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I asked the “Tao te Ching” for words to describe “Pine Trees”, the byōbu, a giant screen typical of Japanese tradition, painted by Hasegawa Tohaku, made of paper, wooden frames and painted with Indian ink.
I asked the ancient Chinese oracle, written by Lao Tzu two thousand five hundred years ago, because Tohaku’s art, which dates back to the Japanese Momoyama period (1573-1615), was born through the Zen influences of the master Sen no Rikyū, and Zen, as a form of Mahayana Buddhism, was influenced by Taoism.
When I am looking for answers, I often pick up the book of “TAO” and open it; then I immerse myself in its words suspended in time, which always relax and advise me.
For “Pine Trees”, CHAPTER 48 has come out, which is entitled as follows:
In the pursuit of Dao, every day something is dropped.
The smoke box
It seems to me a good impression to describe Hasegawa Tohaku’s strokes and brushstrokes, which make subtle shilouettes of black shadows emerge from the white fog. This byōbu looks like a box from which smoke escapes, slowly thinning out to reveal the hidden forms of nature. In this nothingness, we spectators look for subjects, a meaning, a stimulus to talk about, but the work seems to want to lead us to silence, to Zen contemplation, to the whole in which the noises of duality disappear.
This screen is an introduction to the possibilities of minimalism: reflection, meditation, balance, horizontality.
By horizontality I don’t just mean the horizontal composition, which prefers the 180* width of the human field of vision rather than the height of the trees, but also the feeling of non-hierarchy that one has when immersed in a forest, of being just a dot immersed in the vastness of nature.
There are no imminent twists and turns in this landscape; although anything could appear from the fog, as per the script, the feeling is that of floating in the stillness and slow unravelling of the forest. A gradual work of discovery that multiplies and relaxes.
In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.
Trees and witnesses of history
This is the body of the text, which seems to describe well the importance that emptiness has in this byōbu . With just a few elements, Hasegawa Tohaku makes us feel a lot, he succeeds in making us linger on the black and white strokes as if they were codes of millenary knowledge; in fact this is what a tree is about: centuries and centuries of history enclosed in a form. This is why we find it so easy to recognise a tree; we do not need complex descriptions or hyper-realistic drawings, but we can recognise its features with a few graphic, hieroglyphic signs. This ancient screen pays homage to the ancient spirits of nature, who share the planet with us humans. We don’t need anything else for our survival, just trees.
Less and less is done
Until non-action is achieved.
When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.
In this sense, the book of Tao has also given its verdict, reminding us that the path of Dao is found in simplicity and decreasing: going back to the trees, remaining still and finding the meaning of life there.
A lot of technique and little drama The simplicity of the work is given by complex technical elements, such as the brushstrokes which, although varying in length and speed, still maintain an intentional and methodical arrangement. The different intensities of ink suggest different intensities of light, telling of the closeness between viewer and trees, which makes Hasegawa Tohaku a master of scenic composition and painting, as well as of Japanese art.
Tohaku teaches that you don’t need complexity to translate an emotion, a story, a feeling. There are primary forms that are in our DNA and that we instinctively recognise. It is not necessary to dramatise the forms in order to reach the spectator, but in silence, in precision, in parsimony, the most exact and least intrusive expressive manner can be found.
This is what the Dao tells, this is what Hasegawa Tohaku witnesses, this is what we should learn in order to become an effective and healthy society in form and communication.
The world is ruled by letting things take their course.
It cannot be ruled by interfering.