Friday, February 27, 2015


From the early 1880s, as Japanese painters began finding their way to Europe and beyond, they brought back to Japan on their return the Western influences that in many ways modernized the Japanese tradition. The practice of careful observation and sketching from nature was ultimately combined with contemporary Western painting practices and led to an innovation in the nihonga style of painting.

One of those who returned from Europe with new ideas was Takeuchi Seihô, considered by many to be a leading modern nihonga painter.

Takeuchi Seihô (1864-1942) was born in Kyoto and even as a boy loved drawing, leaving little doubt he would become an artist. At the age of sixteen he began studying traditional painting with Kôno Bairei, a well-known master of paintings depicting birds and flowers. Two years later, in 1882, two of Takeuchi’s works received awards at a prestigious painting competition and that was enough to launch the young artist’s career. He made a European tour in 1900 where saw the Paris Exposition, visited art schools and made the acquaintance of Western painters. The young man’s greatest impressions came with the work of British painter, J.M.W. Turner and the French, Jean Baptiste-Camille Corot. After his return to Japan Takeuchi developed a style combining the realism of traditional Japanese painting with Western realism as he saw it in the techniques of Turner and Corot. Takeuchi’s new style became one of the principal principal influences in modern nihonga. Though noted for his landscapes, the artist more often turned to drawing animals in amusing poses and it is in those drawings that we see his commitment to capturing sometimes in only a few brushstrokes the essence of his subject.

Easy enough to count the brushstrokes in a drawing that perfectly captures horse and movement.

One in a series of twelve animals from the Zodiac; done sometime in the 1920s, this painting is good example of the artist’s whimsey.

Striking in this large work covering two six-panel screens is the precise anatomy and musculature of the immense animals. Note the monkey perched on the back of one, reaching for the birds in the top left; notice too the eyes of the elephants. Painted in 1904, the work is in black ink on gold paper.

A very different example is the oil painting Suez Landscape painted in 1901 after the artist’s return from Europe. The work is based on a postcard from the collection he gathered while abroad. The influence of Turner and Corot is obvious in this landscape, especially in the palette and the painting of the water.

Most striking in this undated ink and color painting is the use of space. The artist has placed the focus in the lower right, leaving a broad and largely blank space. The red and black in that large space is Takeuchi’s seal and signature. Once more the touch of humor is there with the inquisitive rat.

Simple but impressive watermelon; undated

Seals and signature used by the artist

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Piñata Store & Gardenias

Texans recently looted a demolished piñata store and a woman in Boise, Idaho, was arrested for attempting to convert a Jewish acquaintance by pulling her hair and stepping on her neck, screaming that she accept Jesus. The victim had no alternative but to comply, temporarily.

In a small town north of New Delhi, a 32 year-old Indian woman described as 95 percent genetically male gave birth to twins last week, and in Hong Kong doctors reported the case of an infant diagnosed with fetus-in-fetu after discovering two siblings gestating in her abdomen.

A 1965 poem by Elizabeth Bishop…“Filling Station”

Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!

Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it’s a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.

Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork;
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.

Some comic books provide
the only note of color—
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of the set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.

Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?
(Embroidered in daisy stitch
with marguerites, I think,
and heavy with gray crochet.)

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

English Crime novelist Ruth Rendell once said, “Some say life is the thing, but I prefer reading.”

Rain for most of Tuesday night in Oak Hill. Wednesday came around dry and sunny but chilly until the afternoon. The new gardenia freshly planted on the east end of the carport is flourishing and heavy with buds the size of peanut M&Ms. This past Saturday a longtime Tokyo friend and I passed an hour wandering the aisles at the weekend flea market up the road. She wanted to buy something for the yard and found a gardenia bush she decided would be just right in a spot behind the carport. Home later, we planted it, admiring the number of buds not too far from opening. Gardenias most commonly bloom in spring but I’m not sure we’ve crossed that line yet here in central coastal Florida. Makes me think the gardenia was coaxed along by greenhouse conditions before landing in my yard. I noticed today one bud among the many just starting to show a bit of unfurling white.

Didn’t know until now that gardenias are in the Rubiaceae family, the same as a coffee plant.

K from Tokyo is now recently departed—I pause over the words ‘recently departed’ thinking it might imply death…but then I’m certain it doesn’t always have to carry that meaning. She’s back now at her life and routines in the city I continue to miss particularly. I knew it would happen; when I got home from taking K to the airport, Farina was her usual excited self but seeing only me at the door she ran to the car trying to see inside, to see if K was there. She turned in circles whining, looking back at me, then back to the car and finally barking, as if to say, "Where is K?" I think it took about an hour for her to realize her new friend had gone away. (K gave me the gardenia plant but she gave Farina a whole pumpkin pie.)

I haven’t seen my down the road neighbor, Manny in several days. He called a few days back wanting a ride to the store but K and I were just leaving for a drive into Orlando. I felt bad about not being able to help him out, called him the next day seeing if he still needed a ride but got no answer. Last time we spoke out at the gate I said whenever he was ready I would take him to the social security office for some business he has there. The folks who live across the road from him want to charge him $50 for a ride there but I got the impression he told them to go straight to hell. Where do they come off anyway asking a near penniless and seriously ill old man for $50 to drive him twenty miles up the road? In my opinion, someone needs to pull their hair while stepping on their collective necks and ask them in threatening tones, “What would Jesus do?” Hallelujah Lord, I’m converted! Go get in the car.

Books at my elbow these days are Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, one I’m rereading after seeing the slightly unsatisfying movie version and Michael Connelly’s The Gods of Guilt. I’m also reading a big thing from poet, Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) called One Art: Letters. I read somewhere recently that she was an exuberant and delightfully articulate letter writer who once wrote forty letters in one day. A collection of her lifelong letters was selected and edited by Robert Giroux and published in 1994. It sounded like something for my book collection and I got lucky, hitting upon a first edition hardback for a paltry $7.50 from a bookseller in Texas. Less than halfway through now and never a hesitation over the 668 pages ahead.

About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America