Posts Tagged ‘wabi-sabi’

“The tides of time should be able to imprint the passing of the years on an object. The physical decay or natural wear and tear of the materials used does not in the least detract from the visual appeal, rather it adds to it. It is the changes of texture and colour that provide the space for the imagination to enter and become more involved with the devolution of the piece. Whereas modern design often uses inorganic materials to defy the natural ageing effects of time, wabi sabi embraces them and seeks to use this transformation as an integral part of the whole. This is not limited to the process of decay, but can also be found at the moment of inception, when life is taking its first fragile steps toward becoming.”

Andrew Juniper, Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence

The photo at the top is the floor of our garden shed. It’s a simple structure that we bought new probably 35 years ago. Over the years, the once pristine plywood floor has darkened, taking on a smooth rich patina on the parts that have not pitted or worn away from decades of comings and goings.

It’s a beautiful thing and I often find myself stopping while I’m in there, which is every day, just to take some small pleasure in looking at its worn surface. The fact that it took time and innumerable footsteps to smooth and wear down the surface adds to my appreciation. It’s not something that could be replicated easily. Oh, you could try but it would lose that organic depth that comes with time.

Just a bit of the wabi-sabi of things around us. That’s the Japanese concept of finding beauty in the imperfection and natural wear shown by things.

And I guess that applies to people, as well. I know I am fascinated in seeing how folks age, how their faces and bodies reflect the life they have lived. There is beauty in the lines on the face or the graying of one’s hair.

Of course, I am talking about other people. I don’t find any beauty at all in my wrinkles or my whitened and thinning hair. In fact, I close my eyes now when I walk past my bathroom mirror out of the fear that some old man will jump out of it at me. 

Nah, that’s not true. As much as I would sometimes like to have the smooth skin and the darker, fuller head of hair of my youth, I am satisfied, even pleased, in seeing the wear and tear written on my features. I see a small scar high on my forehead and remember the wound that left it so well. 

It was many years ago and I was playing with my Magpie, our highly charged husky-shepherd, chasing her around our yard. As I pursued her, I went through some low hanging branches on a birch tree next to the deck I was building off the back of our home. Midway through, as I ducked my head lower to avoid the sweep of the branches, I slammed it suddenly into a deck board that I had not yet cut off. I was knocked on my back and could feel the instant throb of pain on my forehead from the blow.

Maggie was on me in an instant, licking and urging me to get up and play some more. I laid there on the ground on my back and just laughed as hard as I could while the blood trickled down my forehead. I tend to laugh at my own misfortune, especially when it is of my own doing, which is almost always the case.

Maybe there is a bit of wabi-sabi in our laughter? Maybe it comes from the recognition of our imperfections, our humanness, in those moments?

And even while I was there on the ground, that same garden shed was not far away, its floor not yet so deeply darkened or worn. It didn’t yet have the accumulated memory of its being written on its surfaces. It was newer but it certainly wasn’t as beautiful.

And maybe that’s the attraction of this concept of wabi-sabi for me, that the wear and tear that appears is evidence of our being here, that we existed in this place and in this time. It’s much the same way in which I view my work, my paintings. Evidence that I was here, that my hand made these things and in some way my voice was heard.

That I, like that garden shed and its floor, had a purpose in this world.

Appreciate and enjoy the wabi-sabi in your own life.

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I have started working on some new pieces that are wet work which means I am working flat, on a table, instead of at an easel.  It’s something I don’t do as much as I used to, especially in the early years when my work was all done at a table. My work table is an old Hamilton drafting table with a 40″ by 60″ top that is a monster, built heavy with a steel spring mechanism that lifts and lowers the work surface.

This table been a good soldier over the years and has been the spot where almost all of my wet work on paper has been created. When I am spending more time at the easel it becomes a spot where I amass tubes and bottles of paint and ink, rolls of paper towel, piles of paintbrushes and bits and pieces of paper with crude drawings and scribbles notes about ideas that might someday appear somewhere. Or might not.

I was clearing a space to begin working and I really took a look at the surface of the table. It is covered with a thick vinyl mat, a once pale green sheet  that is now thickly coated with layers of paint and ink from years of use. I used to try to clean the surface periodically, scrubbing at it until much of the pigments lifted. But it has been a very long time since that last happened and it now has a deep dark hue, a mix of all the colors of my palette.

I find it very satisfying in looking at the surface. It is a visual reminder of time spent and efforts made, bringing to mind the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi which emphasizes the finding of beauty in the wear and imperfections of things.

In the photo at the top, I pulled out one of my old ink bottles and placed it on the surface alongside a new bottle of the same color ink. The old bottle should have been discarded years ago but I hold onto it out of some form of nostalgia. It is coated with layers of ink that have become almost black from me handling it with hands stained with many hues for a very long time. Chances are that if you saw any of my work from 2004-2012, this bottle had something to do with it.

Like the surface of the table,which you can see in the photo, the evident wear shown on the bottle speaks to me. It should be trash but it has meaning for me now, it speaks of thousand so of hours standing over that table, deeply engrossed in the work I was doing. Work that has long left me and now reveals what truths they might hold to others now.

Seeing the two bottles reminds me of seeing a war veteran who has been through every battle standing side by side on the battlefield with a raw recruit who has yet to be tested. That worn bottle was a good soldier, one whose small efforts made the larger effort possible. Hopefully, that new recruit will serve as admirably as the old vet.

I am betting it will.

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Wabi Sabi  DefinitionWhen I was delivering the show to the Kada Gallery on Monday, I tried to describe the joy I sometimes found in apparent imperfections– a visible paint edge or an embedded bristle from a brush, for example– in some of my pieces, how they were a reflection of our own humanity, our own inherent imperfection.  These imperfections and the experience that ultimately shows in the wear and tear exhibited on our physical being are the things that make up our character.  The things that tell our tale and give evidence that we have lived.

Early this morning, I stumbled across this term from the Japanese, wabi-sabi, that describes this feeling and very much embodies much of what I hope for my work.  There is obviously more to this concept than this simple definition but for now I am just enjoying this as it is.

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