Archive for the ‘Wabi Sabi’ Category

Confession about acquisition…

February 28, 2010

Let me begin by stating I have few needs and wants. This does not mean that I am without desire, or prone toward acquiring objects which have little usefulness in my life. This afternoon Martha and I attended the opening of the “Out of the Ombu” exhibition which Looking For Beauty and I did installation last Thursday. I am such a sucker for quiet, tactile beauty, and should have realized I was in trouble when the first area of concern for exhibition to me was for six examples of Shino ware. While the curator was explaining the need to display 6 sculptural pieces against the main wall, I was ruminating about where to display these gems. In less than three minutes, I had dragged over the display plinths and placed the beautiful, quiet-as-a-whisper pieces – two tall slab bottles with diagonal carved stripes, two small bottles, beautiful examples of Tobigana with subtle blue soda glaze, and two Tobigana bowls with Shino slip decoration.
One of the pleasures and privileges of mounting an exhibition is the opportunity to closely look at and handle art objects – on a more intimate level than is available to the gallery goer. When I upended the Tobigana bowls and happened to see the accidental glazing due to the vagaries of wood firing on the surface of the chattered ware and the subtle beauty of the foot finish, I should have realized that the demon of acqusitiveness that lurks in my otherwise modest person would set up a persistent chant in my unconscious – “these are meant to be for you!”
Barely one minute into the opening, my feet took me to this part of the exhibition, and immediately to the curator to beg for a red dot to place by the two Shino Tobinaga bowls. I did not care whether these items were of collectible value, nor that the potter was a relative unknown. That doesn’t figure in my estimation of the desirability of these beautiful bowls. What did was their quiet insistence that existence is very much dependent on the vagaries of chance acting on material, and that these items had been blessed by the character of heat and fire carefully tended by the potters, and the happenstance of these objects’ position inside the ombu and the introduction of soda ash at a particular time during the firing. Nothing is guaranteed! That is of what these bowls speak to me – and of unexpected gorgeousness.
Now, I have put myself in the position of bringing these items into my home. How do I explain this compulsion to Rumpole? Me, who prides herself on wanting little. But, by gum! I can hardly wait to bring these beauties home. I know I was meant to have them. Earlier this week, as I was dusting the mantle I picked up the beautiful Tobigana decorated vase I had picked up a couple of months ago from the Sally Ann. It has a gorgeous salt glaze, a simple form and a subtle chatter decoration around the shoulder. It cost $1. I googled the decorative practice and did some reading on the technique this week. And, behold, this opportunity has occurred.
I feel very fortunate to be able to afford such an act of whim. Maybe Rumpole will understand.
But I have plans. I talked with the potter at the opening – an older Japanese lady. She was pleased I so wanted these two bowls. As I was gazing at them and lifted them up to run my greedy fingers over the surface, I decided to paint them as a still life from many aspects when I get them home. What a challenge to paint using earth colours to approximate the feelings which these objects yield to me. I can hardly wait for the six weeks of the exhibition to be over.

Jam-jar aesthetics…

October 23, 2008

If people were generally more knowledgeable about the resources used and labour expended in the fabrication of the simplest items of daily use we would find the contemporary privilege of unchecked choice horrific, wasteful and counter to our need for self-preservation as a species.

One day, while waiting for my friend to complete her banking business, I wandered around our local Value Village. In several long aisles there were a staggering variety and number of flower-vases, lined up higgledy-piggledy, cheek to jowl – vases that householders had found lacking in currently favoured taste, and which then they had discarded or otherwise removed from their consciousness and environs. Mind you, there were no un-noticed Daum or Lalique vases with which to tempt the tightwad person of bourgeois aspirations. There were however many acceptable containers in which to temporarily house flowers arriving at our shore from overseas flower growers. Yes – there was that delicately cut bud-vase in which to display that red rose from Colombia, the one that would make its way home from a refrigerated container at the harbour’s edge, to the auction house on Marine Drive and then from the local florist or grocery store. A visitor to the house, where such rose is displayed in its hot-house glory, might sigh in appreciation at the unblemished perfection of the flower amply displayed in the tasteful and delicate cut glass bud-vase. The fact that it is the last gasp of autumn here and no roses can thus bloom on their shrubs would simply not occur to the visitor, the magnificence simply erases all practical and logical thought.

