The Oregon Coast Council for the Arts is pleased to present “Stark Simplicity,” original Japanese Buddhist paintings and calligraphy from the 18th and 17th centuries in the Runyan Gallery at the Newport Visual Arts Center. The historical artworks are being made available by an Oregon resident who previously lived in Newport for over 10 years. Some works will be available for purchase.
The paintings in “Stark Simplicity” were collected over a period of 40 years with a focus on trying to better understand the Japanese esthetic, especially the concept of wabi sabi or the beauty found in the imperfections and impermanence of the natural world. Over these 40 years many Japanese have turned away from seeing their past as valuable or important. To the collector there is no doubt that the paintings are beautiful in their stark simplicity. The purity of line, minimalism, elegance of brush stroke and sense of humor capture life in a way that crystallizes its essence and points to how fleeting, yet poignant life can be.
The “Stark Simplicity” exhibit will include various master painters from the Edo period, including Kano Naonobu (1607-1650), a seventh-generation member of the Kano family of Japanese artists who served as painter to the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, and founded the Kobikicho branch of the Kano family. His paintings are closer to the suiboku-ga (“water-ink painting”) tradition than are the more elaborately detailed paintings of his more famous brother, Tanyu. Naonobu was known for his “grass” style of brushwork, combining broad, free strokes with a simple ink wash to create an impression of brevity and freshness. Examples of his “grass” style are two screen landscapes in the Tokyo National Museum and the figures of two Chinese brothers Po I and Shu Ch’i painted on screens, now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
The paintings in “Stark Simplicity,” for the most part, have not gone through the extensive (and expensive) process of authentication that the Japanese rely on, so most will be labeled with an attribution as opposed to a guarantee of who painted them. Some have certificates that come with them, either on the storage box or as written certificate.
Many of the painting in “Stark Simplicity” reference various legends and parables; stories which will be included in the exhibit as well. One such legend is the “Three Laughers of Tiger Ravine.” According to the Chinese legend, one day the Daoist priest Lu Xiujing and the Confucian poet Tao Yuanming visited the Buddhist monk Huiyuan, who had become a recluse and vowed never to leave his mountain temple. As they concluded their visit together, the three friends became so caught up in conversation that Huiyuan inadvertently crossed the bridge over the Tiger Glen, a ravine that formed the boundary of the temple precinct. As soon as they realized what had happened, the men burst into laughter at the absurdity of this transgression. The parable teaches that true wisdom is gained when boundaries of difference are overcome through mutual understanding.
Newport artist Rick Bartow is serving as an advisor to the project and will speak and perform about the exhibit during the gallery reception, January 9, at 6:30 p.m. The Runyan Gallery is open from 11am to 5pm, Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, call 541-265-6569 or email firstname.lastname@example.org