SHO Art Philosophy
By Nakajima Hiroyuki
In Asia, there are three names for calligraphy – 書法 (Shoho), 書藝 (Shogei) and 書道 (Shodo). In China, calligraphy is often called 書法 (Shoho), whereas in Korea it’s apparently often designated 書 藝 (Shogei). As for Japan, the art is referred to as 書 道 (Shodo)– in other words, the established designation in Japan is ‘the way of calligraphy’, whereby a student receives instruction from a 師 (‘master’). Therefore, here in Japan, calligraphy is viewed by many as a form of culture lesson/personal enrichment course. With this as a backdrop, I wished to carry out work as an artist abroad, and was fortunate enough to be able to hold an exhibition at a gallery in Rome in the year 2000.
When a person lives in an environment with different values and viewpoints, they discover things they normally wouldn’t notice. While abroad, I got to know many artists, and could learn more about myself and my work. One example is the Chinese ink which I use every day without really thinking about it. Chinese ink is constantly changing, showing a different aspect today than yesterday. The ink spreads in an ever-changing, fickle manner, not reacting as one would expect. However, just because it’s uncontrollable doesn’t mean I abhor it – to the contrary, I try to positively embrace this aspect of it. My strength/skill goes halfway, while the rest depends on a power outside myself. With this mindset, I continue to create pieces one after another. Finally, from among the hundreds of pieces I’ve stacked in a pile, I choose just one, and throw away the rest. In this way, I conclude the creation of a single piece.
When considering the materials used, we can note that the color and quality of oil paints doesn’t vary depending on the day. Therefore, a painter may work on one piece of canvas for a long time, advancing little by little until (s)he completes the piece. So basically, Chinese ink varies, changing in response to the environment it’s in, whereas oil paints are always uniform and stable. “The impermanence of all things” vs. “eternalness” – in a way, this seemingly symbolizes the value systems of the East and West.
Generally speaking, at the root of Western thought, humans are in conflict with the natural world, with “Nature” deemed to be an object to be controlled by “Man”. In contrast, in the Orient, the word “Nature” indicates the whole of creation, including human beings. Humans are part of nature – living our lives while respecting and fearing it. I realized this after viewing Western artists’ production sites, and came to understand the position I myself should take.
By the way, generally Westerners face a vertical canvas and draw; as for me, I do my work standing barefoot on paper which is spread out on the floor. Rather than facing the screen, I ‘enter into’ it, using my hands and feet to mark the trajectories of my actions on the paper. By doing so, instead of my head, it is actually my body which serves as a strong intermediary. Therefore, once in a while, something which surpasses my conscious intentions takes place. At certain times, when I look at a piece I just completed, a special sensation hits me. Though the image before me was certainly written by me, there is no actual feeling of my having written it … yet examining it carefully, the work is done very well! If there is a blueprint drawn up beforehand, no matter how well the work is done, the end result based on the blueprint can only reach 100%. But when the aforementioned (yet unexpected) form of power from outside is involved, an exceptionally fine piece which attains 120% may be born. It’s not something created by the brain, but rather something which just happens to be produced by hands and feet. I came to think that this is how a good work comes into being. In one sentence: “Actions constitute the essence of Sho”. *
Notably, the actions in Sho always have a starting point and a finishing point. Once a calligrapher sets their brush to the paper, and starts writing in accordance with the correct stroke order, they must carry on through to the end. There is no going back, nor any way to re-do something. Regarding completed works, if a viewer follows the order of a calligraphy piece’s brush strokes with their eyes, (s)he can imagine how the calligrapher’s brush moved, from the starting point of the writing to its finish. In contrast, many of the abstract paintings I saw abroad did not seem easily retraceable from the start of the paint strokes to their end. In art, some forms relate to time, while others do not. Calligraphy, like music and dance, is an art form linked to time. Based on this experience, I began to feel that I wanted to connect otherwise-invisible time to the forms of beauty.
In Zen Buddhism, there is a teaching which translates as, “Be here now”. The past has passed and will never return, whereas the future is yet to be seen. It does no good to regret the unchangeable past, or to feel gloomy about a future which has not yet come. What is important is living “here and now”, with all our strength, where we are. With this in mind, as evidence of having lived here and now, I want to express the present moment, the irreplaceable present, in the brush strokes of Sho. While relying on the outside power surpassing my own thoughts, I hope to crystallize the precious ‘now’ in forms like no other.
In an era in which it seems so many have no room in their hearts, and have become self- centered and materialistic, I hope that my works may provide even small hints of hope.
* “Sho” is an art form based on Japanese calligraphy.