Nichiren as Calligrapher, The Lotus Sutra, Siddham, and Moji-Mandala.

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Japanese mandalas are typically graphic visualizations of scenes described in a particular Sūtra. The most known examples are probably the Kongōkai (Diamond) and Taizōkai (Womb) mandalas introduced in Japan by the monk Kūkai (空海 774~835) in the Heian period. The calligraphic mandala, known as Moji-Mandala, conceived by the monk Nichiren (日蓮 1222~1282), equally describes a specific scene contained in a Sūtra, the Lotus in this case. The Moji-Mandala, however, is inscribed by making use of … [Read more...]

Restoring a 100+ year old Unpei fude (maki fude) brush

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The annual exhibition of the esteemed Hankeido (攀桂堂, はんけいどう, Hankeidō) Workshop, renowned for manufacturing traditional Japanese brushes known generally as unpei fude (雲平筆, うんぺいふで), was held recently at Takashimaya Nihon-bashi in Tokyo. Under the guidance of esteemed Master Jūgosei Unpei (十五世雲平), the owner of Hankeidou Workshop (攀桂堂), and his son Fujino Unpei (藤野雲平, ふじの うんぺい), Fujino Junichi (藤野純一, ふじのじゅんいち), with a history dating from the Shoutoku Era (1711 – 1716), Hankeido … [Read more...]

A Sunday Drive with Saburo Hasegawa, an Asian American Pioneer of Abstract Calligraphy

Ascension, acrylic ink on paper, 32 inches H x 15 inches W, 2010

Beyond Calligraphy is a provocative name and a challenging concept. To Westerners first or casually encountering it, calligraphy seems impenetrable if not alienating. To get 'beyond it' seems pretentious if not impossible. Still, since I've been involved with it for nearly 60 years, I can offer a few thoughts and maybe some images by way of introducing myself. Narrowly, of course, calligraphy is 'beautiful' writing, and Asian calligraphy is brush writing on paper in ink. 'Beyond' would … [Read more...]

Words Become Art All Around The World

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Introduction Calligraphy can be considered a formative art that uses writing as its medium. While typical writing is used as a set of signs designed to replace spoken words, calligraphy tries to be something more. Many of the first characters in history were primitive pictorial representations without a fixed form (Tomohiko,1967). Overtime, these characters became progressively pared down from their original objects and were instead connected with geometrical arrangements (Tomohiko,1967). … [Read more...]

Wizards of Ink: 王羲之 (Wang Xizhi, 303 – 361), Part IV

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Ancient Chinese calligraphy differs greatly from modern calligraphy. Aside from the obvious changes aesthetically, the very purpose of writing was no longer the same. When brush and wood, and brush and paper in later times were the only means of communicating one’s thoughts and ideas, decrees, messages of various kinds, poetry, etc., to other members of society, calligraphy was very closely related to politics and to one’s station in life. Learning the skill of writing was mainly reserved for … [Read more...]

Climbing the Moon Tree, Part 2.

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Continuing the story of the Hankeido (桂堂攀, はんけいどう, Hankeidō) workshop, the construction of maki fude (巻筆, まきふで) is most unusual. The first 3rd of the root of the tuft is wrapped and strengthened with a hand-made Japanese hemp paper, also known as washi (和紙, わし). Thus, the name maki (to wrap) fude (brush). Because of this, the hairs of the brush tip (the “spear”) have unusual flexibility and are extremely responsive. The brush’s loins are very stiff, and the relatively short hairs of the brush … [Read more...]

Climbing the Moon Tree, Part 1

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About 400 years ago, in the year 1615 during the Genna Era (元和年間, げんなねんかん, 1615 - 1624), the First Generation Fujino Unpei (初代藤野雲平, しょだいふじのうんぺい, Shodai Fujino Unpei) arrived in Kyoto (京都, きょうと, Kyōto), then the capital of Japan (from 794 to 1869), and he opened his brush workshop there. A few years later, the highly honourable title of Purveyor to the Imperial Household was bestowed upon him. He often crafted brushes for the calligraphers of the Arisugawa-no-Miya (有栖川宮, ありすがわのみや) family, one … [Read more...]