L E G AC Y OF IN S P IR AT IO N
SHONO SHOUNS A I A N D HI S S T UDE N T S
SHONO SHOUNSAI AND SHOMONKAI ARTISTS
The year 1956 marked a great, new era in bamboo art history, when Shono Shounsai (1904 –1974 ) introduced his monumental work Doto or Surging Wave (right ) at the annual Nitten Exhibition in Tokyo. Inspired by the ocean’s cresting waves, the artist’s emphatic use of bamboo’s great flexibility, resilience and strength created a strikingly dynamic sculpture with rhythmic lines. This work surpassed all existing notions of bamboo basketry and initiated a new movement in modern bamboo art. The prelude to creating this masterpiece was the rejection of a flower basket Shounsai submitted to the 1953 Nitten. After successfully showing his exquisite exhibition baskets for nine consecutive years at the annual Nitten exhibition, the judges rejected his intricate, neoclassic - themed basket (right). One of the jurors that year was Iizuka Rokansai, then a giant figure and undisputed leader in the field of modern bamboo art. It was a wake - up call for Shounsai. He re - examined his progress as an artist, and aimed at achieving the same level — even eclipsing — the status of Rokansai. Shounsai realized that he had been bound by traditional ways of thinking when he created his artwork. Prior to this major sea change in the artist’s career, he was widely known both for the modern design of his flower baskets and his technical excellence. From that year onward, however, Shounsai advanced and pushed at the boundaries of the medium, far beyond all other artists preceding him. Doto, which won Shounsai the Hokuto Prize in 1956, was the final sculpture in his three - piece Wave series. The following year he created a suspended kinetic sculpture, Fire, and in 1958, a free - standing piece, Kagero or The Shimmering of Heated Air. Despite the huge success of all these parallel - line compositions, Shounsai once again
Toss - In Style Flower Basket, 6 x 17 inches (left )
Inset images by Somei Osaki, courtesy of Shono Tokuzo
moved forward. The next series included powerful sculptures that introduced the concept of mass by using very long, wide bands of bamboo, which he smashed into even flatter and wider bands of bamboo. He then used these long strips to compose bold sculptures of unprecedented scale, such as Kyoken or Tiger Cage, in 1959, and Kyosho or Undaunted General, in 1962. With these dramatic sculptural pieces Shounsai cast aside his traditional training along with all of the intricate techniques he had mastered. Henceforth, he created work relying solely on his inspiration and own artistic sensibility. In the mid -1960s, Shounsai made yet another major shift that would prove to be his final phase, a focus on bamboo’s inherent beauty. While in his twenties, Shounsai began to practice Zen Buddhism, and throughout his career he occasionally made a few minimalist, Zen - inspired pieces. It was, however, in his sixties when he truly focused on expressing Zen concepts and creating works in the spirit of Zen. Until his death in 1974, Shounsai eliminated all decorative elements in his quest to remove his ego and focus solely on the nature of bamboo and its form. In the forest, he meticulously scrutinized bamboo to choose one cone out of hundreds — sometimes thousands — in order to find a bamboo he deemed the best. He processed every inch of selected pieces with utmost care, and he stored them in temperature and humidity controlled chambers that he designed himself, until they were ready for transformation into his artwork. After such painstaking preparation, he composed vessels of minimal elements imbued with his highly evolved responsiveness to the spirit of bamboo. By the end of his artistic career, Shounsai believed that no human effort could match the pure form and beauty of a simply cut section of bamboo, an exemplification of nature’s glory. In 1967, the Japanese Government awarded Shono Shounsai the highest artistic honor. He became the first Living National Treasure in bamboo art. His towering presence in the history of modern bamboo art is easily measured by the fact that nearly half of all contemporary bamboo artists — both traditionalists and modernists alike— became artists as a result of seeing Shounsai’s works of art. Of the three distinctive phases of Shounsai’s artistic career — his early traditional phase, his groundbreaking sculptural work, and his final Zen period — this exhibition primarily focuses on his third phase, his spiritual work. They are deceptively simple forms and expressions that continue to challenge the viewer’s sense of what is art.
