Wednesday 29 October 2014

The Most Wabi-Sabi Month of The Year

Autumn in ikebana is characterized by a sentiment of melancholy. Autumn is the time of the year when the wabi-sabi quality in things surrounding us is at its strongest. It has been said that October is the most wabi-sabi month of the year.

While we still have a couple of days left of October I'd like to share with you two resent arrangements, one abstract and one naturalistic, that draws on this aesthetics. Both are making use of containers that are marked by age and recalls the beauty of everyday life.

Bulrush and Carnation.
Old rusty berry picker.

While wabi refers to rustic simplicity, quietness and an understated elegance, sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age. The wabi-sabi aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Wabi and sabi both suggest sentiments of desolation and solitude, and can bring a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.

This way of thinking turns many things in our culture upside-down and reminds us of the true beauty in life.

Japanese Knotweed, Japanese spirea and Carnations.
Old worn willow basket.

Saturday 25 October 2014

Ichiyo Ikebana Live 2014

I've been posting quite a bit about Ichiyo ikebana this autumn. This video is from this year's Ichiyo ikebana live, taking place in Tokyo in July. It's a stage performance with the iemto Akihiro Kasuya and his son Iemoto Designate, Naohira Kasuya, working together on a magic landscape. As always with Ichiyo, there is a lot of bamboo and also balancing materials by their natural weights.

The show starts a couple of minutes into the video, so you can skip the first part if you don't understand Japanese.

Sunday 19 October 2014

Autumn Miniatures

Male fern, Calla lily, Chrysanthemum, Flax, Snowberry, autumn leaf, Physalis,
Gladiolus, Common polypody (fern), red berries.
Miniature porcelain vases.

Miniature ikebana is a style developed by Kasumi Teshigahara, the second iemoto of the Sogetsu school, in the 1960s and 70s. They are often presented in groups, as in this ensemble of five small porcelain vases. The fun thing with miniatures is that you can present details of flowers and leaves, and make them stand out in unexpected ways. They open our eyes to the small joys in life.

Friday 17 October 2014

Bento Box Leftover Ikebana - The Rhythm of The Way of Flowers

One of my former ikebana students told me that although he really liked the ikebana classes, there was one thing that had been a disappointment to him. Knowing that ikebana is a deeply spiritual art form, he had expected that watching the flowers wither, going through all the stages of life, would also be part of the ikebana concept. Why are the flowers removed when they don't look fresh anymore? I've gotten this question from several other people too. Maybe it's a Scandinavian thing having to do with living close to nature and being part of a culture that appreciates an honest and sometimes rough approach to the facts of life.

Leftover flowers: Sticks of Japanese Knotweed, Chrysanthemum,
Hylotelephium telephium, Carnations, Physalis, Rowan berries.
Mosaic arrangement in a wooden beehive box.

In ikebana time that is passing is an important concept. There should always be something in the arrangement representing time that have passed, the past, but the most important thing is to have an element that points to the future. That's why buds are preferred to fully opened flowers. While buds represents the future, flowers that are half open, in the process of opening, depicts the moment of here and now. Fully opened flowers are already passed that act of opening and symbolizes the past.

One might say that removing the flowers when they are withering are part of respecting them. They can no longer fulfill their purpose, and we shouldn't expect to much of the flowers. When the flowers start withering they can be recut and arranged in new ways that expects less from them. Cutting them short and rearranging them as floating flowers or in a mass, like in this mosaic arrangement inspired by a bento box lunch, is one way of prolonging the life of the flowers. This particular arrangement is made in an old beehive box found in the forest.

When flowers used in ikebana are finally withered they will traditionally be carried respectfully out of the house to moulder in the garden from where they came. That is the rhythm of the way of flowers.

Monday 13 October 2014

Monk Sips His Morning Tea

silence - monk
sips his morning tea.

Matsuo Basho

Chrysanthemum, Japenese maple and pine.
Old tea box.
Naturalistic freestyle.

Haiku from:
On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho
Trans. from Japanese with introduction by Lucien Styrk
Penguin Classics, 1985

Sunday 12 October 2014

Japanese Ikebana for Every Season

I recently got the book Japanese Ikebana for Every Season as a gift from a friend in Japan. It's an inspiring book written by Yuji Ueno and Rie Imai, and photographed by Noboru Murata.

Ueno is an independent ikebana artist, coming from a Sogetsu ikebana background, now moving in other directions and finding his own path.

In many ways Ueno's ikebana is related to the works by other well known contemporary ikebana artists working with a simple yet strong expression, such as for example  Chisen Furukawa and Kawase Toshiro. This is a long tradition in ikebana, that draws inspiration from the simplicity of tea-ceremony culture and Zen aesthetics. With his new approach to ikebana Ueno inspires others to join him on a creative journey.

