“Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry.”
Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers
by Leonard Koren
This book on wabi-sabi, the Japanese aesthetic, was given to me by my wife in 2011. My interest in Japanese design had long been present, but Koren was able to get into words what I had already felt. And not just about art and design. According to Koren, the wabi-sabi spiritual values are that “Truth comes from observation of nature; ‘Greatness’ exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details; and Beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness”. Interestingly, these Japanese concepts wrung most true to me through Koren, an American aesthetician, and the ephemeral environmental work of the Scottish sculptor Andy Goldsworthy.
In 2019, I had the opportunity to have a solo exhibition in Tokyo, Japan. I wanted to produce a body of work that aims towards the kind of poetry Koren talks about. Not to produce “Japanese” artwork, but to have a more focused sensitivity to the wabi-sabi concepts. The exhibition was titled “Reflections and Observations” consisting of new oil paintings on handmade paper of the nearly abstract patterns of light and color observed in the reflections of water. The show also included observational drawings and paintings done during my time in Tokyo.
This current show at Southside Gallery contains much of the work from that exhibition last year with some new pieces added to it. The literal reflections which began this series as external objects for observation have now become the internal reflections on the inspirations, production of work and experiences in Japan.