When one thinks of Buddhism, the thought is usually one of peaceful serenity, unless they are fans of kung fu theatre or are following some of the more violent uprisings in SE Asia currently.
What one does not usually think of is a concept of hell. Well, just like most other major religions, Buddhism has a concept of hell. Several actually, but the one todays art piece entertains a specific one. The Realm of Hungry Ghosts.
For those unfamiliar with Buddhist lore. A Hungry Ghost is basically someone who is a slave to their desires, aversions, and/or passions. More specifically it is described as both a form of reincarnation and a realm where one is constantly haunted by those sufferings until they free themselves of them by practice of the eightfold path.
The inspiration for this piece came from a Japanese interpretation of this, which was named Gaki Zoshi (Hungry Ghosts). It is a very old scroll and you can find images from it all over the internets.
I did the piece as an Inktober project in 2021, and being pen and ink it took the entire month.
This pen and ink piece is originally 18×24 on watercolor paper and prints are available through Fine Art America here.
So I am going to start off by acknowledging that Goze are not technically Geisha. They do however have two very important factors in common.
They are both women and they both make their living by entertaining men.
When I decided to broach the subject of Geisha in my series reflecting on Ukiyo-E, I did not want to do the same four or five poses and images of a half dressed beautiful woman looking over her shoulder that is prevalent in that space.
So I decided to draw a Goze instead. For those who do not know, a Goze is a blind woman who makes her living by playing music in public for tips. A Goze is basically a busker.
So I drew her sitting on the stoop of a business in a medieval Japanese town playing her Biwa.
You can find prints of this image or purchase the original at this page.
Outside the fine art and historical world, most of the interest and support for Ukiyo-E is in the Manga community. The positive there is that comic books and anime are constantly drawing young eyes to a much broader world of expression (just like they have always done). The negative is that a great deal of beautiful work gets ignored in favor of battle scenes, yokai, and other more graphic forms.
As for myself, my first exposures to Ukiyo-E came through an interest in Buddhist art, and an attraction to the simple elegance of Japanese art in general.
Some of the most under rated Ukiyo-E images are portrayals of nature. This is the point where a more scholarly sort would talk about the development of the style and how it came to Japan through mimicking the Chinese style of landscape and so on…but I am not here to provide art history so much as to talk about the art I am presenting.
At any rate, I do not attempt much in the way of nature art…for reasons previously discussed in a post about an oil I did (Painting hard feelings). The painting I am posting today is an exception to that and I kind of painted myself into a corner with the need to do it when I decided to do a series based on Ukiyo-E.
The reason I felt like it had to be done is because no nod to Japanese art and beauty could ever be complete without several subjects being covered. Amongst them would be Samurai, Geisha, Buddhism, Mount Fuji, and of course Cherry blossoms. In this series, so far I have addresses all but Mount Fuji… and of the ones completed I have shared all but one of a Geisha here on this website, after this post of course.
Todays painting is titled “Sparrow and Cherry Blossom” and is simple image of a sparrow perched on a cherry branch in bloom.
Today I am going to share two separate gouache paintings I have recently done.
They are also Buddhist and Japanese history pieces.
The first features Toyotomi Hideyoshi; samurai, daimyo, Shogun and second great unifier of Japan. The image is from early in his rise to power.
It is said that he greatly desired to have tea at the famous tea house of Sen no Rikyu, who was also known to have one of the most beautiful morning glory gardens in all of Japan.
At first Rikyu had rebuffed him. But knowing the samurai was growing impatient, Rikyu decided to have him.
Before the day of their tea, Rikyu dug up all of his magnolia gardens and selected only one. Placing it in a simple bamboo vase in the tea room.
When Hideyoshi arrived, he was enraged that the gardens were gone. He stomped into the tea house, and was stopped cold.
The single morning glory was perfect, and upon seeing it Hideyoshi saw Rikyu’s mind clearly and went on to become one of the great Shoguns in Japans history.
