Lately I’ve felt like my life needed a little less predictability and a little more spontaneity. One reason for the feeling was that last week I spent an afternoon writing and emailing a news release to various media outlets, after spending the morning teaching and helping facilitate a group. Deja vu. Had I accidentally returned to work? If so, I needed to re-retire quickly. So, to get out of my rut and out of the house, today I dragged my husband to an event I had read about in the paper, namely, a test run by cartoonist Jim Woodring of a dip pen as tall as a bedpost, with a 16-inch nib, which he dubbed “Nibbus Maximus.” It’s probably just as well that he didn’t choose the equally descriptive “Pennus Maximus.” The demonstration took place at a local art school. Before dipping the nib in a gallon pail of black ink, Woodring was careful to lower the large crowd’s expectations by saying that the experiment might not work, because it could be difficult to control the ink drips. On his second surface he gained more control, but the process could be characterized as awkward and laborious.
Twenty minutes of his nibs was enough spontaneity; we escaped to the predictably beautiful Seattle Asian Art Museum, where we enjoyed contemporary works made with a much smaller drawing tool. (As an aside, I am reminded of my favorite store in Tokyo, which I discovered on an early morning walk when I couldn’t sleep for jet lag, that sold calligraphy brushes exclusively, some of them nearly as big as Mr Woodring’s pen.)
Particularly intriguing were Chinese characters by Maki Haku that had been transformed into modern art. On the description of one of his pieces was a poem by ninth century Tang poet Du Fu. I copied only the last two lines. Having always had baby fine, thin hair, I settled on these because they were the most personally affecting: White hairs, fewer for scratching/ Soon too few to hold a hair pin up.
What made this show particularly enjoyable was that three days earlier we had made a second trip to the Picasso exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. With Picasso still on my mind, I was surprised to find similarities among some of the contemporary Chinese and Japanese paintings and works by Picasso. I learned that the European Impressionists, Post-Impressionists and Cubists had been influenced by Japanese prints that had been imported to Europe beginning in the 1800’s; looking at the work of Saito Kiyoshi, it was clear that cross-cultural influence had worked two ways. As we stepped out of the museum snow was falling. A cup of hot cocoa was calling us home and I was feeling better. Even the predictable has a lot going for it if I just open my eyes.