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En Gallery Presents the Art of Keiko Arai
The Abstract Ink Paintings
The new exhibition in En Gallery at the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden will feature the abstract ink paintings of Japanese artist Keiko Arai. Based in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo, Arai specializes in Japanese ink painting, known both as sumi-e, “ink picture” or suiboku-ga, meaning “water and ink painting”.
Traditionally, such ink paintings feature natural landscapes and animal and human figures rendered on paper and mounted on hanging scrolls that graced the tokonoma alcoves of tea rooms during tea ceremonies or on the sliding doors of temple and castle interiors. Arai’s abstract sumi-e paintings are a contemporary take on a traditional art form – elegant, meditative studies in a multitude of shades of gray.
For Arai, a longtime student of the tea ceremony and Zen Buddhist philosophy, sumi-e provides a perfect means of self-expression due to the special relationship that the sumi ink has with the handmade washi paper. When applied to the surface of this thick paper with its long, sturdy fibers, the ink not only seeps deep into the paper itself but it also bleeds outwards along the fibers, blurring edges and expanding her forms organically, as if the ink is breathing through the paper. When she works, she engages in “a dialogue with the materials, facing them with her thoughts, listening to their pulse and their breathing.” The result has been a body of abstract, yet highly structured paintings that are infused with a meditative rhythm.
In the suiboku-ga tradition, there is an old Japanese saying – sumi ni gosai ari – which translates literally as “sumi has five colors,” but means that even black "sumi" ink has many different variations of color, and various colors can be seen to emerge in the achromatic world of ink painting through the skill of the artist and the wisdom of the viewer. Arai works with one hundred different shades of ink – including some with tinges of blue, purple and brown. Her series of works Hibikokugoku, “Day after Day, Hour after Hour,” is a meditative journey in which she applies these subtly different “colors” to paper one breath at a time. Of her relationship with every application of ink to paper, she explains, “I blow life into each of them and entrust them with my thoughts.”
The exhibition is curated by Meher McArthur with assistance from Miyuki Kopito and Moe Gallery (https://www.gallerymoe-la.com/) in West Hollywood, which will also host the artist’s work in September.