Old Friends, New Faces III

August 16, 2008

Mas will be sowing his latest suiseki art sculpture and two paintings in the next show at Triangle Gallery, Old Friends, New Faces III.

Old Friends, New Faces III
August 26, 2008 – September 27, 2008
Reception September 6, 3 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Triangle Gallery
47 Kearny Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
Tel. 415.392.1686

Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.


Painting: “Winter Blue”;2008;48″ x 24″;Oil paint on wood board
Sculpture: “Great Land” (大地 Daichi), 2008; W 45″ x D 16″ x H 9″; Stone and paint on wood board (deodar cedar)

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The Cave

June 5, 2008

“The Cave” – 2008; W 18″ x D 10 ” x H 8 1/2″; Eel River stone and ash wood with stain

Mas collected this is stone from the Eel River.  The finished suiseki gives the image of a beautiful snow-covered distant peak with a deep, mysterious, cave underneath.

Mas spent a lot of time studying this stone to learn how to appreciate it as a suiseki, and in this article I want to share his  artistic process.  The main problem with the stone is the heavy left-hand side, which makes the stone very unbalanced.

Clicking on this picture will take you to a photo gallery that goes with this article.  I’ve put some detailed information in the captions for each photo.

The first set of pictures (1-7) show various possibilities for how to position the stone.  One solution is to cut the stone (picture 6).  This solves the imbalance by removing the left side, and would make a rather nice, simple toyama ishi (遠山石 or distant mountain stone).

As readers know, Mas sometimes will cut a stone when he feels it is artistically necessary, but in this case he did not want to. This meant that he had to find a way to handle the left side imbalance.  Mas said: “I know I am crazy and it doesn’t make sense, but I love this part as much as the beautiful snow mountain. The huge unbalance is so unique! Because of that reason, I would rather take a chance and try to create the art.

One option was to finish this as “suiseki art” similar to Looking Forward.  But the combination of the snow mountain overhanging the wide board didn’t seem to harmonize.

Alternatively, he could just simply make a daiza by filling up the space under the stone.  But this would result in a big wood wall in the front – sort of repeating the problem I discussed in The Struggle.

He wanted to change what seems like a negative into a positive. It is not unlike human life – we all have weaknesses of various kinds that aren’t going to go away.  We have to live with and work with these aspects of ourselves and others.

Once he has decided on his approach, he makes some sketches of the design, and then renders this design into a plaster model (Pictures 8 and 9).  Once he is satisfied with the design, Mas completes and refines the daiza in wood (Pictures 10 and 11).

The finished piece is shown from different angles in pictures 12-15. In this suiseki Mas tried to balance the weight of the stone with the emptiness of the cave.  He said “Dark, empty, space creates a mysterious feeling and allows people to use their own free imagination.

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Carmel Trip

May 20, 2008

Golden State; Waves at sunset north of Santa Cruz; May 2008

Mas and I drove down to Carmel for a night to visit our friends Phil and Debby. On our first day, they took us to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Debby used to be a docent there so she was our personal tour guide.

Many aquariums have a variety of fish tanks that show marine life from all over the world. The Monterey Bay Aquarium concentrates on the life local to the Bay. It is flushed daily with new water which brings with it the plankton from the bay. The exhibits are filled with small animals, such as anemones, that have seeded themselves from the outside.

The displays and tanks are all carefully constructed by someone with a restrained, artistic eye. The jellyfish exhibit stands out in my memory – it is hauntingly beautiful.

The next day we visited a couple of art galleries in Carmel, including the Winfield Gallery. The owner, Chris Winfield, is the older brother of Robin Winfield – one of the gallery artists and my high-school classmate. It was nice to see Robin and Chris, and the gallery was a treat. He represents a large group of artists, including their father, Rodney Winfield, and all three of Chris’ siblings (Robin, David, and Nancy). It also turned out that Debby and Chris had gone to the same high school in St. Louis and knew people in common!

