Detail from Xia Gui, A Pure and Remote View of Streams and Mountains
Besides at least one spoken language, we all understand visual language, communication by lines, shapes, colors and textures. When we express ourselves in a visual language we are influenced by examples seen through the course of our lives. If, for example, we would have to draw the meaning “Stop”, chances are it would resemble the responding traffic sign in our country.
Like in our spoken language, in which we with time might include vocabulary and phrasing from our favorite authors, our visual language can be influenced by the styles and visual vocabulary of our favorite artists. This is certainly true for my own work. Among my strongest influences outside of photography, it is the work of the five painters introduced in this series. Three (Ma Yuan, Xia Gui and Muqi Fachang) are Chinese painters from the Song dynasty, two (Sesshū Tōyō and Hasegawa Tōhaku) are Japanese painters from 14th and 15th century. And while they span a period of 400 years, there is a common thread connecting these painters: the discovery of emptiness as a tool of art. They explore, and teach us, to read between the lines and force us to think about what is left empty in the picture. Being suggestive rather than explicit they all open space for meditative viewing. No surprise then that two of the painters (Muqi and Sesshū) were Zen monks.(more…)