And such is the case with most of North-Americans’ aesthetic manner of living. Special containers need specimen and uncommon flowers to display, and there must be a variety of containers available – to suit every taste and personal economy. It is somewhat doubtful that a fashionable matron in the British Properties, or in Shaughnessy would walk along ditches and fields, collect wildflowers and display them in an empty Smuckers Strawberry Jam jar. No, for such a lady the Meinhardt’s on South Granville or a flower selller on Granville Island or in Kerrisdale might provide the exotic blooms for which the vases are purchased from Atkinson’s or Martha Sturdy on Granville or even Birks, downtown. The aspiring middle-class housewife might purchase her flowers from the local flowershop, or the grocery store, and her vases from Bowrings, Ikea or Homesense. Women, disparagingly classified as granola-munchers, the frugal or the poor ones might just do with a second-hand vase picked up at a garage sale or thrift shop, and if really skint, then put into service the good old jam-jar or milk bottle.

I have to confess that I have often displayed downwardly-mobile tendencies in the past, and continue to do so to this day. While I love beauty in its myriad forms, I feel no pressure to own it. It is enough that it merely exists, everywhere, commonplace hard-wrought beauty. Of particular value are the tools with which life is carried on; they need to be functional and long-lasting – in that resides their beauty. The term, “gilding the lily” comes to mind. One does not have to apply flourishes to something whose inherent beauty is enwrapped in its perfect functionality. The field daisy can vie with the lily; both are beautiful, each in their own way and neither needs embellishment and both look spectacular placed in a plain tall drinking glass, or a tall narrow pickle-jar. An ornate carved crystal vase diminishes the flowers, in my opinion. Possible contemplation of the marvel of nature that is a field daisy is distracted by the context of man-made tour-de-force of elaborate craft.

One of the few wedding presents Rumpole and I received was a gorgeous carved Lalique vase. It sat on our mantle for three years and never once housed flowers. It seemed to overpower the kind of flowers and grass stems I picked up in my forays about the neighbourhood. It never loooked right, and seemed to me a reminder of the kind of rarified life I was to aspire to – one of ease, leisure, and material comfort and a distancing from visceral pleasures of a rather grubby life. Never having been a young woman to whom were given flowers, but rather tin snips, wire cutters, metal files, carving tools and prosthetic arms and other strange, unfeminish items such as strange rocks and concretions or dried dead things. The joke in our house was that if it came from a ditch, field, or midden it took pride of place on the mantle; however if a glorious bouquet of flowers came from a flower shop or decor shop it was left to decay, deform and otherwise gather dust and then it was of value. That poor Lalique vase never had a chance for long survival. Whilst packing up the house to move up north to our acreage and log house in the bush, I was carefullly sorting and determining just what objets deserved careful wrapping and placing into packing boxes. The concretions, shells, bits of bark, twigs, stones and seeds were carefully wrapped and set aside. Similarly, any old and roughed up glass medicine jars picked up from dusty second hand stores and jars of pleasant proportion, with or without lids, were lovingly seated among crumpled nests of newspaper and insulated against brakage. I had left the Lalique vase to the end, considered giving it to my mother, who might have been horrified at what an unsentimental ingrate I was to not value such a beautiful gift. I held it nestled in my hands as I stood above the flagged stone apron of the fireplace, contemplated the vase and what it meant to me,to the giver, to any other recipient who might have valued it; decided that I had neither the inclination nor energy to spend time in seeking a new home for the vase, opened my fingers and dropped it onto the stones. It shattered into fine pieces, which I then swept up and put into the dustbin.