Flower Cape, 3.5 x 11.25 inches
SHONO SHOUNSAI 6
Sozen Flower Basket, 10.75 x 7.5 x 11.5 inches (cover)
Reflections of the Moon on Water,16.25 x 6 x 8 inches (above) Sublimity,11.75 x 3.5 inches (right)
SHOMONKAI ARTISTS Over the span of his career, Shono Shounsai mentored seven artists. Each inherited a different spiritual orientation from him that advanced their life’s work as artists. These seven students constitute a group called Shomonkai and its members are Kimura Arata, Shimoda Izumi, Honda Keiunsai, Tanabe Kochikusai, Yamaguchi Ryuun, Abe Motoshi, and Shono Tokuzo. Along with selected pieces by Shounsai, we are showcasing the work of five Shomonkai artists and hope viewers will be able to see the inspiration of Shounsai’s three distinctive artistic phases. HONDA KEIUNSAI (1927–1997 ) is among the three deceased members of the Shomonkai artists. He was born in Toyama Prefecture and after World War II moved to Beppu, a small city located in Oita Prefecture, on the island of Kyushu. There he took a one - year basket making course and discovered that there were many traditional bamboo
workshops in Beppu. As his studies advanced, Honda began to like what he was doing, as he commented in an undated, published interview: “It is very interesting to create something out of nothing.” He also remarked on his competitive nature: “I hate to lose to others. I wanted to study under Japan’s best bamboo artist.” He knocked on Shounsai’s door many times requesting to be taken as an apprentice. Finally, in 1947, after numerous unsuccessful attempts his persistence paid off, and he was allowed to be Shounsai’s student. To his surprise, Honda did not study basket making for the entire first year; instead — to his dismay— he was farming. For example, Honda followed his master’s instructions to carefully measure and sow seeds equidistantly— for an entire day— in an area equivalent to two tatami mats (approx. 6' x 6' in size). Honda often asked himself,“What am I doing here?” However, on a day that Honda was practicing basket - making with discarded bamboo strips — collected earlier while keeping bath water hot and stoking the fire with logs— he was startled by his teacher. Shounsai was standing behind him and said, “Come to the studio starting tomorrow.” He realized then that he had been going through both mental training and screening. Seeing Honda’s willingness and readiness to be his student, Shounsai accepted him and was a very kind master to him, once he understood how serious Honda was about bettering himself. After five years of training with his master, Honda learned that, “a bamboo basket has to be beautiful and elegant, and more so, it has to be healthy.” According to Honda,“ The basket is ‘ill’ if it appears to be fragile and/or it is not crafted well.” In 1973, the Oita Prefectural Government sent Honda to Sado Island to research local bamboo growing. He found the bamboo there very attractive, moved to the island in 1975, and started using native species of bamboo to make his baskets. Honda was particularly enamored with meguro or menyadake, a special type of dwarf bamboo that only grows on Sado Island. With this particular type of bamboo, he was able to fulfill his long - time desire to recreate Jomon Period (14,000 – 300 BCE ) patterns that require sharp twists in the bamboo. The strips had always broken whenever he tried these patterns with the madake bamboo native to Kyushu Island. It was the greater flexibility of the Sado Island meguro bamboo that allowed Honda to realize his vision, and to impart a legacy to many of the local craftsmen to whom he taught basket making. H O N D A K E IUN S A I
Untitled Tray, 5 x 8.75 inches
H O N D A K E IUN S A I
Untitled Flower Basket, 7 x 12.75 inches (below) Untitled Flower Basket, 5.5 x 14.25 inches (right)
TANABE KOCHIKUSAI ( born 1935 ) is the oldest living Shomonkai artist. In 1951, at the request of the Oita Prefectural Government, Shono Shounsai went to a small town located on the Kunisaki Peninsula to conduct bamboo craft workshops for the local people. Then sixteen years of age, Tanabe took a week- long workshop to learn simple, everyday basket making. Shortly thereafter, Shounsai sent a request through an artist friend to the town’s mayor asking if he could recruit young Tanabe as his assistant. Greatly surprised by the request, Tanabe decided to become Shounsai’s apprentice and, as was common, to live with his family. In recalling the early days of his training, Tanabe says: “I was basically treated as one of the family and helped my teacher by cleaning his garden and his studio. My teacher was so particular about cleaning, especially sweeping in his garden. I was also sent to stores and ran errands. Eventually, I learned bamboo preparation and rattan work and assisted him for ten years.” Tanabe assisted Shounsai in creating his sculptural masterpieces during the height of Shounsai’s artistic career, when he needed a trusted assistant who could help him to carry out his complex artistic vision. In 1963, Tanabe left Shono’s Shikutei Studio — which produced a limited number of modern craftworks of the master’s design — to work for the Beppu Municipal Craft Institute (today’s Beppu Traditional Bamboo Craft Center), where he taught classes until he retired in 1996. During his long teaching career, Tanabe seldom made his own art and only submitted work twice to public competitions — the 1973 Japan Traditional Craft Art Exhibition and the 1983 Wood and Bamboo Exhibition. Robert Coffland and I first admired an early Tanabe masterpiece on display at the Beppu Traditional Bamboo Craft Center and on every successive visit there we tried to persuade him to create his bamboo art again. Finally, after ten years of our failing attempts, Tanabe has re - started his artistic career and created a small body of work for this exhibition. His artistic talent is obvious, and like his teacher, Tanabe spends months thinking and planning each piece. He has created a limited number of gems with a quality that rivals that of Shounsai.
