Art of Ink, i

Yosa Buson

Now that I’ve pulled out my brush and sumi again, I start rummaging through the drawers of the internet.  I’m not quite sure how I found Yosa Buson, 1716-1784, but I did; I’d forgotten about him.  He was both a poet, and an artist, frequently combining the two.  As a painter in ink, his skills are more than evident in the work below.

Two Black Crows and a Hawk - in Snow and in Rain

Both Crows and Hawk show many techniques that allow expression of the elements in sumi-e.  Snow is painted by going around the flakes – dark ink makes the white flakes fly.  Rain is expressed by using a wide brush, such as a hake, that has been dipped in light / medium ink.  The ink is squeezed out by hand or blotted on towelling, and the bristles squished between the fingertips to create an uneven edge.  Rain is painted in one long sweep; two or three strokes may be all that is needed. These two paintings are very Japanese in approach to working with sumi.

Landscape with Solitary Traveler - 1780

In Landscape with Solitary Traveler, we have a more Chinese approach to ink painting. The theme and constructs are familiar – mountains, water, a path, a bridge, a pedestrian. As in Western painting, Asian painting has its own history and symbolism. The beauty is that these familiar subjects become personal and unique in the hands of the artist. This painting is done in ink, with only a touch of color added to the traveler.

As I mentioned, Buson also wrote traditional Japanese poetry. Here are some translations of his haiku.

coming back—
so many pathways
through the spring grass

in seasonal rain
along a nameless river
fear too has no name

more than last year
I now feel solitude
this autumn twilight

Before the white chrysanthemum
the scissors hesitate

Besides being a master of wash and line (in word and ink), Buson was quite funny. I came across this painting and could not help but laugh. And here, both painting and poetry mingle, albeit not too politely.  Dave Bonta writes about this picture quite well.  Understanding the language – and the humor in the translation – may be read about here.

Bonta translates the writing,

gakumon wa ketsu kara nukeru hotaru kana

as

All this study—
it’s coming out your ass, oh firefly!

Perhaps I should stop while I’m ahead . . .

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