The last item I packed from the mantle was a small plaster plaque which six-year old Renaissance Man had made for me of an impression of a leaf. I still have that sitting on my studio window, next to an empty jam-jar ready to hold a foundling weed flower, and alongside a toy firetruck and some retrieved circuit boards. Oh yes, and a cardboard cut out of a brocade bedecked Renaissance Queen.

That is what I consider jam-jar aesthetics; a not very fashionable one, but which gives me far more satisfaction than the Lalique vase ever did.


April 14, 2007

Blink in the light, newborn,

follow the aspen shivers,

gaze at its reversal

distorted in a wind-ruffled puddle,

glance at impossible blues

variegated in the chinks between leaves.

Where the crown meets sky

glimpse a tender melting of edges,

note the tree exhale cloud,

cloud taste leaf.

* In 1970, when my son was a newborn, we stayed in a cabin on Pender Island, and I would sit outside under aspen trees and watch him, and the trees, willing him to see the beauty around us, to become a person who really “sees”. I try to remember to see daily with newborn eyes!

An Opera blooper…

March 18, 2007

Memory – It’s a Dreary November evening in 1965. I had performed my duty as Usherette at the local theatre/opera house, the jewel of our city, and had taken up station in the dark vestibule of the Lower Orchestra entrance.  There was a great close view,of the stage set, the orchestra in the pit and the singers, to be had from there. I reveled in the fact that not only was I making money for my upcoming European Adventure, but I loved the opera “Faust”. ( My mother, a keen lover of opera, a wonderful clear soprano, had for the most of my child-hood gone about singing “Ah, je ris… (Marguerite’s Jewel Song)” whenever she was sliding around with felt pads attached to her stocking feet and polishing the wood floors in our apartment in Hungary.  This was also her signature tune summoned up by her whenever she was annoyed with any of us in the family, and by which she indicated she could care less for our feelings about her incessant admonishments, corrections and demands. She played her recording of Faust often, but never shared the details of the story, which we had to ferret out ourselves by listening to the variations in the music, and by sneaking looks at the libretto folded inside the record cover jacket.) But, I digress…

Act l – Faust (a portly middle-aged man, who I then considered rather unattractive and uninteresting) is in his study, bemoaning his life and the failure of Science and Faith, and asks for infernal guidance and aid. He does this with okay acting, in a marvellous tenor voice. Bingo -bango…enters the Devil singing in a melodious insidious baritone ( I perked up! He is really an attractive man – tall, dark and handsome, with really fine legs, altogether yummy!) He goes through his temptation  routine, like a really oily, yet attractive, used-car salesman, and conjures up a vision of Marguerite spinning wool inside her chamber.

This vision appears. We, the audience, know it is supposed to be an imaginary scene, because  mauvish lights go on at stage right and reveal, muted by a scrim, a tall tower-like structure with stairs leading up the front to an open doorway. There, beavering away in a faded fashion, is an attractive darkish-haired young woman, in simple costume, the heroine seated at her spinning-wheel. ( She was an operatic “hottie”, a nice foil for Faust, who seems to be experiencing Mid-Life Crisis)

Suddenly, while Mephistopheles and Faust are doing their melodic negotiations, the tall tower falls down toward the front of the stage, puffs up the scrim, and leaves Marguerite at the top of the stairs exposed to the full glare of stage reality. Oops! Startled, out of character, she stops spinning and looks toward the audience with a kind of “Now what..”look on her face. The tower just misses flattening Faust, who carries on singing, as does Mephistopheles, while the maroon front curtain slowly closes.  The orchestra doesn’t miss a beat, but it soon becomes obvious that the two male singers are trying to hear the accompaniment and, muffled, are slightly out of rhythm with it.

Manfully and professionally, the musicians and singers carry on for the rest of the act (a longish time).  Unseen by all of us out front, the property guys and techs add to the musical atmosphere with noises they make as they scurry around behind the closed curtain to remove the fallen set panel.

