Thursday 28 October 2010

Flowing Energy

Climbing Hydrangea and Ornamental Cabbage in a hand made ceramic vase.

The flowing lines of vines are like raked circles in the gravel of a Japanese rock garden. The drifting circles in the sand surrounds a solid rock. In the centre there is nothing but calmness - flowers coming to life.

Sand and stone garden, Portland Japanese Garden.

Hop vines and Ornamental Cabbage in an oval-shaped ceramic suiban.

Friday 15 October 2010

Day 7 - Simple Living

Simple is often best. Our days are full of impressions - all the time we have to process a lot of information. I guess that's why nothing is more refreshing than a single flower.

Chabana. Red Rose, Hosta leaf with holes and thin Iris leaves.
1950s ceramics by Gunnar Nylund, Rörstrand Studio.

Gautama Buddha once said “If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.” It's been questioned if this is an authentic quotation. To me the important thing is the meaning of the words: In the single flower you can grasp the miracle of life, including your own life. Because we as humans are also part of nature our life conditions are basically the same.

The puristic esthetics of Japanese simplicity is the key to arrangements such as Chabana, the flowers used in tea ceremonies. To me that's the essence of following the way of flowers - flowers teach us to let go and to live a simple life.

This is the last of my flower practice week postings. I hope you have enjoyed them.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Day 6 - A Closer Look

Things look different when you take a closer look. There are many other truths than the ones you are used too. That goes for people and it's also true when it comes to flowers. Today I've been looking out for surprising details and life's little pleasures in my search for ikebana materials.

Miniature ikebana. Tree seeds, Cosmos, grass, berries of Cotoneaster, Red clover, unknown purple flower, Rose hips, autumn leaf and Larch.
Scandinavian mid century miniature ceramics.

This is my first experiment with ikebana miniatures. In this set I've been working mainly with colours and balance, trying to give a playful and amusing presentation. Katsumi Teshigahara, the second Iemoto of the Sogetsu School of ikebana, introduced miniature ikebana as one of her trade marks in the 1960s. I've also seen groups of miniature ikebana by her father Sofu Teshigahara in old books. They often used very small glass vases, lipstick caps and other shiny cups as containers, giving the arrangements a kind of fairytale ambience. I've chosen to stick with ceramics to stay in the autumn season.

Enjoy your day - take a fresh look at life!

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Day 5 - Outdoor Meditation in Action

A friend of mine has an allotment not far from my house. I went there today to help planting bulbs for next year's flowering season. This kind of monotonous work is quite meditative - a good preparation for the outdoor ikebana work that I had planned to do with plants growing on the allotment.

Outdoor ikebana. Sunflower, Curly kale and a Marigold in a glass drop.

As we were pulling weeds and withered plants I found a Sunflower that had made a loop in the ground when it started growing out of the seed. With the roots still on it had quite an interesting shape. I fixed the stem upside down between some granite blocks that will be made into a patio, and added a leaf of purple Curly kale. Then I hanged a glass drop filled with water from the Sunflower loop and placed a single Marigold in it. The arrangement still needed weight at the base, so I took the top of the Sunflower and placed it under the Marigold so that the glass drop "falls down" into the seeds like a dew drop.

It feels different to work with ikebana in the outdoors. It involves your whole body as you are assembling, cutting and fixing materials and transforming the space. Like weed pulling and bulb planting it becomes a meditation in action.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Day 4 - The Beauty of the Imperfect

Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect - that's the beauty of life. The Japanese words wabi-sabi stand for an aesthetics of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Wabi refers to the loneliness of living in nature, rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and understated elegance.

Intertwined leaves of Siberian Iris with Potentilla flowers.
Stoneware bowl by Gunnar Nylund, 1950s Rörstrand Studio.

In todays ikebana arrangement I've used yellowing leaves of Iris, intertwined in shape of a drifting movement. I also found some Potentilla flowers that are still in bloom, reinforcing the yellow colour. One of them is actually just a bud - nature never gives up.

