Thursday, 31 March 2016

Correspondences between Chinese Landscape Painting and Japanese Gardens Part 4

4. Layering Of Views

kei no sōka

Landscape scenery, Devon, England.
The layering of a view is an important device used by painters to indicate depth in a composition. In the garden context it is used both for spatial purposes, but also to act as a means of defining a view from a particular point. It will be noted that when one moves about a stroll garden in Japan, there is a sense of views being opened and closed as the viewer traverses through the garden. The sum of the garden is not taken in from one point, but is a gradual accumulation of experiences gained by the viewer. This works in a couple of different ways. Firstly a view can be composed of a distinct (yet often subtly executed) arrangement of foreground- middle ground- background sections. The garden at Tenryū-ji near Kyoto is constructed in this way. Looking out from the hōjō (Main Hall) the near shoreline disappears from view, but the rocky peninsula that juts into the pond from the right side becomes prominent. As the eye lifts upward the far shore line the section of the composition that defines the dry (karesansui) waterfall comes into focus, forming the mid ground of the composition. Then as the eye lifts again the line of hills beyond the garden form a seamless backdrop (and frame) to the intimacy of the pond garden.
Tenryū-ji, Arashiyama. 14th C. 

A second way layering works in the garden setting is where the focal point of the view is arrived at by the eye being encouraged to ‘travel’ (or guided perhaps) towards its goal. This can be seen in the tiny garden space at Reiun-in (a sub temple within the Myoshin-ji complex, Kyoto). Here the focal point of the view is the tall upright rock set in the background. Between the rock and the viewer are layers of foliage that alternately frame the focal point, but also create a visual pathway towards the focal point. We are shown the ‘destination’ and also the path towards the destination is hinted at for the viewer. To reach the goal we are encouraged to travel through the landscape being represented. This accords with an important role of painting elucidated and exploited by Chinese landscape painters, in that the landscapes depicted are created to draw the viewer into an engagement with those landscapes. The viewer becomes integrated with the landscape whether depicted as a painting or a garden, thereby dissolving the separation between the two. Subject and object are interwoven to the point of dissolution, ultimately there no longer exists the duality of seer and seen, and so the ‘truth’ of the landscape is revealed as an existential experience. As François Jullien so succinctly puts it: “It is not in respect to what we pass through or what we contemplate, but where we walk, where we live, that the world’s embrace of us is most complete, hence its presence in us is most intense, and that the vital aspiration at the source of the landscape, through our connection to it is satisfied.”[1]

Reiun-in. Kyoto. 16th C.

Ma Yuan. 13th C
'Dancing and Singing Peasants Returning from Work
In landscape paintings layering can often be depicted as veils of cloud or mist that appear to separate sections of the painting. The equivalent of the film editors’ dissolve from one scene to the next. Layering in this way evokes depth in a two dimensional context, and in both paintings and gardens it also has the role of introducing the principle of time. Layering reveals process, the transformation of one space/time to the next, one moment to the next, whist always holding to the recognition of the ultimate interconnectivity of all things. The word Ma () is used in Japanese to describe the interval (in space and time) between things, of which there is no real equivalent in the English language. Ma is not empty or a void, but a point of transformation, and so it is a point of potential at it most full, bursting as it were with a fullness that can no longer be contained, so making transformation an inevitable condition of continuation; the movement of yin into yang and into yang into yin. In the garden one way this device is sustained by careful and finely considered regular maintenance of the plantings. The pruning of plants involves the opening up of spaces between the branch structure, separating the screen of leaves to create ma, which in turn provides definition of form whilst also allowing the eye to move through the planting too. The opening and closing of space in a rhythmical manner to provide a bridge to link the interior and exterior, between mountain scenery (the external) with the experience of landscape (the interior), between the mundane and the spiritual.

The concept of layering outlined above is very closely related to the idea of ‘Hide and Reveal’ (見え隠 , miegakure), which will be the subject of a separate post in the current series. I should point out once more that all the correspondences between painting and garden creation are so closely interrelated in a composition as to make the separation of ideas artificial in a sense. The justification for doing so is to illuminate them (so to bring them into our awareness as processes), in what is expressed through painting or garden in an often very subtle manner. An interesting point is that these concepts are most frequently applied in an unconscious way, they are simply part of the process of creating a painting in the Chinese manner or in the creation of a garden in the Japanese style.