Act l ends; the house lights remain dark; the orchestra segues into the  instrumental intermezzo before the next act, leaving those of us in the audience to sort out how we feel about all this.  Audiences at opera here in Canada at that time were very proper and polite. No loud guffaws, or catcalling. No excesses of enthusiasm, either. (We are very sedate people!)

Being just past my teens, at the time, I have less self-control and burst into a fit of giggling which I try to muffle and not being successful with this, have to push my way out to the lobby through the Lower Orchestra entrance door.

Later, at home, I am recounting this to Mother with great glee. Her indignant reaction was to say somewhat irritably, “Well, what do you expect? People here cannot put on a production to equal those back home!” She failed to see the humour in this unexpected happening.

Today, this memory reminds me not to take too much, too seriously, and  that I have personally made some doozers of bloopers during the performance of many tasks in my various “jobs”. Flaws sometimes add great interest.

Photographing the Dying….Aide Memoire

January 29, 2007

This post is for T, Kay and all friends visiting who may be interested.

If you visit  you will see one artist’s manner of wittnessing and celebrating a friend’s spirit and his love for her, as she neared the end stage of her life.

Fog in suburbia…

January 26, 2007

It is foggy in suburbia this morning.

This brings to mind 2 sites the fog of the internet  has revealed to me, and which I  plan to linger in to enjoy and learn more about the nature of fog as experienced elsewhere by people.

Applying labels…

January 26, 2007

Yesterday morning, as “Rumpole”was leaving suburbia to go to his office downtown, he asked what my plans were for the day.  I told him that the reason why last night’s spaghetti was so oddly flavoured of cilantro, and which he found so unpalatable but nevertheless ate (he made faces and didn’t manage to eat everything on his plate) was due to the fact that I hadn’t paid close enough attention when refilling the cilantro and basil jars, and put the wrong spice in the wrong bottle.  He was tapping his feet, rolling his eyes as he was waiting for me to get to the point. Finally letting the penny drop, I told him that the spice jar labels needed to be corrected so that’s what I would do this day.

A while later,  I took out the mislabelled jars, scrubbed off their paper labels but had difficulty removing the adhesive that had been used to stick the labels to the glass jars. As I went about this chore I tried various methods to remove the sticky stuff . It was tough going and took awhile. My thoughts, for whatever strange reason,  roamed around and oddly settled onto my lifelong preoccupation with lawns. This may have had to do with the fact that while both dried chopped cilantro and basil tasted completely different they looked very much alike, but also a lot like grass clippings. Grass clippings brought to mind lawns.

Lawns are a hot topic, here in the suburbs. Sherry (the feminine half of Sharold) is pretty religious about maintaining the lawn at their place, both front and back. She monitors weed growth and grass height,  does the weeding and watering, but leaves the cutting, fertilizing, aeration and pest removal to Harold. He takes the clippings to the dump after each cutting. Their lawn looks really good.

By comparison our lawn is a sorry sight. Our neighbours, kindly enough, don’t make outright comments about this, because a) we’re older, b) we obviously try to maintain at least a semblance of lawn ( we keep it cut, but never fertilize it, or aerate it, or weed it) and c) suspect we really don’t care but are too polite to ask. Sharold  and others  living here in suburbia affectionately call this neighbourhood “Pleasantville. They really mean this, unfortunately sometimes they take pot-shots by mentioning our weeds, the strange uneven cuts which never twice look the same.  They really get worked up by all the moles living in our lawn which create little piles of earth all over it. They never actually come out and say ” mole”, but instead offer advice on how best to kill them, and have even gone so far as to gift us with mole-eradicators!!!They have never suggested that we read the definitive book on Lawns, but some provided good references in case we wish to learn all about them. “Rumpole” and I  occasionally wonder what  names our neighbours might call us,  but don’t dwell on this too long. From time to time we admit fleeting embarrassment.

