Japanese floral arranging art features practical and spiritual aspects

Whether hailing from East or West, people around the world don't hesitate to meditate on the beauty and spiritual power of flowers.

Ikebana, Japanese floral arranging with its emphasis on shape, line and form, has had an aesthetic secular appeal in the West.

It's probably because of its simplicity and airy spacing of colorful blossoms, tiny ferns, palm fronds and dried twigs in vases or other containers.

But Ikebana also has roots in Buddhism, a religion of the Far East. 

And that aspect may be harder to grasp or appreciate in a workshop.

Artist Tamiko Laincz, a native of Japan, demonstrated that recently while creating floral arrangements for senior citizens at an art class workshop at the Heritage of Green Hills, a retirement community in Cumru Township.

In a lecture and demonstration, it wasn't easy to convey both the practical and spiritual aspects of the floral art, but Laincz managed well either by studious intent or unself-conscious default.

Her handiwork elicited admiring comments from the seniors who witnessed her designing three distinct arrangements: one straight or upright, a second slanted or curvy and the third low and horizontal.

When asked to pick a favorite arrangement, the more than dozen observers gravitated to different ones depending on whether they preferred large, colorful flowers; simple leaves and smaller flowers; or a more naturalistic look of plants and dried branches, twisting in nature, appearing to bend in a breeze and then forever frozen as if captured in a photographer's snapshot.

For Laincz, 51, of Wynnewood, Montgomery County, there were practical artistic challenges in forcing stems to stand erect in needle bases or massaging leaves without breaking them, so they would more easily flow in certain directions.

She was sometimes forced to prop up her artistic vision with green tape or wire hidden underneath low-lying leaves to achieve the natural look for which she was striving.

All the while, she explained how the art of Ikebana in Japan is about 500 years old and was connected to Buddhism with monks using flowers to decorate altars.

"Flowers have always been associated with spiritual enlightenment: the Buddha on the lotus, for instance," Laincz said. "But they also served as beautiful offerings."

Later in history, Laincz said, it became common for the Japanese to designate a sacred alcove in the home where a vase of flowers and sometimes incense and candles were prominently displayed.

"Simple Ikebana (which means life flower or giving life to flowers) has certain rules, but is based on one simple vertical line, up and down," Laincz said. "And you always look at the arrangement from the front, not the back. While there are pretty flowers to see, eyes also are drawn to stems and leaves.

"There are not so many flowers filling all the space as is often the case in the Western style of arranging. Three, five or seven flowers maybe, with plenty of air between."

Laincz said water fills the bottom of containers, which also can be decorated with marbles or pebbles.

Over time, more freestyle forms of Ikebana developed such as horizontal and slanted, she said, and that led to associating the floral arranging more broadly with a meditative exercise, requiring concentration and silence, uniting body, mind and soul in a creative endeavor.

And that was Laincz's challenge, explaining Ikebana to others while actually doing it and experiencing its most personal requirements for individual creativity.

What was required was to carefully study each leaf, twig and flower, to take the measure of their shapes and angles before carefully placing any of them in an arrangement.

But Laincz seemed to achieve that goal when undertaking her second arrangement, the slanted design, where all her movements indicated she was doing what she felt. She was immersed in an artistic, meditative moment.

How could one tell?

The room was quiet. Laincz stopped lecturing. The minutes seemed to stretch.

Those who required talk looked away or whispered among themselves.

And Laincz, suddenly self-conscious behind a floral delight, looked up, broke her concentration and politely apologized for a spiritual silence.

Contact Bruce R. Posten: 610-371-5059 or bposten@readingeagle.com.

This Awesome Robot Art Was Built With Broken Toys and Old Electronics

Andrea Petrachi is a sculptor. He doesn't use clay or marble. Instead, he creates with broken toys and discarded electronics, from electric shavers and audio connectors to old doll heads and figurine parts. His work is a mishmash of plastic and metal, joined in their common bond: they've been tossed aside for trash.

His work looks like the coolest mecha and robots Japanese anime never saw. With titles like "Otaku", the Japanese influence is undeniable—even if he doesn't always use Japanese electronics or toys—and it's no wonder his art is making its way through Japanese cyberspace.
For Petrachi, however, he thinks his work symbolizes our insatiable consumer appetite. From the vicious cycle of buying, breaking, and trashing, his art emerges.
Check out more of his work in the link below. Giuseppe Fogarizzu took all the wonderful photos in the above gallery.
Himatic [Andrea Petrachi via GIGAZINE]

Japanese artist Kusama strikes deal with Louis Vuitton

Tokyo —
Polka dots are Japanese avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama’s lifelong inspiration, obsession and passion.
And so they’re everywhere — not only on canvases but on installations shaped like gnarled tentacles and oversized yellow pumpkins. As part of her retrospective on exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, they also sparkle as “firefly” light bulbs reflected on water and mirrors.

Kusama’s signature splash of dots has now arrived in the realm of fashion in a collection from French luxury brand Louis Vuitton — bags, sunglasses, shoes and coats.

“Polka dots are fabulous,” Kusama said in a recent interview with The Associated Press, looking much younger than her 83 years in a bright red wig, a polka dot dress she designed herself and one of the new Louis Vuitton polka dot scarves.