[1] ‘The Great Image Has No Form or On the Nonobject through Painting.,’ François Jullien. University of Chicago Press. 2009.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Correspondences between Chinese Landscape Painting and Japanese Gardens Part 3

3. Triadic Composition

sankaku nensai

In both Chinese paintings and practically all of the Japanese art forms triadic composition is the fundamental manner in which elements are organised in space. Whilst at first glance paintings and gardens may appear to be organised in a fairly random manner, a more considered view shows that there is a coherent relationship between the principal features. The triangular relationship is founded on scalene triangles, that is, a triangle where all the angles are different. In gardens this is to be found principally in the relationships between stones which form the ‘skeleton’ of the garden layout. Following the practice of setting stones, a dominant or master stone is set, and then subsequent stones are set according to triadic composition.  In gardens stone arrangements are generally grouped together by the numbers 3, 5, or 7, the numbers are themselves regarded as being auspicious in their own right. Uneven numbers are seen as being favourable for many reasons, particularly as they naturally lead toward an asymmetrical organisation (see previous blog post on Asymmetry). Not only are individual groups of stones organised in triadic arrangements, but groups of stones are also relationally organised in this way too. Often the planting which will accompany stone arrangements also follows a similar pattern of organisation.
Triadic composition. Zuiho-in, Kyoto
In triadic composition there are three distinct lines of force, in the vertical, horizontal and diagonal planes. A strong vertical emphasis is characteristic of both Chinese landscape painting as well as Japanese gardens. In Japan the vertical line is sometimes referred to as ‘Heaven’, the horizontal as ‘Earth’, and the diagonal as ‘Man”, or ten-chi-jin (天地人, this symbolic classification is a foundational concept in ikebana or flower arrangement.). Each line of force carries its own particular energy or emotional weight. The vertical is aspirational, uplifting and creates a sense of spatial depth in the composition. The horizontal plane grounds the composition, playing against the energetic thrust of upward movement creating a sense of stability, even languor or calmness. The diagonal line is a linking device that draws the two opposing planes into a dynamic harmony without affecting their respective energetic flow. The diagonal line facilitates balance by offsetting any feeling of opposition between the vertical and horizontal. The three forces work together, distinct yet interdependent on one another.

Tenshō Shūbun. Reading in a Bamboo Grove (ca. 1446) .
In a painting the three forces help to define spatial depth on what is a two-dimensional surface creating the illusion of depth as well as providing connectivity between the carious elements, In a garden the triadic arrangement creates a profound harmony in which the viewer can become an aspect of the composition itself. Gardens being three-dimensional works allow an easier facilitation for the viewer to become a part of the composition, as depth is measurable and not simply a notional/intellectual construct. This comes clearer when one has the opportunity to experience landscape scenery in Japan or China. Much of Japanese landscape is composed of steep sided hills or mountains, sometimes rising directly from flat plains or broad valley bottoms. Likewise areas such as the Huangshan mountains or the landscapes of Guangxi province in China which were so inspirational to painters have landscapes that exhibit strong visual associations with the three forces discussed above. What both the painters of China and the garden creators of Japan were attempting to achieve was to represent what they felt was the essence of landscape, by recreating that essence they could draw the viewer into a deeper, more intimate, relationship with the emotional and spiritual qualities of landscape itself. It is a way of reaffirming our place in the universe, being born of landscape as part of landscape. Both the paintings and gardens remind us we are interdependent with landscape, not its master.

Landscape scenery, Miyagi Prefecture, japan

Huangshan Mts. Anhui province China

"If there are a thousand cliffs and myriad valleys, they must be low and high, clustered and scattered, and not identical. Multiple ranges and layered peaks must rise and fall, lofty and high, and yet each different.
If not confused in one way or another, you may spontaneously play whist lost in absorption."
Attributed to Li Cheng (d.967)[1]

[1]Early Chinese Texts on Painting’. Susan Bush and Hsio-yen Shih. Hongkong University Press. 2012

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Correspondences between Chinese Landscape Painting and Japanese Gardens part 2