Before our move here  ten years ago, we lived on acreage in the Northern bush.  On our lot were trees, upright and fallen, shrubs, an interesting succession of undergrowth plant and even some pasture. We could see several different kinds of woodpeckers, owls and other birds. Occasionally on misty spring morning we might see a moose browsing in the pasture. On clear cold winter nights we’d sometimes hear wolves howling. We thought our place to be our own private Garden of Eden.

 When I am woolgathering, my thoughts skip around. Once, I allowed myself to think frivolous thoughts about the Garden of Eden such as the fact there have been no clear descriptions of it. There were all kinds of flora(clover , moss and dandelions, I presume), and fauna,( moles, and even a snake!!!). No mention of lawnmowers and Mole-be-gone! I have seen artists renderings of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are never shown cutting lawns or drowning  moles with a garden hose . Eve is always handing Adam an apple.

I like to imagine that Sharold, like Adam and Eve, have been expelled from the Garden of Eden, as have the rest of us here in suburbia, in “Pleasantville”.  We are all destined to be obsessed or pleased by,   uncaring or worried about our lawns.  For certain we  sure have to do a lot of maintenance to keep them up and use lots of  energy to do so. This seems to me to be wasted effort, with really uneven results. I wonder why we do it. Grass that grows tall, waves about in the breeze, contains plants that vary from season to season and allows moles and birds, molehills and even an odd snake might be preferable to the regimented sameness of lawns.

“Rumpole” and I really miss living in the bush. Occasionally he was known to have taken an apple from my hand. We really enjoyed our life there! It was a great place to raise a child, we like to think.

….the space between….

January 24, 2007

…milky ultramarine curtain hangs

between the parentheses of black cedars…

…grey beach rocks regroup

until a perfect gestalt emerges on the table top…

…tan tabby, his negative spaces sequencing,

slow-motions along a window ledge…

…sky-blue pen on the diagonal at an approximate thirty degrees,

points to a glass coffee mug…

…red-bound journal opens to an unmarked page

where martial rows of lines wait to be filled…

…black halting crabbed calligraphy sifts

through a trickle of half-formed thoughts…

…words, scattered punctuations, fill

the space between vision mind-flow sensation and form…

21/5/2005    G M


January 24, 2007

Fine filtered, a pearly skein sinks

onto orchards, over forlorn fields, and

gathers around groves.

Blurred bands of moist air wind

about, silencing ambient noises,

nudging a soft, billowing

kerchief over the land.

1/12/04 – G M

“Slow down, you move too fast…”

January 22, 2007

 The fleet-footed Michael Flatley demonstrates a manic energy, showmanship and  sure and rapid footwork that excites large audiences. His Riverdance troupe performances are wildly popular. Crowds fill all the venues wherever they perform.  This is dance as Spectacle! The continuation of this dance form is assured. Everywhere in North America there are dance schools teaching the skills of Irish dancing, along with those  of Ballet, Jazz, Hip Hop and Ballroom.

Butoh is a dance of Japanese origins. It is the polar opposite of Riverdance – dancers move at glacial speed.  Their bodies’ motion occurs in almost imperceptible increments – they shift and flow subtly in their space, nearly naked and their skin completely whitened.  They mostly dance accompanied by silence, not catchy, exciting or toe-tapping music. Diehard dance aficionados tend to be their audience.  This is not a popular type of dance, and instruction in its discipline can be acquired in very few places.  It is dance as Meditation.

It is also beautiful in how I am affected whenever I attend a performance of the Kokoro  troupe. I am sure my blood pressure drops measurably while I am watching these dancers.  (I  wonder if there have been any researches made to substantiate this idea) My breathing slows and deepens.   I seldom blink for fear of losing the thread of movement and lose awareness of having a body. Seeing is heightened. The bodies of the dancers seem to glow and it is almost as if their energy field  is visible. And interestingly any of my tendencies to compare, analyze, and evaluate simply disappear, as long as I am fully attending to what is in front of me.

If you ever have the opportunity to go to a Butoh performance, treat yourself to a wonderful experience!  You might find it slowing you down – sometimes slow is good.

Meanwhile, whatever your dance is, keep dancing.