Dots aside, Kusama cuts an odd figure for the fashion world. She has lived in a psychiatric institution for decades, battling demons that feed her art.

Still, in her Tokyo studio, filled with wall-sized paintings throbbing with her repetitive dots, Kusama said the collaboration was a natural, developed from her friendship with Louis Vuitton creative director Marc Jacobs.
Louis Vuitton had already scored success 10 years ago by collaborating on a bag line with another Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami. The latest Kusama collection is showcased at its boutiques around the world, including New York, Paris, Tokyo and Singapore, sometimes with replica dolls of Kusama.

“The polka dots cover the products infinitely,” said Louis Vuitton, which racks up 24 billion euros ($29 billion) in annual revenue, a significant portion in Japan. “No middle, no beginning and no end.”
Dots started popping up in Kusama’s work more than 50 years ago, from her early days as a pioneer Japanese woman venturing abroad.

Like most middle-class families in Japan those days, her parents, who ran a flower nursery, were eager to simply get her married. They wanted to buy her kimono, not paints and brushes. She knew she had to get away. And she chose America.

Dots may be fashionable today. But when Kusama arrived in New York in 1958, the fad was “action painting,” characterized by dribbles, swooshes and smears, not dots. She suffered years of poverty and obscurity. But she kept painting the dots.

She put circles of paper on people’s bodies, and once a horse, in “happening” anti-war performances in the late 1960s, which got some people arrested for obscenity but helped get media attention for her art. While in New York, she befriended artists like Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keefe and Joseph Cornell, who praised her innovative style.

Since then, the times have caught up with Kusama.

In 2008, Christie’s auctioned her work for $5.8 million. Her retrospective at the Whitney Museum was previously at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and Tate Modern in London. Earlier this month, a major exhibition “Eternity of Eternal Eternity” opened in her home town of Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture, complete with polka-dot shuttle buses.

“I’ve always been amazed at Kusama’s ability to pick up on and meld current trends in thoroughly original ways,” said Lynn Zelevansky, Carnegie Museum of Art director.

“During her New York years, her work fused Abstract Expressionist, Minimalist and Pop art elements, with an added dash of sexuality and the baseness of bodily functions. She was a precursor of feminist art of the 1970s and much of the work that was produced in the ‘80s around the AIDS crisis,” she said.

Dots had a rather sad beginning for Kusama. Since her childhood, she had recurring hallucinations. A portrait of her mother that she drew when she was 10 years old shows a forlorn face covered with spots. Immersing herself in her art was a way of overcoming her fears and hallucinations.

Since her return to Japan nearly 40 years ago, Kusama has lived in a psychiatric hospital and remains on medication to prevent depression and suicidal drives. But she commutes daily to her studio and works viciously on her paintings.

Kusama, who has also made films and published several novels, acknowledged she doesn’t know where she gets her ideas. She just picks up her brush and starts drawing.

“I think, ‘Oh, I drew that? I was thinking that,“’ she said in her characteristic unsmiling matter-of-fact style of speaking.

Over the years, Kusama has made quirky but stunning works like “Macaroni Girl,” a female figure plastered with macaroni, which expresses the fear of food; “The Visionary Flowers,” giant sculptures of twisting tulips, and “Mirrored Corridor,” a room with mirrors that delivers an illusion of a field of phallic protrusions speckled with dots.

The works are triumphant, humorous celebrations of potential, vulnerability and defiance — like Kusama herself, who at one moment, declares herself “an artistic revolutionary,” and then, the next, mumbles: “I am so afraid, all the time, of everything.”

Her latest project is an ambitious series of paintings with whimsical motifs such as triangles and swirls, along with her trademark dots, in vibrant, almost fluorescent colors.

As Kusama worked on No. 196 in the series, the look of concentration was childlike yet fierce as she painted red dots inside white dots, one by one.

“I want to create a thousand paintings, maybe two thousand paintings, as many as I can draw,” she said. “I will keep painting until I die.”

By Yuri Kageyama

A stopover to soak up some Japanese culture

We're a couple in our mid-60s who will be returning from a trip to Britain in September, and stopping over in Japan. We arrive at Narita on a Sunday at 2.20pm and leave the following Wednesday at 7.50pm. We would really like to stay in onsen/ryokan accommodation and soak in the hot springs for that time. Do you have any suggestions as to how that might be achieved, with recommendations for train travel?
- D. Grainger, Canberra.

Japan has about 3000 onsen - natural hot springs - and the Japanese were enjoying the soothing effects of communal soaking for many centuries before it occurred to Californians to do likewise.

Hoshi Onsen could be just your cup of green tea. Bathing at Hoshi Onsen takes place at just a single ryokan, Chojukan, which is a beautiful, traditional ryokan in mountainous country about 2½ hours from Tokyo by train.

Built in 1875, the ryokan sits on both sides of the narrow Nishi River, joined by a covered wooden bridge. The detail in the 37 guest rooms is refined and exquisite, and scrupulously maintained by the Okamura family, the sixth-generation descendants of the original builders.

At its heart is an indoor mixed-gender bath. From 8pm to 10pm the bath is reserved for women. There is also a smaller women-only bath, open all hours, and an outdoor hot-spring bath with separate bathing times for women and men.
Scroll down the webpage mentioned above to find directions from Tokyo. If you want a window on the Japanese soul, nothing beats a skinny dip.