2. Asymmetry 

Xia Gui (1195-1224). Untitled album leaf.
Both Chinese landscape painting and Japanese gardens avoid symmetrical organisation in a composition, it is one of the major differences between the approach to representation between Western and East Asian art. Symmetry in Asian art is seen as evoking a balance of elements in which there is no possibility of flow or movement of ch’i, (ki in Japanese). Ch’i in this sense refers to vital energy as an essence of all life, a primordial force that powers the universe, it is generated by the interaction of the opposing, yet mutually dependent, qualities of yin  and yang  (Jp. in/yo). In Eastern thought because the one contains the seed of the other, yin is constantly moving towards yang; the one gives birth to the other in a constant state of transformation. The duality is only apparent, as the two qualities are in fact indivisible from each other. Hence the notion of a stable balance of two forces leads in the Eastern view to a state of stagnation, or a moribund state that is essentially ‘lifeless’.
Screen painting. Manchu-in, Kyoto
It takes just a cursory glance at a Chinese landscape painting to grasp that the organisation of a composition is asymmetrical, and likewise a glimpse of a Japanese garden shows that here too there is no concern to construct a composition using symmetry. The Japanese garden is an attempt to present Nature as an essence, and if one looks at natural scenery it is also immediately obvious that symmetry is not directly expressed in Nature.
Daigo Sambo-in, 16th C garden. Fushimi, Kyoto
Asymmetry is not the same as a random assemblage of elements, in both Chinese painting and the Japanese garden there is order, carefully contrived yet to a certain extent hidden from view. It is quite common in the practice of creating a garden in Japan for the garden creator to strive to ‘hid the hand of man’. That is to cloak the composition in a veneer of  ‘naturalness’, whist yet remaining very much a work of man’s hand. The garden just as much as is a painting, is a work conceived and executed by an artist. His or her experience of Nature is filtered through their creative sensibility so finding individual expression through the medium of a traditional cultural form.
Shukkei-en garden. Tokyo.
Asymmetry allows a greater degree of involvement by the viewer as the sight lines and perspectival framework is not rigidly imposed. The eye of the viewer has a freedom to move as it wishes, finding areas of interest as it travels around the scenery being presented. In a Chinese painting it is an immersive journey that the viewer makes in allowing his eyes to travel about the picture plane. This is also true in the garden context, where the viewer will deconstruct the garden before him, and then reconstruct the garden as an interiorised experience. Symmetry and the Western sense of perspective tend to exclude the viewer, setting the viewer outside of the composition as someone who looks in from the ‘outside’. The contrary is true in a landscape painting or Japanese garden where the viewer is central to the whole process of perception and recognition. In both paintings and gardens the intention is to take the viewer beyond the apparent reality of the scene being presented in front of him. To search for and find an essence that draws the viewer and viewed into a harmonious entity, where there is no longer a duality of perception. In this sense the painting or garden creates the viewer, as much as the viewer creates the painting or garden.

“One should not take outward beauty for reality. He who does not understand this mystery will not obtain the truth.”

Ching Hao, Sung dynasty painter 10th C
Huangshan mountains, Anhui province, China

In further blog posts in this series I will be looking at triadic composition and the techniques of perspective used by the painters, and find correspondences in the Japanese garden tradition.

Correspondences between Chinese Landscape Painting and Japanese Gardens part 1.

I have looked at the relationship between Chinese landscape painting and Japanese gardens before in this blog (see the series of blogs 'On Chinese Painting and Japanese Gardens' from October  2013 on), as it seems to me that Chinese painting have been an important source of inspiration to garden creators in Japan. In this series of blogs I shall write about ten different correspondences between paintings and gardens. That is, ten aspects of composition that are shared between the two art forms. Chinese paintings were imported into Japan in great number from a relatively early period, and it seems evident that the people who created gardens in Japan were aware of the paintings. Some of the garden creators were painters in their own right, such as Sesshu Tōyō and Kano Motonobu, and there will have been others. Writings by Chinese painters would have also reached Japan, and were presumably studied there too.There is an extensive body of writing and art criticism by Chinese literati which one imagines would have also been studied intensely in Japan. For example Hseih Ho's 'Six Principles of Painting' were known of in Japan, where they were known of as the 'Six Laws (roppô, 六法) see also my blog post 'On Chinese Painting and Japanese Gardens' part 2.

The proposed correspondences in this series are not written of in order of importance, nor are they intended to be comprehensive. They are a selection of concepts or principles which may be found in both art forms, they arise in Chinese landscape paintings and which I believe helped shaped garden creation in Japan. Nor really should they be taken as being separate ideas, in truth they are all interlinked and even to some extent overlap in practice. To separate out ten correspondences is granted an artificial approach if taken as independently existing principles within the garden tradition. I have written on each as a way of identifying and illustrating them as aspects of the greater tradition of garden creation in Japan.