TA N A B E K O C H I K U S A I
Flight,16 x 21 inches
TA N A B E K O C H I K U S A I
Ceremonial Cup, 14 x 13.75 inches
Untitled Flower Basket, 9 x 5.5 x 12.5 inches (left )
TA N A B E K O C H I K U S A I
Tsukubai, 22.25 x 14.75 inches
YAMAGUCHI RYUUN ( born 1940 ) is a native of Saga Prefecture. After graduating from high school, his parents recommended that he study basket-making at the Oita Prefectural Beppu Craft Teaching Center (today’s Oita Prefectural Bamboo Craft Training and Support Center). After graduation, Yamaguchi continued to further develop his skills with a local basket-master, and then was given the opportunity to work for Shounsai’s Shikutei Studio. Though Shounsai did not directly teach Yamaguchi, after he finished his day’s work he was allowed into the master’s studio and could see the process of creating a major sculpture. Although Yamaguchi only stayed with Shounsai for a year, this experience changed his life and he eventually chose to become a bamboo artist in his own right. When he was still young, Yamaguchi also trained to be a professional sword sharpener who polished and sharpened traditional Japanese swords. Yamaguchi occasionally takes sword - sharpening orders out of his love of the swords, now his hobby. It requires an extremely high degree of focus and concentration, which in turn helps Yamaguchi with his bamboo art. He also decorates swords that he owns by making sheaths of rattan work for them. During an April 2012 visit to Yamaguchi’s home studio, I saw a classic peony basket he made many decades ago. Although the handle was broken, it was masterfully plaited in beautiful patterns. Noticing my admiration, he showed me an exquisite, old tea ceremony basket that he also made. Because Yamaguchi is famous for his lively sculptural work with dynamic lines of movement and action, he is not normally considered a technician of such exquisite traditional bamboo basketry. The secret of Yamaguchi’s unusual dynamism is his speed. Once inspired, he works very fast to capture his vision before it dissipates, like a master calligrapher — expressing emotion with a few strokes of a brush. Yamaguchi pays less attention to detail than other bamboo artists, and follows the swirling motion of the bamboo as he is working with it, a feat that is possible only after many years of meticulous training as a basket maker.
YA M A G U C H I RY U U N
Swirl, 23.5 x 25 x 21 inches
YA M A G U C H I RY U U N
Rainbow Bridge, 31 x 16.25 x 19.5 inches
YA M A G U C H I RY U U N
Waves, 16.25 x 23.5 x 24.75 inches (left ) Fullness of Water, 24 x 10.5 inches (below)
ABE MOTOSHI ( born 1942 ) is from a family of basket makers in Beppu. Watching his father making day - to - day baskets as he grew up, he naturally followed in his father’s footsteps. Abe went to Midorigaoka High School which offered bamboo craft courses, and after graduating in 1960 he went to Shounsai’s Shikutei Studio. During his two years of studying under Shounsai, he witnessed his master creating Kyosho or Undaunted General, along with other sculptural masterpieces. In 1963, Abe returned home to help with his father’s bamboo basket business, which he inherited after his father died in 1968. Abe says,“With all of my appreciation and respect for everything he taught me and helped me with, my apprenticeship to master Shounsai was a very difficult two years.” Even though his teacher was kind, Abe was intimidated by seeing first - hand Shounsai’s artistic talent and unparalleled achievements. Even after he left Shikutei Studio, Abe continued to take work to his master for critiques. Abe said to himself “I could never become like him,” and felt nothing he made could ever measure up to his master’s quality and greatness. For well over ten years, Abe struggled artistically. In 1976, Abe’s career as a bamboo artist took off after his realization that he could only be himself. He finally stopped comparing his work to Shounsai’s and focused on his own uniqueness and strengths. Abe initiated a quest to develop new plaiting patterns that had never previously been done. Success followed, and, in public competitions he started to win many prizes with his meticulously detailed and highly original patterns and plaiting styles, including the 1982 Asahi Newspaper Prize at the 29th Japan Traditional Craft Art Exhibition. Abe’s ability to continuously invent and re -invent patterns he has originated is truly amazing, especially considering that it took hundreds of years, if not millennia, for early basket makers to invent the many patterns and plaiting known today. Abe’s legacy from Shounsai is his technical ingenuity, a gift he has elevated to an even higher level than his teacher, as well as creating his own unique place in the bamboo art world.