It is titled “Rikyu’s Morning Glory”
The second image is of Sen no Rikyu. He is the great tea master modern tea ceremony is based upon. He served two Shoguns as tea master and was of such great stature that he could have audience with anyone in Japan when he was alive.
The image is of him committing Seppuku on Hideyoshi’s order.
The reason is lost to history, but every version of it I have seen guessed at has been the result of ego and petty jealousy.
One of the things I like to draw, is a focus on another. That other being world religions. The focus being Buddhist art, more specifically Zen Buddhist art. It is especially true when I can do pieces based on Japanese Zen Buddhist art. Doing it in a Ukiyo-E drawing style just makes a well iced cake.
The image I am sharing today is all of that.
It is also an entirely stolen concept.
I did do Josetsu the honor of not attempting to redo his painting the way he did it. Further more, I didn’t do it in the same style.
I merely stole his Koan.
For the uninitiated, a Koan is a form of riddle in Zen Buddhism that is supposed to stimulate the potential for enlightenment when meditated upon.
This one in particular is called “Catching catfish with a gourd”, and was Josetsu’s original suiboku (basically Sumi) Painting was done C. 1415 .
The painting depicts a man standing by a creek and attempting to cat a catfish with a gourd (as the title suggests).
I won’t post the original image, as I do not wish to be shamed by the comparison. However, here is my original painting.
In the 18×24 gouache painting the gourd represents our mind and the catfish represents enlightenment. The gourd being used for something it is clearly not suitable for. The clear implication being that our minds are not suitable for attaining enlightenment, and that it is not something that can be gained through thought.
It is certainly an idea worth tossing around in your head while trying not to think too much on anything in particular… at least until you figure out to just let go and breathe.
If you would like to own a print of this piece, it is available HERE. The original is not currently available for sale, but it will be once I complete the larger project it is part of. If you would like to be considered when it is, send me a message.
The next piece I am going to talk about is the one that caused me to rethink selling my artwork.
For years I have had people telling me I should sell some prints, and I have had multiple requests to buy paintings. Since the images I create are primarily about me processing mental hardship or exorcising images from my brain, the idea never really resonated with me.
I want to draw just to draw. Besides, like most creatives I am self critical and don’t think my work is “worthy” of sale. Which is nonsense for all of us. The worst piece of art has more value than any symbol of financial wealth. Self expression may be the only thing humans do that is worthwhile.
Anyway, a while back I decided it was good enough to make some t-shirt designs….if nothing else so I could have tee shirts with stuff I wanted on them. So I made my tee public store Madman Designs.
That experience was enough to get me over the basic hump…and playing with it for a while convinced me I could do this without turning it into a job. Which is still true, so far.
Then I was talking to one of my working artist friends about a large project I want to do, and talking about the ‘how to’ of taking it on. He gave me a lot of good advice during that conversation, and part of that advice was that with my drawing style, gouache may be a good medium for me. This was especially true since gouache has unique finish that is well suited to that project.
I had never even heard of gouache, but valuing his judgement I looked into it and became interested in trying it.
So I decided to do a painting in the style of the larger project with gouache.
That painting is…
Imperturbable is my attempt to mimic the style of Ukiyo-E wood block prints.
This one in particular is of a Buddhist monk, holding the jewel of enlightenment in meditation and being unfazed by the storms of life, represented by a red dragon swirling around him. Important symbolism in this image is the fact that the dragon is looking past him, as for all the chaos he creates, the dragon has no ill intent towards the monk, the two simply exist in the same space.
All thoughts worthy of spending time thinking about, in my opinion.
I intend to do many more pieces in this style, and I hope that all of them capture my vision as well as this one did.
The original of this is an 18×24 gouache painting on 300 g watercolor paper, and is for sale for $350 plus shipping for whatever method we settle on.
If you would like a print of “Imperturbable”, it is available HERE.
It is very fitting that this was the first print I have ever sold as this work is personally representative of a new beginning for me in more than ‘just’ art.