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The calligraphy depicts an ideograph Ima今 (Now) written with black ink on white paper. At the bottom of the work, to the right, there is a red seal with the letters Rikoh in the Latin alphabet. This is the artist's name written in one of the versions of the Japanese language transcription. Novices in painting and calligraphy were encouraged to carve their own seals − the art of carving seals was called tenkoku.

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The calligraphy depicts an ideograph Ima今 (Now) written with black ink on white paper. At the bottom of the work, to the right, there is a red seal with the letters Rikoh in the Latin alphabet. This is the artist's name written in one of the versions of the Japanese language transcription. At the bottom, to the left, one can see two additional red seals, both almost square, and both with the first ideograph of the artist's name 里(RI), but the sign placed on the upper one is written in stylised seal writing, an archaic form of the Chinese writing. Calligraphies used to be affixed with an artist's signature and seal. Novices in painting and calligraphy were encouraged to carve their own seals − the art of carving seals was called tenkoku. The form of the seal and the area to where it was affixed was dependent on the aesthetics of the work as a whole, and it had to be affixed according to some traditional rules.
The calligraphies drawn on paper were bound in the form of a scroll, similarly to traditional paintings of the Far East. Longer texts were framed so as to be rolled and read horizontally – such rolls were called emakimono  (Jap.). In the case of shorter texts and single ideographs, works were required to be viewed in their entirety, so they were bound vertically – kakemono (Jap.). Paintings or calligraphies were fixed to a paper backing, and then their edges were covered with fabric (honshi) . The method of binding, the style, was determined by the work's purpose and, of course, by its subject. The differences manifested themselves in the size, shape, and the presence or the absence of a surface covered with various fabrics. The piece of fabric placed at the top was usually larger than the one placed at the bottom.
The Ima calligraphy is bound in the honfukurohyōgu style. The actual piece (called honshi) is surrounded by one type of fabric – in this case, a silk fabric with a geometrical, blue and grey pattern, with one exception – there is a fragment of yellow material showing from under the border of the silk fabric.
Two wooden rollers help to keep the form of the work secure: at the top – the roller of a smaller diameter, and at the bottom – of a bigger one. The endings of the bottom roller (its diameter depended on the work's size) were ornamented and they were often made of a different kind of wood or even other materials such as wood covered with lacquer, ivory or cattle bones, as well as metal, ceramics, and more seldom, semi-precious stones. A colourful silk tape was always fixed to the upper roller and it was used for hanging the scroll.
In Rikō Takahashi's calligraphy, the endings of the bottom roller are light brown and in the shape of a lengthened cylinder of the kirijiku type; they were made of wood covered with lacquer or varnish.
As was the case with traditional paintings, the Ima scroll has its own wooden box. Such boxes were used to protect the work against physical damage, dampness and insects. Due to the last two problems, which were typical to the Japanese humid climate, boxes were often made of paulownia kiri or Japanese cypress hinoki wood. Inside the box protecting the Ima calligraphy, two rests were placed to allow the roll to sit only on its ends. The box surface is covered with several ideographs written with black ink on paper. Inside, there is the date of the work's creation along with an adjective emphasising the meaning of the date: year 2013, 8th month, 3rd day. Next to the artist's originally styled red seal, her first name and surname written with ideographs can be seen, as well as Latin letters suggesting the way they should be read. Outside, on the lid of the box, a paper is affixed bearing the artist's first name and surname written in ideographs. Above them, there is a small stylised sign Ima with a red seal bearing the sign Rikō.
The Ima ideograph, consisting of four lines (brush strokes), was made in the Avant-garde style, which was developed after the Second World War. This trend followed newer artistic concepts of pure abstraction, and due to this, the trend is somewhat similar to some trends in the western art of the 20th century.
The ideograph is placed somewhat asymmetrically – it is closer to the right side of the painting. On the other hand, lack of symmetry in a composition was one of the traditional rules of Japanese art.
The first ideograph made by Rikō Takahashi was rather large, and it became part of Avant-garde trends in the art of calligraphy, where both kana and kanji signs were enlarged in the composition. However, the artist usually does not create such large ideographs – Ima is one of her largest works. The strokes with which the sign is made are unusually thick and massive, and the ideograph hardly fits the sheet of paper, although the paper size is somewhat uncommon (typically, calligraphies did not include such large ideographs in proportion to the paper sheet). To a person looking at the painting, the sign may simply seem enormous, almost endless, and the person can have a feeling that, in this particular moment, nothing else exists apart from the sign – it obscures everything and does not allow anything else to exist. Perhaps, the artist wanted to draw our attention to the fact that for one particular moment, this "now" is of the greatest significance to the person experiencing it. This moment may be exciting or boring, pretty or ugly; it may occur suddenly, unpredictably, or it may be consciously chosen – for example, when we concentrate on creating a calligraphy. It is our own experience; this "now" fills us up completely, and nothing can compare to the strength of its impact. Aside from its aesthetic features, the Ima work captures a deep thought conveyed in a simple form. The painting is an excellent illustration of the essence of the art of calligraphy, where, apart from the quality of its form, we can find philosophical, unusually deep, artistic messages in a seemingly simple form.
Apart from this universal idea which the artist wanted to convey very subtly, Rikō Takahashi has shared with us her personal reflection which probably inspired her to create the work. Although we do not know what this now was in the artist's case, we can find a piece of paper bearing an inscription stuck inside the box. It is a very interesting complement to the calligraphy which refers to the present moment after all, although everyone construes and experiences the moment individually. The inscription includes a message from the artist in the form of the adjective yokihi placed next to the date (the original record was mentioned above), pointing out that the moment which inspired her to create a painting of universal meaning apparent to all was of extraordinary significance to her.

