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From the dawn of history, the Japanese have observed nature carefully. The elements of nature, including various flowers with their symbolic meaning, became frequent motifs used in art and ornamentation. To this day, these natural phenomena are reflected in Japanese customs and traditions. An old custom hanami (in Japanese watching flowers) is still hugely popular when, in spring, whole families have picnics under blossoming cherry trees.

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The calligraphy depicts an ideograph 花 (Japanese: hana) created with golden paint on deep dark blue paper of a sapphire shade and suede texture. At the bottom of the artwork, to the left, there is the square red seal of the artist with an ideograph created in stamp writing – a form of signs that derive from ancient Chinese calligraphy.
According to custom, paintings and calligraphies of the Far East should be bound. The choice of binding depended on the degree of an artwork’s formality and its intended purpose. It might have been left in the original form (a sheet of paper), or binding of a particular style might have been applied to it. The Flower calligraphy was bound in the form of a vertical roll of maru hyōsō  type: at the top and bottom edge, narrow strips of light sea green brocade, covered with a pattern of golden clouds were added (this part of the binding is called ichimonji). They create a stunning element emphasising the aesthetic qualities of the painting. The rest of the frame was made with a baize cloth of a deep yellow colour resembling powdered turmeric – a dye commonly used in ancient Japan. At the top and bottom, there are wooden rollers of varying diameters. The lower one is thicker in order to help to smooth the roll with its weight. The roller's ends are made of dark brown wood in the shape of a lengthened cylinder – kirijiku. At the top of the roll, a typical thin Japanese tape used to hang objects is attached.
The ideograph hana, meaning flower, consisting of seven lines (brush strokes), comprises two pictographs: the upper one depicts growing plants and the lower one – symbolising flowering, signifies a change in the plant. The following attempt at interpretation may be offered: a flower appears when a plant is in the process of transformation of its state and new possibilities are arising that may bring delightful results.  
In the artwork, the artist considered both the visual appearance of a flower being the symbol of beauty in all cultures of the world, as well as the most striking moment of its growth when the flower starts blooming. The flower is also a harbinger of another transformation – it heralds the appearance of the fruit.
From the dawn of history, the Japanese have observed nature carefully. The elements of nature, including various flowers with their symbolic meaning, became frequent motifs used in art and ornamentation. To this day, these natural phenomena are reflected in Japanese customs and traditions. An old custom hanami (in Japanese watching flowers) is still hugely popular when, in spring, whole families have picnics under blossoming cherry trees.
The ideograph has been created in a modern avant-garde style, with the use of the design concept of substantial enlargement of the sign. Due to precise control of the brush guidance and pressure, the lines of the ideograph are not heavy or thick, but light and delicate, and they make us think of trees covered with blossom.
The colours of the painting are a puzzle. The audience is typically accustomed to calligraphy drawn with black ink on a white or cream-coloured background, where a red seal of the artist is the only element softening this sophisticated austerity of colour. Although Kyōso's Flower is also an artwork of refined colours, it stands out from the majority of calligraphic works. It is easy to discern the source of the artist's inspiration when we think of the beginnings of Japanese art: a golden colour on a deep dark blue background was used in the Heian period (794–1185) to create images and extremely precious texts of Buddhist sutras modelled on Chinese works of the Tang dynasty period (618–907). Sutras were copied only by the most skilled of calligraphy artists. During this period, deep dark blue backgrounds were created with the use of the lapis lazuli mineral. Later, when such backgrounds became common in use, paper was dyed with indigo – a cheaper and more available plant dye. Kyōso, the contemporary artist, has used skilfully this elegant and refined combination of gold and deep dark blue, building on tradition.

Elaborated by Małgorzata Martini (The Manggha Centre of Japanese Art and Technology), editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums, © all rights reserved

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On the art of calligraphy

The history of Japanese calligraphy dates back to about the 6th century AD, when the Chinese system of writing was introduced to the islands. Although, at first, the Japanese used the Chinese language in writing, soon they started writing in their own language using the Chinese signs kanji (Jap.), sometimes modifying them. On the basis of the Chinese ideographs, various Japanese forms of syllabic writing evolved that enabled people to write in their own language.