1. 'Host and Guest'



“In a landscape painting there must be a ‘host and guest in mountains, to and fro in water, tortuousness in hills, up and down in a mountain range…” Ching Hao (ca. 870 -930)[1].

“The ‘host‘ peak as is most fitting is lofty and tall; the ‘guest' mountains should hasten toward it.” Wang Wei (701-761)[2]
Landscape by Ma Yuan (ca. 1190-1225)
This term which is derived from the language of Chinese painters and illustrates their conception of a reciprocal relationship between elements of the painting’s composition. Pertaining to an organisation of the principal elements of the composition the term also implies an underlying order of dominance or importance of status in terms of the connectivity or interdependence between elements.

Usually in a composition (in the garden) there is one element, almost invariably an upright stone, that has a particular importance as acting as a ‘hub’ for the composition. It has been various called the ‘Main’, ‘Dominant’, ‘Master’ or ‘Host’ stone, 主石. It is a stone to which other pieces are arranged in relation to and acts as a central hub to the particular grouping. The ‘Host and Guest’ relationship is widely found in landscape painting too, where the Host is normally the tallest, most prominent feature depicted in a painting, usually a mountain. The Host element is rarely situated in the centre of the composition, but will always take a prominent position, either to one side or the other or above or below the centre depending on the composition.

A Host stone can be seen at the top of the stream, all the other  stones in the composition relate back to this piece.
Taizo-in, Kyoto
This placement of a dominant element draws the eye, either consciously or unconsciously toward it, and from that point the eye can move freely around the composition, in what becomes an immersive experience. In this way a subtle sense of structure or order is also thus established. This gives a sense of connectivity that will bind the group into a cohesive unit. This can also be seen in painting as a way of organising the principal elements (mountains) of the composition in order to create the impression of spatial depth on a two dimensional surface. In the garden it also works to create depth and also enables the garden creator to manipulate scale

In the Sakuteiki  (‘Record of Garden Making’) the 11th C garden manual this idea is noted as follows: “Choose a particularly splendid stone and set it as the Main Stone (omo ishi). Then, following the request of the first stone set the others accordingly”[3]. An important element of the citation from the Sakuteiki is contained in the term ‘following the request’, this establishes the centrality of the “Main’ or ‘Host ‘ stone., as what is implied is that the stones subsequently set are in a subordinate or supporting position to the ‘Main’ stone. This is the way that arrangements of stones are created in the garden, a stone of central importance is set up and then following that additional stones are placed in relation to the main stone. Depending on the size and complexity of the garden project this process is repeated over and over. Furthermore, even between groups of stone some relational values are always maintained, thereby linking all arrangements into an overall coherence. The planting that follows on after the stone arrangements are completed will also take their positions from enhancing and developing the sense of order or unity within the whole. What comes to the viewer experiencing the garden or scene is one expressing an internal harmony, where everything ‘belongs’ in its place and all elements of the garden support and enhance one other. The viewer is not outside of this process or organisation, but is an integral element to the whole composition. By this means a sense of harmony comes into the viewer experiencing the garden scenery.
Stone arrangements are nearly always built up around the Host and Guest principle.
Apache Museum, Shimane Prefecture.
The relationship between Host and Guest can also be read as social comment on the structure of Japanese society during the Heian period (794-1185) and throughout the pre-modern feudal eras. During this long period society in general was strongly stratified into classes, an adherence to class was an important means of defining and ordering society.  Confucianism was the prevailing moral code in China and this carried over to Japan too. Confucius (551-479 BC) as a teacher, philosopher, teacher and politician argued that social cohesion was achieved through familial loyalty, respect for ancestors, and the family unit as a basis for good government. In the Analects of Confucius, a collection of aphorisms complied some time after his death it is recorded:

“Chi K'ang asked how to cause the people to reverence their ruler,
to be faithful to him, and to go on to nerve themselves to virtue.
The Master said, "Let him preside over them with gravity, then they
will reverence him.
Let him be final and kind to all, then they will
be faithful to him.
Let him advance the good and teach the incompetent, then
they will eagerly seek to be virtuous."

[1] Shanshui Jieyao (‘Outline of Lansdcape painting’)
[2] Hua-hseh pi chüeh  (‘Secrets of the Study of Painting’)
[3] Sakuteiki. Takei and Keane. Tuttle. 2001