Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Hiroshima Survivor Bonsai US National Arboretum

Today is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb being exploded over Hiroshima.  I am not looking to get into an exploration of whether it was right or wrong, don’t want to justify or condemn the decision.

It happened.  And with horrifying effectiveness.

No, instead of focusing on our ability to destroy I would rather today feature a story of natural endurance and beauty.  I am talking about the now 390 year-old bonsai tree, shown above, that now resides at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC.  It has made it intact through the centuries of history including surviving the Hiroshima blast which took place less than two miles from its then home.

It started its life on the Japanese island of Miyajima back in 1625.  Think about that.  Here, we were five years into the Plymouth colony, still struggling to gain our footing in this land while on an island half a world away this tree was beginning its life.  And since that time, this tree has received constant daily care, allowing it to thrive and live well beyond the life expectancy of a normal bonsai.

At some point in its life, this rare tree came into the possession of the Yamaki family which ran a commercial bonsai nursery for several generations near Hiroshima.  It was at this location when the bomb exploded.  The tree was sheltered by a wall and the blast fortunately only caused minor injuries to the family, mainly lacerations from flying glass.

In 1976, bonsai master Masaru Yamaki donated the prized tree as part of the Japanese people’s gift to the U.S. in recognition of our Bicentennial.  It has lived the last 39 years, one tenth of its existence, at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum. It has witnessed the world changing in so many ways yet it stands still.

Serene and beautiful. With our care.

Let us hope that we begin to realize that we gain so much more by nurturing this world than through destruction.

Just look to the tree…

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Martin Lewis - Late Traveler 1949I saw a Martin Lewis etching years ago and was transfixed by the crisp contrast of its darks and lights and the easy moodiness it gave off.  I knew nothing of the artist but it was obvious that he was masterful in his etching and in his artistic eye.  I had largely forgotten this artist until I came across a group of his etchings that are coming up for auction.  Seeing them rekindled that same feeling I felt years ago.  Mainly images from New York in the 20’s and 30’s, they often capture a feeling of urban anonymity and isolation, mining the same vein of emotion in which  Edward Hopper worked in his paintings.  This is probably not a coincidence since Lewis and Hopper were friends, Lewis having taught Hopper the art of etching around 1915.

Martin Lewis was born in Australia in 1881 and ran away from home at age 15, working rough jobs for a few years as he travelled and sketched his way through Australia and New Zealand.  He ended up in Sydney where he studied and did illustrations for a local newspaper.  He migrated to the US around 1900, arriving in San Francisco where he painted backdrops for the presidential campaign of William McKinley before finding his way to New York City.

Martin Lewis- Relics (Speakeasy Corner) 1928Inspired by the dynamism of the city at that time, Lewis worked as an illustrator and painter.  It was a 1910 trip to England, where he was introduced to the printwork of English artists such as James MacNeil Whistler, that inspired him to take up etching.  However, it was an 18 month stay in Japan in 1920 that set the groundwork for his signature work which captures light and air and mood so well.  He was active and increasingly successful from 1925 until about 1935.  However, the Great Depression brought a downturn to his popularity and by the 1940’s his work was out of favor.  His work never really took hold after that and he died in 1961,  largely unknown.  In fact, just finding some of the details on his life for this short blog post took some doing.

I think his work is wonderful and evocative and  find it amazing that his work ever fell out of favor.  But such is the nature of art.  But the etchings of Martin Lewis will persevere through the fickle cycles because they capture something elemental and personal.  And that is what real art does.

Martin Lewis- Shadow Dance 1930 Martin Lewis-Tree  Manhattan Martin Lewis- Little Penthouse Martin Lewis- Glow of the City 1928 Martin Lewis - Which Way 1932 Martin Lewis New York Nocturne

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Hokusai Mackerel and Sea Shells 1840

I don’t have much to say today and am running late plus the Russia-Finland hockey matchup in the Olympics is beginning as I speak.  So I am greatly distracted today.  But t came across this image from the Japanese master Hokusai that I wanted to share.  I had a post several years back that featured the famed waves  for which Hokusai is best known.  They are such strong images of the power and rhythm of nature that it is easy to see why they are his signature works.  But when I saw this quiet still-life of a fish with a few shells from 1840 I truly understood how revelatory this work must have been to the western artists,  such as Whistler and Van Gogh among many others,who discovered it a generation later.

It has a wonderful delicacy in its color and it’s also  simple and elegant, maintaining an extraordinary modernity through the past 170 or so years.  It always seems  like it is in the now which is that intangible that most artists , myself included, seek.  It is unlike anything you would have found in the west in 1840 yet seems totally at home now.  Just a wonderful image to ponder.

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BOATS UNDER SAIL---Image of japanese Junks ca 1898 T. EnamiThis is an image of two junks that was taken in the late 1890’s by the great Japanese photographer T. Enami .  It was produced in the period as hand tinted  slide to be viewed in the popular stereopticons of the time.  The image was forwarded as a black and white photo to the National Geographic  magazine in the the 1920’s along with other photos of Japan from Enami.  They didn’t use the photo at the time, instead opting for the more traditional images of Japanese farmers and Geishas in a story on the island nation.  However, in the 1980’s the magazine took another look at the image and it really struck a chord with them.  The artistic beauty of the image was evident to them and they ultimately named this image as one of the best photos from their holdings of over 100 years.  It was used on the covers of one of their books and a catalog for a show of their best photography.

T. Enami - Japanese Boys in a Lively Quarrel stereopticon slide 1905I was immediately taken with this photo when I saw it.  It’s just such a beautiful composition and the harmony of the color and atmosphere make it sing.  I decide I should look at some other images from this T. Enami who was born Enami Nobukuni in Tokyo ( actually Edo at the time) in 1859 and died in 1929.  There were many images of Japan from the time, all beautifully captured with a sublime eye.  Some were surprising such as this 1905  image of 3 boys scuffling, an image that was sold in a series of slides by Sears.

But for me his images of  Mt. Fuji were the highlights.  They captured the dramatic presence that the mountain holds and are just incredible compositions, powerful and serene.  There are several of my favorites below.  T. Enami is probably not as well known here as his work deserves.  There is a site,  T-Enami.org, devoted to his work that is worth a look if only to take in more of his wonderful work.

T. Enami Mt Fuji and the Boatmen of Kashibara ca 1900 T. Enami- Mt. Fuji's Summit T. Enami- FOUR_MEN_ON_A_BRIDGE_AT_TAGONOURA_in_OLD_JAPAN.224130134_std T. Enami MOUNT_FUJI_SEEN_FROM_THE_MARSHES_OF_KASHIWABARA.  ca 1892

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Tsunami Sweeping Across Japan

I came into the studio this morning and sat down to write a post about painting when I flipped on the TV to catch up quickly on the headlines and caught sight of the devastation taking place in Japan.  They experienced a magnitude 8.9 earthquake off their coast several hours ago which caused widespread damage.  Then in the quake’s aftermath came the tsunami which hit the coastline with its full impact sweeping well inland, carrying everything in its path along in a thick wall of destruction.  The videos are amazing and terrifying, leaving one to wonder the extent of this catastrophe.

So, painting seems like a trifle today and my attention is on Japan.  There are tsunami warnings for the entire Pacific rim and hopefully they will be minor, to spare any more suffering from this disaster.  Cheri is keenly aware of news reports of earthquakes and has for the last week said that there was something big coming based on recent quakes.  She will not be surprised by this.

Anyway, I’ll hold off  on the blog until a better day and hope that the people of Japan come through today okay, ready to start the long clean-up ahead.  My thoughts are with them.

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