After a lovely outdoor lunch at the Village Corner restaurant, we enjoyed the 17-mile drive along the beautiful Monterey Bay shore. A highlight of our tour was the view of the Walker Residence, designed in the 1940’s by Frank Lloyd Wright. Mrs. Walker asked him to design a small house (she lived alone) that would fit into the landscape and not block anyone else’s views. The house seems like an extension of the land it sits on. After all the grandiose mansions of Pebble Beach, this little house is beautiful in its modesty.

After saying goodbye to our friends, we drove home on Highway 1 along the Pacific Ocean, and stopped to watch the sun go down. We sat on the cliff, all alone in the quiet, and enjoyed the brilliant, golden sunset.

(click here for more pictures)

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The Struggle

May 2, 2008

Forest - 2007; W 17 1/2

Forest – 2007; W 17 1/2″ x D 8 1/2″ x H 9″; Klamath river stone and poplar

Mas made this suiseki last autumn. At the time he had such a feeling of accomplishment, finishing such a difficult daiza. He brought it into the dining room and we enjoyed looking at it every day. But after a few days the excitement kind of disappeared. It just couldn’t stand up next to the fine traditional suiseki in the room.

Mas been struggling with this stone for a long time. It’s a beautiful piece of material from the Klamath River, but the feeling from the stone doesn’t transfer to the finished suiseki. The peak is small and indistinct relative to the vertical and horizontal expanse and there are many features spread out over the surface. It feels like a big wall, too busy and with no focal point.

A suiseki friend was visiting a while ago, and he suggested that Mas cut the stone and make a simple base. Of course this he had considered this possibility. It would solve the vertical wall problem, and would also help give the stone better proportions – a distinct peak and good kamae (good seat or posture). But cutting is a last resort, and Mas always wants to explore all the other possibilities. He feels that it is an incredible stone, even though it does not follow the traditional suiseki style. So what to do? He really wants to “take care” of the stone – and show the deep meaning of stone appreciation.

The other night Mas showed me a picture of his first attempt to finish this stone from several years ago.

Wave (after Hokusai) - 2000; W 24

Wave – 2000; W 24″ x D 12″ x H 11″; Stone, Douglas Fir with paint

This was one of his very early experiments with using a board for his “suiseki art”. The stone evokes the image of a great wave, and that reminded him of this print by Hokusai, so he carved and painted Great Wave off Kanagawathe board in a deliberate reference to the print. The result was not satisfying to him. The board is too busy, competing with the stone, and the carving does not harmonize with the form of the stone.

Nevertheless, I was kind of excited by the picture. The stone, presented in this way, seems really powerful to me. It gives me the image of a strong and ancient rock slowly being eroded away by the power of the sea. Mas now feels encouraged to try again, and I look forward to someday being able to finish this story.  He says that if he simply concentrates how to create a “Wave”, without any preconceived concepts, then all the rest will follow.

As Hemingway once put it:

“No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in,” says Hemingway. “That kind of symbol sticks out like raisins in raisin bread. Raisin bread is all right, but plain bread is better.” He opens two bottles of beer and continues: “I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things. The hardest thing is to make something really true and sometimes truer than true.”

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Evocation

April 15, 2008

“Crater Lake”; W 5″ x D 4 1/4″ x H 3″; Eel River Stone with walnut base

Many years ago my mother and I took a road trip around Northern California and Oregon. We started out going north on Highway 101 from San Francisco, in order to visit the redwood forests of California’s North Coast. These are wet, mysterious places where trees soar to incredible heights; their carcasses lie on the forest floor rotting slowly in the moist air. In both life and death the trees offer sustenance to all the life around them.

After joining the Pacific coast, the highway hugs the shoreline through Oregon and beyond to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. The coast of Oregon is a wild and beautiful place, with great rocks battered by the sea. We stopped in Gold’s Beach to enjoy a short raft trip on the Rogue River, which pours down out of the Klamath mountains, and then continued up the coast of Oregon until we decided to turn inland. We wanted to go see Crater Lake.