Diamond Shaped Windows, 10 x 14.25 inches
Thundering Surf, 5.75 x 15.75 x 13.5 inches 29
White Crest, 11.5 x 7.5 inches (right) Passing Rain, 13.25 x 7.75 inches (below)
SHONO TOKUZO ( born 1942) is the only child of Shounsai and his wife, Tei. While growing up, his father’s students were always living in their home. Even though Tokuzo was never given hands - on training by his father, he saw his father’s and his students’ bamboo artwork. During his teenage years, Tokuzo took special notice of his father‘s non - functional bamboo sculptures and decided to study art in college. He majored in sculpture at Musashino Art University, one of the leading art universities in Japan. In addition to hands - on studio training, he also studied art history and critical theory. After graduating in 1964, Tokuzo returned to Oita to help run his father’s Shikutei Studio. For ten years, he supervised the studio with the help of his father’s assistants while his father created his art. After Shono Shounsai passed away in January 1974, Tokuzo announced at the funeral that he was going to become a bamboo artist. That year he created a work inspired by his father and submitted it to Nitten, where it was rejected. For the next few years Tokuzo continued to submit work unsuccessfully, until he eventually realized he had to develop his own aesthetic. In 1979, he finally showed his work successfully at Nitten, and, since then, has established an artistic career as one of the leading Nitten artists in bamboo art. In 1998, Tokuzo won the Grand Prize at Nitten, a prize bestowed upon only a handful of bamboo artists in over one - hundred - years of this exhibition. At the beginning of his career Tokuzo was experimental, even incorporating stainless steel into bamboo art pieces, but since the early 1990s he has shifted to much more relaxed and coherent forms. He has continued to advance Shounsai’s process of careful bamboo preparation, attaining a level that no other bamboo artist has reached. It is Tokuzo’s conscious choice not to use any dye on his work, and he proudly adds “natural colored bamboo” to the titles of his pieces. For his compositions, the choicest bamboo is a pristine ivory color that is a large part of the work’s beauty. Tokuzo allows his bamboo to express its intrinsic quadratic curve by controlling the length, width, and thickness of each strip. Tokuzo inherited an orientation to the spirituality of his art from his father and teacher, and he continues to excel by following his own path. ■
Koichi Okada Santa Fe, New Mexico, July 2012
Unfurling Blossom, 13.75 x 11.5 inches
Conch Shell, 9 x 22.5 inches (left ) Blossom, 27 x 24 inches (below)
Untitled 6.5 x 9 feet
FA MILY T RADE SECRE TS Do is a Japanese word commonly used to express the cultural art of Japan. The meaning of do is translated in English as “the way.” The shodo of writing, the sado of tea, and the kado of the flower are art practices that enrich the culture. The judo of combat, kendo of the sword, and sumodo of wrestling are martial art practices that strengthen the art of combat. These art forms, practiced among the noble class of Japan, advanced rapidly in the Kamakura (1185–1333) and Muromachi (1337–1573) eras and continue today. Japanese people are not only concerned about perfecting the art forms. Their utmost interests are in the advancement of psychological strength. I believe that the desire to develop mental advancement through the practice of art - making is unique to our culture. Traditional Japanese craft art developed parallel to these cultural arts. There is a conservative tradition left in Japan called “family trade secrets.” A successor to a family business inherits all of the family trade secrets. One of the male children becomes the successor, and he is the only person to learn the family trade. My father, Shono Shounsai, was the first bamboo artist to be recognized as a Living National Treasure. People often ask me,“What did you learn from your father?” I am always puzzled by this question and never have an adequate reply. During the first ten years of my adulthood, my father was often sick; this may be one of the reasons why I feel that I did not learn much from him. He learned everything from nothing. He had a teacher for only a very short time and did not inherit a family trade secret by which to learn his craft. He created himself entirely from his intelligence and imagination. However, there is one significant essence in life that I learned from him. My father told me that the five senses are the important foundation for elevating artistic sensitivity which I was able to develop because of the beautiful arts, objects and luscious food at home. Since I was a boy, I helped my father with farming, fishing, and gathering edible plants. These activities further awakened my senses. That environment in which I grew up stimulated me to become the artist I am today. In this group exhibition, each artist will display different personalities, skills, and influences. My father would be very happy to see the varieties of expressions in this next generation. It has been thirty five years since my father passed away. He would be proud to have a show with these artists in a foreign country. For these reasons, he would be the most delighted artist in the exhibition.
Cocoon, 4.5 x 9.25 inches
Back Cover: Flower Cape, 3.25 x 11.25 inches
TA I G A L L E R Y 1601 B Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe, NM 87501 505.984.1387 â€˘ www.taigallery.com
Published on Jul 3, 2012
Living National Treasure Shono Shounsai, 1904-1974, was an artistic pioneer who pushed bamboo flower baskets to new heights as a fine art....