The book is presented as a new direction in ikebana. I would say that there are several parallel trends in ikebana today, one being the simplistic style that Ueno advocates. Another being the more lush styles that can be seen in recent works from the major modern ikebana schools, such as Sogetsu,  Ichiyo, Ohara and others. Yet another trend being the somewhat updated Neo-classic ikebana, like modern tatehana, also represented by Kawase. The flirt with classic ikebana is also noticeable in Ueno's approach. His refusal of the use of kenzan as a fixture, describes this tool as an ugly and cruel invention unsuitable for creating true ikebana.

With the book the authors wants to reach out to a larger crowd than the ordinary ikebana practitioners and widen the interest in 'Japanese style flower arrangement'. The natural and simplistic ikebana trend is presented as a style that is more accessible for an audience without previous knowledge of ikebana. But is this true? Yes and no, I would say. Ueno's ikebana has a pleasant expression that goes well with modern interiors and lifestyles, and it encourages the readers to try out this communication with nature and create arrangements at home. On the other hand the success of a simple yet strong expression relies on the details and on the experienced hand, that in ikebana is said to come from a lifetime of discipline and practice. It may look more simple than it is.

Fortunately this book has a good amount of comments on how to approach the principles behind ikebana, and how to foster a sensibility for nature and develop an intuition for bringing out the inherent beauty of plants. The book also shows a good sense for coordinating ikebana and interiors.  The somewhat narrowing title of the book doesn't do justice to it's much richer content. The same goes for the front cover design, that in my opinion looks a bit outdated. Luckily it doesn't at all match the much nicer presented photos that awaits inside the book.

You can preview the book by clicking "Look inside the book" at Amazon.

You are also welcome to have a look at my earlier blog posts about Yuji Ueno:

Sunday 5 October 2014

Farewell to Summer - Traditional and Contemporary

Hedge Cotoneaster and Rose.
Moribana slanting style variation no 1.

It's definitely time to say farewell to summer. Although this summer has been unusually warm and long it's now already Mid-Autumn. Autumn, with melancholy, crisp air and warm colors, is great for ikebana. Some time ago I made these two arrangements as a farewell to summer. The first is a basic Sogestu style, focusing on the colors of the leaves turning red. The flowers are strictly speaking to white for this season, but it makes a nice contrast. The second is an abstract freestyle interpretation of the same theme, the main material being a red-orange plastic berry picker. This arrangement is based on the use of untraditional materials, two containers and mass and line. Making the form of the mass and the lines as stringent as possible is the key to a balanced result in this type of arrangement.

Berry picker, Bilberry, Hylotelephium telephium, Crocosmia.
Abstract freestyle.

Friday 3 October 2014

Workshop Exercises - Seeing Through Another's Eyes

As mentioned in a previous blog post I attended ikebana workshops in Stockholm a few weeks ago. The workshops were with sensei Kathleen Adair from the Ichiyo School in Tokyo. Both the Ichiyo School and the Sogetsu School (my school) are modern ikebana schools, Sogetsu being founded in 1927 and Ichiyo ten years later in 1937. This means they are both reinterpreting the old traditions of ikebana and aim for a contemporary expression.

Light and darkness.
Leaves, Chrysanthemum, bleached fern, green berries. Ceramic container.

Although there are many similarities between the different modern schools, there are also differences in the philosophies and aesthetics. That's what made it so interesting to get an opportunity to experience Ichiyo ikebana. It's like seeing ones own tradition through another's eyes.

Firethorn (Pyracantha) and Monstera leaves. Ceramic container.

What I first noticed from the demonstration was that while Sogetsu traditionally have grouped the different plant materials rather separately to emphasize the character of each material, at least in this Ichiyo demonstration the emphasis was on spreading the materials throughout the arrangement to create a flow and balance. There where also more different kinds of materials and colours blended together, while Sogetsu has favored the use of a restricted amount, often just two materials, to get a strong and characteristic result.

Variegated grass, Clematis and Freesia.
Bamboo basket and ceramic bowl.

Bearing these differences in mind I instructed myself to think out of the box and try the Ichiyo way. This turned out to be more difficult than expected. It soon got really messy and unbalanced. The theme of the first workshop was light and darkness and contrasts. The second day the task was looking at the material you choose thoroughly and see how you best can arrange it and create a relation to the container. The funny thing was that when the sensei was suggesting changes to improve the arrangements she asked me to to put things closer to create more distinct lines, and to group the flowers together to get a stronger focus point. She aslo gave some useful advice to illustrate the idea of creating a flow through the arrangements.

Palm leaves, Solidago and round-headed leek.
Ichiyo ceramic container with wholes.

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