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Calligraphy (Japanese: 書道 shōdo) [compare Ima/Now calligraphy by Rikō Takahashi, along with poetry and painting, is highly regarded both in Japan and China, the country of its origins, as well as in other regions influenced by Chinese culture, as the most desirable skill every educated person should have. Moreover, it has been believed that excellence achieved in the art of beautiful writing presents the person practicing it in a favourable light. Calligraphy has been highly valued and regarded as one of the fine arts. In the beginning, it was practised by members of the highest social classes exclusively.
The history of Japanese calligraphy dates back to about the 6th century AD, when the Chinese system of writing was introduced to the islands. Although, at first, the Japanese used the Chinese language in writing, soon they started writing in their own language using the Chinese signs kanji (Jap.), sometimes modifying them. On the basis of the Chinese ideographs, various Japanese forms of syllabic writing evolved that enabled people to write in their own language.
Two main trends developed in calligraphy; the first one used the Chinese kanji ideographs, the second – the Japanese phonetic symbols of the kana syllabaries (e.g. hiragana or katakana). There were five types of writing and the type was determined by the purpose of a particular text which was to be written using calligraphy: tensho – the archaic writing style still used for seals, reisho – the clerical writing once used in official documents, kaisho − the square writing which was the most common form and the easiest to read, gyōsho − the writing of unbroken lines created with quick moves of a brush to shorten the signs, which was used in less formal circumstances, and sōsho – the grassy writing”, real cursive writing, which shortened and joined the parts of the sign.
Through the ages, various schools of calligraphy were established by the calligraphy masters, where trainees could practice their skills both in the beautiful painting of sings in a particular style and in conveying specific ideas using them.
After the World War II, there was a relatively casual social atmosphere and society became more and more influenced by the standards of the West. This brought new trends in the art of calligraphy. One of them was the trend where kana symbols and kanji signs were enlarged in compositions, but, on the other hand, the number of signs used was limited. The next trend used excerpts of texts from contemporary Japanese literature; another one, called the Avant-garde style, often led to quite abstract compositions.
The Japanese art of calligraphy is deeply rooted in its rich and valued tradition, though new trends and styles continue to appear, and because of that, the former limits of this art continue to expand further and further.
In the countries of the Far East, calligraphy is treated not just as a means and manner of interpersonal communication, but as an art in itself. Particular attention is paid to ink shades, brush stroke arrangements, as well as brush movement when writing and composing a sign as a whole. The beauty of the written signs may be fully appreciated and understood provided that they have been written both with an agile and skilled hand, and with the utmost focus of mind and soul. However, regardless of the influence of new ideas, the inner essence of calligraphy still remains unchanged.
Instruments used in calligraphy have hardly changed through the ages. A special brush is required, one of two types: a thick one futofude (Japanese: thick brush), or a thin one hosofude (Japanese: thin brush). The thick one is used when creating the main text, and the thin one – when creating inscriptions and signatures at the end of a text or it’s used in calligraphy using small ideographs or cursive writing. Ink (Japanese: sumi) used to be made of soot obtained from the process of burning wood and oil. It was mixed with glue made of fishbone and leather, and then it was dried in the form of cubical sticks or cubes. As ink had to be used in a liquid form, a stick was pounded in water on a special stone (Japanese: suzuri), which had a hollow on one side; there the ink was combined with water until a proper consistency was obtained. Water was measured with the use of a suiteki dispenser, usually made of metal or ceramic. As all these instruments (brushes, the ink, water dispensers and ink sticks) were highly valued, they were kept in special boxes (Japanese: suzuribako), often carefully and beautifully decorated, especially with lacquer.
Washi handmade paper was used as a ground on which signs were placed. It was made of mulberry paper, and it had high hygroscopicity.
Calligraphies were framed in the form of rolls, similar to traditional Japanese paintings. Emakimono rolls were unrolled horizontally to be looked at piece by piece, from the right to the left; on the other hand, kakemono rolls were unrolled vertically, as in the case of Kyōso calligraphy, as it was essential to be able to contemplate the work in its entirety. The sheet of paper containing the calligraphy was stuck underneath to additional paper, and its edges were decorated with paper or fabric. Kakemono framing is called hyōsō while emakimono framing is called kansubon.

Elaborated by Małgorzata Martini (The Manggha Centre of Japanese Art and Technology),© all rights reserved

See Ima/Now Calligraphy by Rikō Takahashi and Flowercalligraphy by Chuei Sekiguchi (alias Kyōso)

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“Flower” calligraphy by Chuei Sekiguchi (alias Kyōso)

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