Friday, July 26, 2013

Navajo Dry-Painting

This is a Navajo dry-painting made in colored sand. (20th century)   Sand painting is a type of art where the artist(s) pours colored sands, and/or powered pigments from minerals or crystals, to make a piece of artwork.  These paintings where temporary works prepared in ritual for religious or healing ceremonies and where swept away when the ceremony was complete.  Many dry-paintings depicted spiritual living beings and normally contained Yeibicheii or the Holy People in ritual for healing purposes.

These works of art where prepared by the tribes Medicine Man (Hatalii) and where painted on the ground of a Hogan, the primary traditional home of the Navajo people where the ceremony took place.  The Hatalii used gypsum, ochre, sandstone, and charcoal to make white, yellow, red, and black respectively. Mixing these elements yielded blues, browns, pinks and other variations of those colors where achieved by mixing in additional materials such as corn mean, pollen, powdered roots and bark.  As many as 30 of these sand paintings where prepared by the Hatalii (with assistance) for a single religious or healing ceremony.  After each painting is completed the Hatalii checks for work to ensure that the painting symbolizes harmony, because the accuracy of the work is believed to determine the efficiency of the ceremony.  Finally after the ceremony was complete the sand painting was destroyed giving these paintings a total life of about 12 hours.

Due to the holiness of these paintings, three laws are known to have surrounded the ritual of sand painting.
1.      Woman able to bare children cannot sing the chants associated with the Yeibicheii.  This is because the ceremony is thought to have the ability to possibly injure an unborn child.
2.      One cannot pretend, mock, or mimic a Hatalii in anyway or you can be subject to punishment by the Hatalii or Yeibicheii.
3.      Sand paintings cannot be photographed because the flow of ceremony cannot be disrupted to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Although sand painting where most commonly known to be Navajo dry-painting was also practiced by Australian Aborigines, Tibetan and Buddhist monks, and Southwestern United States Native Americans.

Navajo sandpainting art by Baatsoslanii et al. (1978)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

White Heron on a Snowy Willow (雪の柳に白鷺)


This painting, called White Heron on a Snowy Willow (雪の柳に白鷺), was created by Sōami (相阿弥) in the mid-15th early 16th century.  This painting is ink on paper presented as a hanging scroll 6’ x 1’ 9”.  Sōami painted landscapes in the service of the Ashikaga Shogunate the supposed creators of the rock garden of Ginkaku-ji.  Sōami was known as a Doboshu, or an official that decorated the surrounding of groups such as the Shogun to ensure positive karma or good will towards the Shogun.  Unlike many of Sōami’s colleagues Sōami used an art style that more closely corresponded with China’s Southern School.  These styles included the use of negative space to paint. Negative space painting means that the picture that the artist wants the viewer to see is the un-painted part of the paper where the surroundings are shaded in.  In this painting Sōami shades in the background and the underside, a Japanese ink style known as haboku (broken ink), of the tree to leave the negative image of the tree and the bird as the focus of the painting.  The Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art describes this painting as follows:

The form of a gnarled willow branch and white heron emerge subtly against a pale gray sky. Contour lines and explicit definition of form are almost entirely absent from this painting. By painting only the "negative" areas, such as the sky and the underside of the branch, the white paper itself is made to indicate the positive forms of the heron and snow. The ghostly form of the heron is defined almost entirely by "negative wash," the tinting of the area around the bird. The limb of the willow is represented by a few broad, rough strokes of ink along the underside, a dynamic technique known as haboku (broken ink) that was introduced into Japanese ink painting during the late 15th century. Only the black ink of the eye, beak, and legs of the heron provide sharp accents within the predominantly pale tonality.
The painter, Soami, was especially admired for his mastery of ink wash, the technique used almost exclusively in this painting. Soami served the Ashikaga shogun as one of the doboshu, a special group of advisors on aesthetic matters. Because of his expertise concerning Chinese works of art, Soami was responsible for the care and classification of the shoguns'extensive collections of Chinese paintings, ceramics, and other antiquities which had been in formation since the 14th century. Although he had a privileged familiarity with this extensive private collection of Chinese antiquities, Soami expressed in his ink paintings a distinctly Japanese sensibility that prefigures the renascence of Japanese aesthetics in the arts of the Momoyama period (1573–1615). The majority of Soami's surviving paintings are landscapes, some of very large scale for sliding doors. This scroll of more intimate scale demonstrates the artist's mastery and control of ink wash and brush techniques as well as his ability to create an emotive image, deeply evocative of stillness and solitude. “ - The Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art