October is considered the most wabi month of the year. According to my friend Margie of the SweetPersimmon blog, in tea ceremony this is the time to find again the cracked and broken utensils that have been lovingly repaired. In the world of flowers autumn is a time for reflection and seeing things as they are, honoring the flawed beauty of withering plants.

Monday 11 October 2010

Day 3 - Three Vases and What's Left on the Trees

For the arrangement today I've started with the task of using more than one vase. I bought these three vases this summer. They are made by my friend Brigitte Schneider of Atelier Tokibana in the South of France. The white and the blue vases are porcelain, while the black one is made of faience clay. The plant materials are autumn leaves with dark berries, Yarrow and Hydrangea.

As you can see it is still naturalistic freestyle, but more obvious than yesterday this arrangement uses lines and masses, and matching and contrasting colours to create a harmonious balance. The spaces between the vases and branches are also very important.

Using more than one vase. Naturalistic freestyle, Autumn leaves with dark berries, Yarrow and Hydrangea. Vases by Brigitte Schneider, Atelier Tokibana.

Today I've also been browsing the net for inspiration. I came across an interview in French with Marcia Shibata, who is a leading Kado teacher in Shambhala Buddhism and co-founder of Shambhala Kado Europe. Even though I have only met her once I still consider her a friend of mine.

In this interview she explains the meaning of the words Kado and Ikebana. Kado comes from an ancient Chinese term that is derived from two words. Ka is flower and do is path or way, dao in Chinese. It means "the path or the way of flowers", and indicates a journey; you start somewhere, you walk and you arrive somewhere. The term Ikebana, Ike-bana, exists only in Japanese. Ikeru means "to breathe" and as a consequence "being alive". Bana is a transformation of hana "flower". The Japanese like to combine things in a harmonious way, while ike-hana would sound too hard, ike-bana is more rounded at the same time hard and soft. It's like the ultimate desire for balance in life, as you try to have enough sharpness and enough softness or enough weight and enough lightness. So, Kado involves more the concept of a (spiritual) path to follow with flowers, while Ikebana puts more emphasis on the respect for the living nature and to give life or "breath" to the flowers. Both aspects are always present in flower practice, but to different degrees.

"The whole philosophy is that you don't try to be artistic, but you just approach objects as they are and the message comes through automatically. It is like Japanese flower arranging. You don't try to be artistic... it just seems to happen by itself." (Chögyam Trungpa, founder of Shambhala Buddhism and Sogetsu master)

Sunday 10 October 2010

Day 2 - Mother and Child in Autumn Dew

This is the second day of my flower practice week. I went out hunting for flowers today but found that there isn't much left - autumn is definitely here. What I did find was a tree with really nice round yellow leaves and some Yarrow. To add a bit of colour a picked a few branches of Heather from the balcony. Studying the branches I saw that the yellow leaves had red stems that corresponded nicely with the grayish purple of the Heather. I was even more surprised to find what looked like small bean pods under the leaves - so I decided to strip parts of the branch to show off their bright green colour.

Naturalistic freestyle. Autumn leaves, Heather and Yarrow in a Sogetsu vase designed by Sofu Teshigahara.

For this arrangement I've used a vase that I bought on eBay a few years ago. It's a modern vase that could take an abstract ikebana, but I often find that autumn leaves look best in a naturalistic arrangement. The branches are so beautiful in their natural shape. Also the round shape of the leaves brings out the natural softness in the shape of the vase. Earlier this week I got some information about this vase from a Facebook discussion. The vase is named "Komochi" meaning Mother and Child, and it was designed by Sofu Teshigahara, founder of the Sogetsu School of ikebana. According to the person who gave me this information it can still be bought at the Sogetsu shop in Tokyo.

To get a feeling of "here and now" i sprayed the arrangement with a light water mist. This is often done in Chabana arrangements (tea-flowers) to add freshness. “The moment is the moment, and you can never recapture it.” My friend Margie Yap of the SweetPersimmon blog has taught me that one should also let the spray be seen on the walls of the tokonoma to show that the mud or walls of the tokonoma are accepting of the flower.

