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Sengai Gibon - Bamboo in two seasons - Artworks - Joan B Mirviss LTD | Japanese Fine Art | Japanese Ceramics

SENGAI GIBON (1750-1841)
Bamboo in two seasons
Hanging scroll diptych; Ink on paper with golden green and pale blue silk mount
37 x 14 5/8 in. (exclusive of mount)
$ 24,000

Sengai Gibon - Bamboo in two seasons - Artworks - Joan B Mirviss LTD | Japanese Fine Art | Japanese Ceramics

This pair of two monochrome ink kakemono by renowned Zen priest Sengai Gibon presents two views of bamboo. At left, dynamic, varied brushstrokes show a violent scene of bamboo thrashing in the wind, while at right, what could be the same stand of bamboo sits in heavy repose under moisture left by a passing autumn storm. In the East Asian tradition, ink used skillfully is said to bring out a range of color in the eyes of the viewer, and between variegated strokes and ink gradation, Sengai manages just that.

Born to a poor farming family in what is now Gifu prefecture, Sengai developed his inborn calligraphic and painterly ability throughout his life as a Zen priest. While he is not believed to have studied painting formally, he likely learned from one of his Zen masters, Gessen, and it is thought he knew famed Edo painter Itô Jakuchû. Calligraphic and painterly arts are not unusual pastimes for Zen monks, as they are considered ways to depict the truth of enlightenment that cannot be expressed through language. However, few monks end up developing their talent to the same degree as did Sengai, nor do they become as sought-after as an artist as he did in his old age.

Sengai Gibon - Bamboo in two seasons - Artworks - Joan B Mirviss LTD | Japanese Fine Art | Japanese Ceramics

Similar to what appears on this diptych, his inscriptions are often not references to Chinese classics or other storied texts, but rather off-the-cuff comments. The right scroll reads “bamboo in the fall does not produce smoke,” which does not seem to reference to any

canonized Chinese poem. The grass-style cursive script on the left scroll has yet to be deciphered, with the exception of the final character reading “wind.” As these paintings are a pair, surely the line at left clarifies the meaning of the line at right, and firmly situates the left scroll in a season, as the inscription at right situates the scroll in autumn.

The lack of seals on these paintings is not unusual, and perhaps indicates that they were produced not at the behest of an acquaintance, but out of personal inclination. Sengai did not date his pieces, nor is he known to have gone through distinct phases of focusing on one subject, but the brushwork of the bamboo and of the signature places the work firmly within Sengai’s mature body of work.

For further images of works by Sengai, see:

Addiss, Steven. The Art of Zen. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989. Print.

Awakawa Yasuichi, trans. Bester, John. Zen Painting. New York: Kodansha International, 1970. Print.

Pollard, Clare and Stevens, John. Zen Mind Zen Brush: Japanese Ink Paintings from the Gitter-Yelen Collection. Sydney, Australia: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2006. Print.

Shokin Furuta, trans. Tsukimura, Reiko. Sengai: Master Zen Painter. New York: Kodansha International, 2000. Print.

Suzuki Daisetz. Sengai. Tokyo: Idemitsu Art Gallery. n.d., print.


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