Goshiki Numa

June 12, 2008

“Goshiki numa ” (五式沼 Five color pond) – 2007; W 5″ x D 4″ x H 3 1/2″; stone and black walnut

One day on the way home from a Klamath River stone-collecting trip we stopped near Eureka to poke around in a rock shop. Out in the yard they had a bin of these rocks for sale by the pound. They aren’t typical suiseki – being rather colorful and decorative – but they were so interesting and also inexpensive.  We spent quite a bit of time searching through the pile and selected a few to bring home. The bright colors in this one calmed down after a few months outdoors, so Mas made a simple base and we brought it inside to enjoy.

Last October we visited Yamagata, Japan. We had never thought to go there – it’s not a major tourist destination – but when we mentioned  to our friend Hideko Metaxas that we were going to Tōhoku (the northern part of the main island) she insisted that we visit her sister’s family in her home town of Yamagata.  As everyone knows, it is often exciting to get off of the major tourist route, and this trip turned out to be no exception. The visit to Yamagata was one of of the highlights of our Japan trip, and we are so grateful to Hideko-san and the Iwata family for making these arrangements.

The Iwata family’s hospitality is a memory we will cherish. During our two days they took us sightseeing all around the area. Spending the night at their house was like being at a first-class ryokan.  The sight-seeing tour included the Yamagata castle with its 400 year old cherry trees, the ancient Mountain Temple (Yamadera), the 350-year old Maple Garden and Tea House a short walk from their house, and the impressive Mount Zao, which is one of Japan’s most active volcanoes.

Okama, the crater lake near the top of Mt. Zao, is also known as the Five Color Pond (Goshiki numa 五色沼) because of the way it changes color from day to day.  When we returned home Mas noticed how our colorful little rock-shop stone evokes this image.  Whenever we look at this suiseki we remember our wonderful visit to Yamagata and our deep appreciation to the Iwata family.


Autumn in Yamagata
click to view gallery
2008 06 10 006-smart fix edited cropped
Suiseki display – Goshiki Numa
click to view gallery

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Something old, something new

January 23, 2008

We held the Bay Island Bonsai 9th annual exhibit this past weekend, and for the third year in a row Mas was a guest exhibitor. Boon gives him free rein to do whatever he wants, so last year he made an entirely contemporary display with his Suiseki Art piece “Akebono”. This year Mas chose to combine a very traditional suiban display with one of his recent paintings. After creating the display, he titled it “Silence” (静寂 seijaku).

When we were creating this display Mas first tried a more traditional approach, using a calligraphy scroll that his mother had given us. The scroll has the character 然 (zen) which comes from the word shizen, or “nature”. It didn’t look good – the calligraphy was very strong and overpowered the stone, stealing all the attention. On top of that, the meaning of calligraphy is an essential part of it – you aren’t using it just for its visual appearance. Something essential is lost if the great majority of viewers don’t know the meaning.

So we started looking at some of Mas’ recent paintings from last summer. This painting was not made with any intention of displaying it with a suiseki, but when we tried it with this stone and suiban we realized how well they complemented each other.

Mas deliberately avoided giving a descriptive name or label to either the stone or painting . Having a description such as “coastal rock” or “waterpool” limits the viewer’s own imagination. For me, this display is a memory of morning on the Klamath river, surrounded by forest, with the mist rising off the water. For a fellow BIB member (of more practical bent perhaps) the painting seemed like a micrograph of the stone itself.

Having a suiseki display among bonsai gives a moment’s rest while going though the exhibit. In the midst of the trees is a quiet clearing where you can gather your thoughts and go on refreshed.

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Suiseki at the Asian Art Museum

November 18, 2007

The San Francisco Asian Art Museum is hosting a suiseki exhibit, put on by the California Suiseki Socity, as part of its AsiaAlive program (it will run through November 25, 2007). Mas and our friend Hideko Metaxas were asked to participate.

Hideko joined San Francisco Suiseki Kai when it was founded in 1981. She travels around the world lecturing on the display of the Japanese arts or bonsai, suiseki, and ikebana.

To accompany the suiseki exhibit Hideko created a formal display using, Mas’ Fuji-san suiseki, in the tokonoma of the museum’s tea room. The antique scroll and incense burner are from her collection.

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Ritual Art or Fine Art?

April 9, 2007

Suiseki artists and collectors commonly refer to suiseki as “art”. What do we mean by this? Mas and I have spent quite a bit of time discussing this issue, and some new thoughts started crystallizing for me recently.

There is no single monolithic thing called “art”, but rather different kinds of art that are distinguished mainly by the reason the art exists, and also by what is done with the art once it’s been created.

I think there is a kind of art that I have taken to calling “ritual art”. Many of the antiquities on display in museums fall into this category for me, and I think that most suiseki also fall here. These are objects whose primary purpose is as objects for meditation, religious worship, or for spiritual contemplation. Art objects created or chosen for display in a tokonoma are meant to invoke the seasons and bring nature inside. They serve as objects of zen meditation – especially for tea ceremony.

I think one thing that distinguishes any “ritual art” is that a body of rules tends to govern its form, use, and display. (Clearly this applies to the traditional Japanese arts of bonsai, suiseki, and ikebana, but I could also call out Russian icons and Tibetan mandalas as examples). For example, the “rules” of suiseki say that a stone should be small and dark colored. Looked at from the perspective of fine art – of course it is perfectly possible to have an artistic stone, with good composition, that is neither dark colored nor small, but such a stone would not fit with the intended ritual use.

So I leave this with a question – what would happen to how we see our stones if we displayed them differently? Suppose we displayed each on a pedestal, without “accent plants” or scrolls or any such accoutrements, with no reference to traditional tokonoma display, but instead displaying each stone simply as an object to be appreciated as art. How would this change our perception of the stones as art?

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