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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Rikō Takahashi's style

Rikō Takahashi is an outstanding Japanese calligraphy artist operating in the Avant-garde style. Thanks to her exceptional creativity and freedom in expressing ideas, she makes works that go beyond common trends, though she does not cut herself off from the rich tradition of Japanese calligraphy. In general, she creates her works with black ink on white paper, as in the case of traditional calligraphy, but she also often uses coloured paints mixed with ink. Along with the austere, two-colour (black and white) aesthetics of calligraphies, it produces a remarkable effect.

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Rikō Takahashi is an outstanding Japanese calligraphy artist operating in the Avant-garde style. Thanks to her exceptional creativity and freedom in expressing ideas, she makes works that go beyond common trends, though she does not cut herself off from the rich tradition of Japanese calligraphy. In general, she creates her works with black ink on white paper, as in the case of traditional calligraphy, but she also often uses coloured paints mixed with ink. Along with the austere, two-colour (black and white) aesthetics of calligraphies, it produces a remarkable effect.
Aside from pursuing her individual style, Rikō Takahashi carries out activities aimed at preserving traditional calligraphy and being able to hand it down to further generations. As the president of the Calligraphy Association for Children, operating under the Education Commission in Tokyo, the artist tries to use the teaching of calligraphy as a form of therapy, in particular for children with emotional disorders. It is worth mentioning that her classes are also attended by many adults – politicians, businessmen, and diplomats. Similar classes are organised for people affected by physical disabilities due to their advanced age or illness. Takahashi believes that, in the case of Japanese calligraphy, people should aspire to be able to freely express their inner me. The work should involve their own personality, character, lifestyle, and experiences into producing the written signs. The role of a teacher (Japanese: sensei) is to assist those students in achieving the necessary basic skills: of using a brush with quick or slow moves, or of applying the right pressure, as well as preparing them to be able to express themselves independently. To master agility in using a brush and in controlling the material has always been the first and most essential stage before setting about creating an actual piece of work.
However, Japanese calligraphy does not consist in the mere making of beautiful signs. To be able to understand it, it is necessary to learn the rules and principles governing this art as the signs only seldom resemble the objects they describe.
Rikō Takahashi presented her talent and teaching skills during a workshop in the Manggha Centre of Japanese Art and Technology in February 2014. This was the fourth time the workshop and exhibition of the artist's work had taken place. Workshop participants had the task to think about how their signs of choice should be presented in practice. Takahashi led the participants so that their reflections resulted in the creation of individual piece that reflected their personalities.

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

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Calligraphy and its “four treasures”

In spite of the development of new trends and technologies in this artistic field, the instruments used in calligraphy have hardly changed since the technique was invented. They were, and still are, similar to those that were formerly used by art painters. They used to be called the four treasures or the four valuables. These were: washi − Japanese paper of high quality and high hygroscopicity, made from mulberry paper, brushes (thin and thick − sometimes very thick, as it can be seen in Rikō Takahashi's calligraphy) made of animal hair planted in a bamboo or wooden handle, ink cubes mixed with water on an ongoing basis, a stone used for pounding the ink, and a water dispenser.

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The origins of the Japanese shōdō calligraphy (Japanese: 書道), which is the ability to create (paint) signs of artistic writing, should be sought in Chinese calligraphy. Chinese calligraphy was brought to Japan around A.D. 600, along with the ability to make brushes, ink and paper. In the beginning, learning calligraphy was part of the education of members of aristocratic families. With the passing of time, the art became popular among other social classes. It developed into one of the most important aspirations of educated people. To this day, works in the art of calligraphy are highly valued for their measured arrangement of signs on paper, excellence of composition, choice of ink shades, as well as the manner a brush is used during the process of creation.
Throughout the ages, on the basis of kanji ideographs derived from China (Jap. kanji means  Chinese signs, ideographs) as well as kana syllabaries modelled on those ideographs, different types of writing have developed: tensho – the archaic writing still used for seals, reisho – clerical writing once used in official documents, kaisho − square writing, which was the most common 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 sōshograssy writing, real cursive writing, which shortened and joined the parts of the sign, which resulted in smooth lines and a curved look.
In spite of the development of new trends and technologies in this artistic field, the instruments used in calligraphy have hardly changed since the technique was invented. They were, and still are, similar to those that were formerly used by art painters. They used to be called the four treasures or the four valuables. These were: washi − Japanese paper of high quality and high hygroscopicity, made from mulberry paper, brushes (thin and thick − sometimes very thick, as it can be seen in Rikō Takahashi's calligraphy) made of animal hair planted in a bamboo or wooden handle, ink cubes mixed with water on an ongoing basis, a stone used for pounding the ink, and a water dispenser. These objects, when not in use, were kept in a suzuribako box usually made of lacquer and exquisitely decorated. Also necessary were auxiliary instruments: shitajiki − fabric or paper put under the main sheet of paper so as to prevent the ink from seeping, and bunchin − weights used to hold the paper in place during the work.
At present, on a daily basis, the Japanese use modern writing instruments or simply electronic devices. In the case of calligraphy shōdō (Jap. 書道), which still remains a traditional part of the Japanese culture, a brush dipped in ink is still invariably used to create kanji signs derived from China and ethnically Japanese kana sings.

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

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“Ima/Now” Calligraphy by Rikō Takahashi

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