Beyond Sumi-e: A practice-led investigation into the influences of an ancient art form on contemporary artists,with reference to the artworks of Hiroshi Senju and Yoshio Ikezaki.
Adams, Denise Ingrid.
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This study investigates the influence of traditional ink painting from Japan, Sumi-e, on the artworks of two contemporary artists, Yoshio Ikezaki and Hiroshi Senju. It also examines the impact of these influences on my own artmaking. This research included the identification and description of the key elements, characteristics and philosophy forming the basis of Sumi-e, as a framework of reference. The philosophy and aesthetics associated with traditional Sumi-e reflect Zen Buddhism as well as traditional Japanese culture. There is very limited literature available in English on Sumi-e. It has strict principles, one of which is ‘learn the rules and break the rules’. This principle has been a point of departure for my own art practice, and I explore the influence of this principle on the art practices of Senju and Ikezaki. This study used practice-related research methodology with a case study approach. These combined methods offered subjective flexibility through using personal experience of learning, teaching and practicing Sumi-e. In addition to a literature review, data was collected through questionnaires conducted with the two artists, and the analysis of their artworks. My own practice is captured visually in my workbooks where I have recorded and photographed my practice, together with swatches of materials. These ten workbooks form the link between my research and my art practice, and viewing these enhances the interpretation of both bodies of work. The case studies of the artists revealed that while Senju was not explicitly influenced by Sumi-e, elements of this aesthetic resonated in his work. The influence of Sumi-e on Ikezaki was more pronounced because his initial traditional Japanese artistic training included Sumi-e. Both artists expanded beyond these boundaries. New insights challenged my assumptions about Japanese culture and art practices. Breaking the rules of traditional Sumi-e and a nexus of other influences catalysed my artmaking, manifesting in the materiality of the works. Theories of materiality expand on the role of materials and material thinking in artmaking. Investigations of sites and contexts of display result in a shift beyond conventional modernist display of two-dimensional artworks hung vertically on gallery walls. Results vi included an installation of my artworks in a forest, and the evolvements of three-dimensional forms. The forest atmosphere enhanced and intensified the materiality through the movement of air, light and shadow. The final gallery exhibition titled “Beyond” recreated the ambience of the forest installation, using limited lighting, shadows, a breeze, the sounds of the forest, and film footage projected over the artworks. Key words: Sumi-e, natural materials, Japanese art, practice-related research, material thinking, materiality, holistic art practice.