Japanese Objects Series Five is part of the nagGallery and nagOffsite programme of exploring an Eastern aesthetic in a contemporary Western gallery or a domestic setting. This online exhibition set in an Irish cottage features a collection of Japanese chawan and raku with objects by Otagaki Rengetsu, a Buddhist nun, poet, potter and calligrapher.

“Abundance is unnecessary or, worse, vulgar.” writes Donald Richie in his 'Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics' when discussing the fashion of reductionism influenced by the tea master Rikyu ( 1522 – 1591 ) on the then warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi ( 1537 – 1598 ). A century earlier the Ashikaga shogun Yoshimasa ruling from 1449 – 1473 defined this same aesthetic by reacting to the ornate lifestyle and making it fashionable among the elite for the plainest of natural materials to be used in his architecture, gardens and objects. It is another layer towards the definition of ' furyu ' which is another layer of the Japanese concept of ' good taste '. It is an essence that is interwoven with the more serious Zen Buddhist principle of simplicity by reduction rather than addition to.

As I look afar I see neither cherry blossoms
nor tinted leaves
Only a modest hut on the coast in the
dusk of autumn nightfall.

Matsuo Basho ( 1644 – 1694 )

In actuality none of the Japanese aesthetes and tea masters lived in “a modest hut on the coast” but simulated the idea. One is reminded of an interview with the author of 'In Praise of Shadows', ( originally published in 1933 ), Junichiro Tanizaki, and his architect who had read the book and who mistakenly thought the design for Tanizaki's new house was to be adhering to traditional Japanese aesthetics and not to the Western modernity that he desired. However, one must not forget or neglect the genuine root of this aesthetic which comes from such examples as Otagaki Rengetsu. Coming from a privileged background she ended her days in a simple hut making poems engraved on her pots and sharing her creative ideas.

No place at the inn but I find
consolation sleeping beneath
The hazy moon and the cherry blossoms.

Otagaki Rengetsu ( 1791 – 1875 )

To conclude with an extract from the text by Leonard Koren from his book 'Wabi Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers', “ But how do we exercise the constraint that simplicity requires without crossing over into ostentatious austerity?” “The simplicity of wabi-sabi is probably best described as the state of grace arrived at by sober, modest, heartfelt intelligence. The main strategy of this intelligence is economy of means. Pare down to the essence, but don't remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered, but don't sterilize.”



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