In the short 100 miles from the coast to Crater lake you pass through many different environments. Leaving the seashore behind, you go over lush coastal mountains full of Douglas Fir and Port Orford Cedar, interspersed with picturesque dairy farms. From there you drive through the rich, fertile farmland of the Willamette Valley and start the climb into the high country of the Cascade mountains.

Crater Lake was formed in the caldera left behind after an ancient volcano, Mt. Mazama, collapsed more than 7500 years ago. The rim is at an elevation of about 7000 ft, and is 1000 feet above the surface of the lake. (At its deepest point, the lake itself is nearly 2000 feet deep.) Since the collapse of Mt. Mazama, small eruptions inside the caldera have formed some cinder cone islands. Crater Lake is an amazing, mystical place and it is no wonder that it continues to be a sacred site for the local Native American Klamath Tribe.

Crater Lake; Photo by Mas Nakajima; July 2, 2005

Not too long after this trip I went with some friends for tanseki to the Eel River. I remember climbing down the long steep rock wall to the river below. Just as we were about to leave I found this tamari (water pool stone) lying face up on the ground, seemingly waiting for me to find it.

It’s a very hard stone, made of a deep beautiful black mineral – perhaps jasper. It looks a bit like an egg that has broken open. The wide snow-dusted rim around the deep lake, with the island near the shore, makes it the image of Crater Lake.

When Mas first visited my house he immediately spotted this stone outside on the bonsai bench. He says that for him the stone shows the beauty of simplicity and purity, which is the essence of suiseki. He made the daiza as one of his first gifts to me. Mas says that for Japanese people a tamari does not just represent a water pool, but also brings good fortune for your life.

Whenever I look at this stone I remember the day on the river with my friends, I think about the trip I shared with my mother, and I feel the richness of my life.

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Time Will Tell

April 5, 2008

“Winter Blue”; 2008; 48″ x 24″; Oil paint on wood board

The next show at the Triangle Gallery, Time Will Tell, will run April 15-May 31 and includes selected artwork from Gallery Artists. Mas will exhibit two paintings and one suiseki art sculpture. (You can click on the photo to see a slideshow of all three pieces).

These past few months have been kind of exciting for me. Mas has been making some real advances in his technique and style with spray paint on wood, and it seems like almost every day there’s a new painting to study and critique. Winter Blue is one of my favorites. I look at it every morning while I drink my tea.

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The Reveal

March 31, 2008

Mas and I found this stone on our first date, a collecting trip to Black Butte Reservoir in Northern California. It was Thanksgiving weekend in 2004 and the weather was ice cold and with a strong north wind blowing. The stone has several significant features, including the amazing autumn colors, the large tamari or waterpool, and the steep cliff recessed under a big overhang. By contrast, the surface features, including the two small peaks to either side of the tamari, are more restrained and gentle.

Soon after bringing it home, Mas made a daiza. Sometimes when so many interesting features are present the viewer’s eye gets lost. Simplicity is one of the most important aesthetic virtues for a suiseki. Mas wanted to simplify the stone by emphasizing the tamari and surface features. This gives the suiseki a modest, settled feeling. We kept the suiseki in the living room and enjoyed our memories of that day.

Recently, Mas took the stone out of the daiza and put it on the table. He didn’t have any intention of redoing it, but while looking at the stone he started appreciating the cliff area. He thought it enhanced the stone rather than detracting so he decided to open up the front of the daiza to reveal this unique feature.

It seems to me that he has revealed the heart of the stone. Its features combine in a dynamic harmony, and the recessed cliff gives a sense of depth and mystery. Removing the wall of wood from the front also allows the eye to appreciate the subtle movements of the stone surface, and perhaps creates more room for the viewer’s imagination.

Untitled; W 10″ x H 4″ x D 7 1/2″; Jasper and Black Walnut

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