The Japanese love odd numbers and things off center. When I first lived in Tokyo many years ago I immediately fell in love with their pottery and china but couldn’t fathom why their tea and dinner sets came in groups of five. I thought how awkward this would be for entertaining. Do they have gatherings of two couples with a child or a single person? Is that last place at a table for six always left empty? Or do they buy double sets of everything? They didn’t seem to have particularly large families, or dinner tables for that matter. Quite the opposite. Most Japanese families were small and living in cramped quarters. I soon learned that the number four in Japanese is synonymous with death so that number is avoided. But why five and not six? I received no clear explanation on that. Some said it was to avoid divisible numbers, especially with gift giving, for to be divisible means to be more easily broken. Others claimed this was the ideal family size.
Then came the study of ikebana. I now had to learn to arrange flowers of vastly uneven lengths in odd shaped vases and tilted at extreme angles, all held together in the tiny circle or square of the sharply needled kenzan. While confusing at first, it developed my appreciation for the beauty and the delicate balance of its minimalist design.
In fact I Iearned that balance was key in many aspects of Japanese life, and it was not rooted in evenness or stability but in a dynamic interplay of all things. I brought those lessons to my own life and my own art, and I have learned that the greatest harmony and beauty is achieved not when we have our feet planted firmly on the ground but when we embrace the mutability and precariousness of life.
In the piece above I tried to infuse that sense of delicate harmony and pay tribute to my Japanese sensei. There are five cups but not all the same. The teapot is mirrored with the ghostly presence of another, for comfort is closely tied to the knowledge and memory of treasured traditions. The vertical elements are reminiscent of Japanese scrolls and banners. The colors in the piece are the subdued tones seen in much Japanese art both past and present.
In Good Company, a 12″x16″ monotype, is offered this week for $250, unframed. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase or for further information.