This whole year, most of the art history reading and studying I have been doing has been very focused on Japan. This is not unusual for me, and indeed the arts of Japan have been an inspiration for me throughout my life. But the time I am spending reading up on the various periods of art and associated artists has been incredibly fulfilling to me.
A few short years ago, I came to know the work of Ito Jakuchu through a retrospective at the Tokyo National Museum. And since then he has absolutely been one of my most favorite painters to refer to and think about. His work is perhaps best known for his lifelike depictions of animals – specifically birds- and many other classically Japanese subjects.
What strikes me most often is the tremendous detail in his work. Ito’s approach to the inherent designs of an animal or flower’s body is absolutely transfixing to me. There is a wonderfully meditative quality to how each portion of the design is repeated with fluid, but consistent sense of decorative-ness. It never fails to rev up my own energies to get painting.
The painting above is a well-known image that is often translated as ‘Chrysanthemums by a stream’ that was painted somewhere around the end of the Horeki era and the beginning of the Meiwa era, so the early 1760’s, but of course the easiest way to think of it as in the Edo period. Unfortunately this image doesn’t do anything close to justice to the details of the painting that I find so moving.
It does however, give a sense of the type of images he creates and the wild rhythms and near abstraction of his life-like imagery. The image’s balance between decorative and descriptive, abstract and objective, familiar and unique is absolutely what compels me to keep referring to Ito as I move forward with my work.
When someone asks me about the art of Japan, or simply an artist I find interesting of late, I find myself constantly bringing up Ito Jakuchu. I won’t go into any more details just here, but would definitely recommend checking out more about him online, or from one of the many books now published in English about him.