Sesshu Blow-Up

15th century “splash ink” brush and ink painting by Sesshu Toyo, National 
Art Museum treasure of Japan. Inset (right) shows the full length work.

This image was created by Sesshu, a master of ink and wash painting known as haboku. Sesshu was born into an aristocratic samurai family in Okayama Prefecture in 1420 and was brought up to be a priest in the rigorous Rinzai school of Zen. This religious schooling would have involved calligraphy and painting, as well as scripture and meditation, and his skills as an artist soon became apparent. He then dedicated the rest of his life to painting and is acknowledged as one of the masters of the art.

Haboku is practised in both China and Japan and has been called the first expressionist art because of its insistence in capturing the soul or inner essence of an object rather than strict accuracy in reproduction. The composition of the art is as much of a meditation as the art itself and should be a spontaneous outpouring rather than a logical process. This approach can be applied to all areas of life, such as the exultant improvisations of jazz musicians like John Coltrane.

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