Constructing Modern Art: Sitting on the Chopping Board
Within our inner world, both in terms of mind and body, there exists various movements, waxing and waning, one after another. These internal activities are transmuted into our words, actions or other forms, and are shown to our external world. Among these, the movements generated from the deepest of our inner selves are crystalized in the form generally termed as 'art'. Sometimes it appears as literature, other times paintings. When it takes the form of characters, with the substance it is called sho (calligraphy) in my opinion.
I, being involved in a diverse body of works, threw myself upon criticisms from every corner of the society. I cannot contest every comment face-to-face. Instead, I stand firm on my own belief, which arose from my inner sphere. It is the crystallization of all my internal protests that became the springs of this work*. To represent these inner movements, I have strived for a suitable external form. In the case of sho that deals with characters, it is the phrase that appropriately describes my internal state that is called for. Sojo ni zasu (Sitting on the chopping board) is the phrase I had chosen, whose three characters duly encapsulate my internal conditions. I transformed the structure of the characters, so as to reach a precise external representation of my internal state.
*Sojo ni zasu (Sitting on the chopping board), 1953, Hyõgo Prefectural Museum of Art, Hyõgo, Japan.
Upon working on this piece, although sometimes the strength of my belief burst [onto paper] through black ink, my effort of seeking [the balance between the inner and outer spheres] has somehow purified the strength.
The phrase "sitting on the chopping board" also describes the current situation of Japan, and it is this "purifi-cation of strength" that holds the key to peace. In my point of view, all of us living in today's Japan should consider the true meaning of this work.
Published in The Mainichi Newspapers on March 21, 1953, From Soki: Morita Shiryù noto (Remembering: Morita Shiryû note)
Edited by Inada Sousai, published in 2012 by Bokujinkai-Soryüsha
Exhibition view by Claire Dorn.
Sojō ni zasu (sitting on the chopping board) 坐俎上, c. 1969
Ink on paper, four-panel folding screen
139 x 280 cm (54 3/4 x 110 1/4 in.)
Morita Shiryu during a show in New York, 1963. Courtesy of the estate of Soryusha.
"Of the various means of expression, I do not think there is one way that is greater or more outstanding than the other. Also, I do not think any color surpasses black, nor does black surpass the color itself.
Contemporary art in Japan cannot be studied internationally without discussing avant-garde calligraphy. Not only when we discuss avant-garde calligraphy as avant-garde calligraphy, but when we examine avant-garde art, the name Morita Shiryū is always brought up.
That which comes from the exterior is insignificant, rather that which comes from behind and from the interior is significant."
— Pierre Soulages
Excerpts of Soulages’s discussion from «Calligraphy and the Paris Art Scene I: An Encounter» roundtable talk with
Pierre Soulages, Zao Wou-Ki, Ijima Tsutomu, Yoshikawa Itsuji & Morita Shiryū in Bokubi, issue 76, May 1958, p. 7, 8, & 12
Kan (insight; seeing clearly, having clear perspective, visualizing (buddhas or pure lands) 観, c. 1965
Aluminum flake pigment and lacquer on paper
30 x 38,5 cm (11 3/4 x 15 1/8 in.)
Ekō (Illumination; a light shining on a wall shines back on me, or seeing is to be seen) 回光, 1966
Aluminium flake pigment and lacquer on paper
96,5 x 117,2 cm (38 x 46 1/8 in.)
Mixing an adhesive medium or nikawa glue with pigments on black Kent paper, finally sealing the surface with lacquer, was a technique that Morita started to use regularly from around 1964. On the one hand, from his experience abroad in the previous year he had learned that the delicacy of his papers and its susceptibility to stains had often proved a weak point of his works. Hence he devised a new technique, known as shikkin (lacquer and gold), as a means to cope with these drawbacks. At the same time, it would also become a new variation of calligraphy that he exploited for its expressive potential. Pigments mixed with glue easily preserved the movements of the brush. Morita tried gold and silver washes but eventually favored aluminum flake pigment which provided a certain luster to the surface in synthetic glue as well as in nikawa. From the interaction of the lacquer with the pigment, the latter appears as if of golden color. The artist had to exert particular care with his composition and the character’s meaning to not be overpowered by the sumptuous appearance. Yet over time, shikkin would become one of Morita’s signature techniques.
Ki / Ju (tree, or our beings from our sho, just as the history of a tree determines its shape) 樹, 1995
Ink on paper
140 x 176 cm (55 1/8 x 69 1/4 in.)
According to Inada Sousai, Morita’s last disciple, this work was an improvisation by Morita while he gave lessons to his students at a calligraphy training camp in Wakayama prefecture in 1995. Unlike Ki of 1964 in this catalog, with its odd shape that leaves the character illegible even to the trained eye, Morita here returned to a more common style we often see in classic cursive script. One reason for this reversal may have been that it was created, as mentioned, as part of a workshop and Morita had the instruction of his students in mind. In addition, «classicism» to him meant neither just to continue traditions nor to resist or destroy them, but rather to use it as another means of self-realization. The brushwork here looks dense and weighty as the strokes are not clearly distinguishable from one another. Ink is splattered across the paper, and a sense of movement animates the character as though Morita wrote it in a burst of strength. Near the bottom of the character, two footprints were left accidentally on the surface, bringing forth a sense of Morita’s human presence. Contemplating this work created at the age of eighty-three, its raw, uninhibited energy reminds one of Morita’s overwhelmingly dynamic works of the 1950s; it also telling of the unwavering spirit that the artist carried throughout his life.
Wanobi : fine art archives by Shibunkaku, Spring 2021
p. 98 - 101
Photo by Tadayuki Minamoto
Crystals and Memory: Five Mountains, 2020
Multifired porcelain with glass
In Ogawa Machiko's objects, one perceives two distinct voices:
One that creates and one that takes apart.
This is because in their encounter, creation and destruction become one.
A strong fire of seduction and the blaze of rejection - resulting in a burst of flames.
The wild and beautiful sensation of eros.
The attraction of dissonance. A wise man once said whatever man builds up, nature will return it all to the ground.
Ogawa Machiko makes it appear as if these two sides of the world are turned into one.
A distant intersection, where love and eternity breathe, guided by earth and fire.
It is a scenery of immense contradiction: Or rather: a vessel of compassion.
— Lee Ufan
Crystal and Memory, 2020
Multifired porcelain with glass
40,5 x 31 x 18,5 cm (16 x 12 1/4 x 7 1/4 in.)
Multifired porcelain with glass
60 x 59 x 22 cm (23 5/8 x 23 1/4 x 8 5/8 in.)