Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The First Breath . . .

One week until my birthday (yikes)! Because we will be travelling and probably NOT bringing the laptop along , I wanted to blog about one of my birthday gifts from Chris, a calligraphy scroll.

The scroll is currently hanging in our tokonoma (alcove). I change out the decorations in it around the first of the month. Sometimes there are scrolls, sometimes kimono, sometimes sculpture. I like to mix it up. Since July is my birthday month, I decided to hang up my gift.

One of the reasons I adore my husband is that he "gets" me. How else would he know that I would love a scroll that reads "The first breath is the beginning of death" as a birthday present? And in spite its zen sound, the quote is from Thomas Fuller.

The gentleman who did the scroll is a retired school teacher, who taught computer programming (COBOL and FORTRAN) and also worked as the principal of the school. He's retired now and doing calligraphy as a way to earn a bit of money. He was very sweet and took the work very seriously. We liked his work so much that we ordered a scroll for Chris (also a birthday gift) and a placard for me, which I will photograph and feature later.

The image below is a close up of the character on the bottom. The drier-looking strokes where the brush has begun to dry out and you see striations is termed "flying white" and is what gives the calligraphy its dynamism and is one of my favorite parts of the work.

Calligraphy is interesting because every rendition is personal and unique and you can see the artist's personality shine through. Two artists writing out the same phrase will have completely different-looking results. If you follow an artist from the start to the end of career, you can readily see how experience affects the strokes ("experience" includes the aging of the body). I recommend The Art of Twentieth-Century Zen: Paintings and Calligraphy by Japanese Masters by Audrey Yoshiko Seo with Stephen Addiss to see some great examples.

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