Holding my brush upright above the paper, I breathe deeply. A long, tense moment passes before I lunge down and drag the ink straight across the page, painting a line that slashes through much of the picture.
I have just painted a man’s shoulder.
One may be surprised to hear of such brutal expression from a region known for its people’s emotional restraint and do-or-die technical strictness in its numerous martial and creative arts. In the view of the nanga school of Japan, however, an ink and wash painting (or sumi-e) is a highly symbolic expression in which the artist’s personality is often on show as much as the subject itself.
Americans and Europeans are all too familiar, however viscerally, with the “traditional” schools of painting established in their countries concurrent with the rise of the Japanese nanga school in the 1600’s. The rule was and largely is to elevate the artist who can paint the most photorealistic picture to the status of genius, a “master” of his art. While the ability to paint a subject to the minutest detail is a remarkable one, the men and women of the nanga school might suggest that the indistinctness of the individual brush strokes understates their importance as a measure not of the work produced, but of the artist behind it.
The sumi-e painting might best be compared not to any Western school but rather to a signature. The signature’s line thickness, direction and consistency, as any graphologist will tell you, belies the character of the man who signed it. The sumi-e artist likewise portrays himself not literally but symbolically as the relative dearth of lines will testify on qualities ranging from the artistic to the very personal. To contrast with Western style, while in many American or European styles an artist might paint tens of thousands of brush strokes in a single work, and has the liberty of painting over any mistake, the sumi-e painter will paint from, say, a thousand strokes to a mere ten, and his mistakes, too, will without question be on show. Each moment necessarily becomes a meditative exercise as the artist asks himself how he can capture a shoulder, a forehead, or an eye in a single irreversible stroke.
After a few soul-searching minutes I beheld the picture before me: my first sumi-e painting. Scrutinizing it I couldn’t help but notice the overlarge skull, the sparseness of what was to be a bushy beard and an obvious naivete regarding balancing the shades of gray amongst the different parts of my subject’s face. Then again, I admired my handiwork on the elaborated shape of the nose; perhaps, I thought, my sense of imagination redeems this amateur “self portrait”. Do you want to learn about Japanese paintings? Then click www.paintingkits.net over here now at the link for information. A person can prepare self-portrait through the use of the information of the link.