Saturday 9 October 2010

Day 1 - Flower Practice Week

I had planed to go on a vacation starting today, but since I don't feel too well I had to postpone the trip. To compensate I decided to treat myself to a week of flower practice - using a little time each day to meditate and create an ikebana arrangement with plant materials that can be found around my home.

Ikebana or Kado, meaning The Way of Flowers, is a contemplative practice. Working with plant materials is a grounding experience and teaches us to see what is before us.

Focusing on the shape of the container. Iris leaves and red berries.
Wood fired ceramic by Michiko Takahashi Nilsen.

I'm starting off with an arrangement using a new container by the Japanese-Norwegian ceramicist Michiko Takahashi Nilsen. At first site it looks like a round bowl. Studying the shape of it I found that the bowl is actually a bit like a boat. It has two quite distinct lines adding irregularity to the shape. I've used bended leaves of Siberian Iris to echo these lines, combining them with some red berries on vines that goes with the roundness and the warm brown colour. The container also has a wonderful pale bluish-gray inside that you can't see in the picture.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Warhol Watercolour Variations

The pop art of Andy Warhol typically comes in simple lines and strong colours. This series is a bit different. The sketchy lines are the same but the colour variations are unusual and sublime. The Flowers (Hand-Coloured) portfolio from 1974 is a coloured version of the silk screen printed Flowers (Black and White) from the same year. Every print has a unique watercolour hand-colouring that was made by a studio assistant. The edition was 250 and there are 10 motives so I guess Warhol needed the assistance. Warhol very rarely used this technique - the only other time was in the 1950s. I've put together three of the same print to get a feeling of the variation in colour.

Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, exhibited their Flowers prints earlier this year. According to this exhibition Warhol's inspiration for the Flowers came from wallpaper samples and from the book Interpretive Floral Designs by Mrs. Raymond Russ Stoltz (South Brunswick: A.S. Barnes, 1972) which he interpreted using an opaque projector.

The book Interpretive Floral Designs also featured Japanese flower arrangements, and in my opinion Warhol's fascination with ikebana is the obvious driving force behind the Flowers 1974 series. The same year as the Flowers were printed Warhol met Sofu Teshigahara, headmaster of the Sogetsu school of ikebana, in Tokyo to take Polaroid pictures for a portrait that he wanted to make. I have not read Raymond Russ Stoltz's book, but to me several of the prints in the Flowers series seams to be freestyle Sogetsu school ikebana arrangements. It would be great if someone who has the book could check this up and let me know.

Friday 1 October 2010

Moon Viewing

Autumn is the best time of the year for moon-viewing, a very popular activity in Japanese culture. To an ignorant person the moon can be full, half or simply gone. To a true moon enthusiast every night has its own unique moon. The thin waxing crescent moons, "Second-day moon" and "Third-day moon", have a special quality. And so has the Jûsanyazuki, the "Thirteenth-day moon", which is two nights before full moon - and of which the one of the ninth month (mid-October) is thought especially beautiful. I could go on for ever, but the most popular moon is definitely the harvest moon, Mangetsu or Jûgoyazuki, the full moon on the 15th night of the eighth lunar month (late September).

Last autumn I posted a series about moon flowers on this blog. I'm reposting the photo that was rated the most viewed, to give you all a renewed feeling of the magical autumn moon.

Waxing moon ikebana (slanting variation no.4): Japanese maple and white Chrysanthemum in a moon vase.

The harvest moon seems to be bigger, brighter and more colourful than other full moons. And since there is no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise at this time of the year, the farmers could continue working to bring in their crops, hence the name.

If you are in Japan and not busy with the harvest you can visit the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto, which is known as a moon-viewing palace. The villa, that was built by Prince Toshihito in the 1600s, is famous for its minimal and orthogonal design, and has been an inspiration to modern architects such as Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius. This villa is constructed to offer especially enjoyable viewings of the moon. The drawing rooms with their sliding screen doors are aligned exactly to provide the best view of the harvest moon, and the Gepparo (Moon-wave Pavilion) sits perfectly positioned for viewing the reflection of the moon on the water. It all sounds amazing.

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