardless of what they are making, the time and care put into each piece never changes. If you thought making buildings and furniture in the traditional Japanese style was painstaking, prepared to be wowed.

Just like furniture-makers, kumiko artists are very particular about the wood they use. While, it’s easier to use mass-produced particle board, you lose the ability to be as precise, the elegant atmosphere of real wood, and of course, the great smell! When choosing wood, they prefer to use that of coniferous trees, namely cedar and cypress, because they grow straight and the wood has a high-quality fine grain.

▼ Kumiko is often made of wood from tall, thin, Japanese cypress trees.

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Once the wood is picked out, cut and planed, they make the frame for the piece, whether it be a coaster or a ceiling lampshade. Next comes the difficult and intricate part of the process, which makes kumiko what it is. Hundreds of small pieces of wood are thinly sliced and shaved with a variety of tools, such as old-fashioned knives and saws, plus new machinery too. These tiny pieces have to be precisely cut down to the micron (1/1000 mm) or they won’t fit together perfectly! Once cut, the pieces are carefully assembled by being slid into place in an elaborate design within the frame.

▼ A variety of machinery and hand-tools are used to make and assemble the delicate pieces.

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The designs for kumiko pieces aren’t chosen randomly. In fact, many of the nearly 200 patterns used today have been around since the Edo era (1603-1868). Each design has a meaning or is mimicking a pattern in nature that is thought to be a good omen. The designs are not just pretty, they also distribute light and wind in a calming and beautiful way.

▼ The Shippou design. In Buddhist scripture, shippou refers to a set of treasures (which includes gold, silver, lapis lazuli, quartz, coral and agate), and the never-ending, circular design represents harmony.

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▼ The goma design is suggestive of nutritional and abundant sesame flowers, which are thought to promote longevity. This design is often used for ramma.

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▼ Sanjyu-hifu is a design that utilizes thin strips to create diamond shapes. It’s thought to mimic very fertile water plants, a good omen for prosperous offspring and good health. With this is mind, sanjyu-hifu is often used in hotels and wedding halls.

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▼ The Asanoha pattern takes after the hemp leaf. Hemp plants are known for growing quickly and straight-up, as well as for being sturdy plants. For this reason, the design has come to be used commonly with baby clothes too.

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▼ These are some of the more common designs.

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As we mentioned earlier, artisans are turning their focus to bringing their trade to the modern world, while still sticking with the traditional roots of kumiko. With this in mind, they have been creating beautiful art that can be used on a daily basis in any home.

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▼ You can even get kumiko chairs!

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Due to the drop in demand for traditional Japanese interior decoration, such as ramma,the kumiko trade has also seen a decrease in the number of young craftsmen. But hopefully, with the technique being applied to modern living, more young people will step up to the challenge and carry on this intricate and beautiful craft for future generations.

Incredible origami dinosaurs, angels, flowers, and other creatures created by artist Adam Tran

Big Jaws

Laughing Squid:

Adam Tran, a skilled origami artist from Vietnam and member of the Vietnam Origami Group (VOG) has created an incredible series of dinosaurs, flowers, and other creatures, all through the beautiful craft of folding paper.

 

Green Dinosaur

Angel

Centipede

Red Flowers

Skeleton

Orchids

Praying Mantis

photos by Adam Tran

Check out “The Delicate Art of Creating Bonsai Trees”

American Bonsai tree nursery Bonsai Mirai has commissioned filmmaker Ryan J. Bush to create a film featuring Bonsai master, Ryan Neil. The Bonsai master has been practicing the craft for over twenty years, perfecting the challenges that come with honing this historic art.

Check out the seven-minute film, and take a look into Neil’s mind and the broad and generally mysterious art of Bonsai tree planting.