Posts belonging to Category Asian Art


Recently, I wrote about the giving of gifts, and my fascination with the Japanese scroll.

The Japanese scroll, as you may recall, reveals itself just like a gift when removed from the custom box it has been stored in.

A home can reveal itself in very much the same way.

If you think about it, just the act of entering someone’s home can feel like a ceremony.

As you move from room to room the house will continue to reveal itself.

There could be a pleasant surprise around any corner, maybe even the kind that takes your breath away.

“Oh, what a beautiful room!” we’ve all been known to say at one time or another.

This is one reason why both designers and architects will typically hold back with their design.

We don’t want to overpower your senses all at once.

We want you to take things in a little bit at a time, and take a moment to savor the design before revealing the next surprise.

So take a moment to to ask yourself  – what is the first impression visitors have when they enter your home?

Let’s start with the Entry.

The main entrance to your abode should always say something about the person who lives there, i.e. YOU, so the question is – what do you want your entry to say about you?

You can emphasize either your decorating style, or your personal interests, thus setting the tone for the rest of your home.



“These objects have a lot of baggage coming with them. They have a lot of stories.”  Do Ho Suh, artist

Seattle Art Museum is currently hosting a fabulous exhibit titled “LUMINOUS, The Arts of Asia”.

Based entirely on the SAM’s own, internationally renowned collection of Asian Art, this show – on view until January 8, 2012 – is not be missed!

The above quote references the ancient objects in the museums’ collection, and the fact their condition has deteriorated over time.

Not only that, the location has changed as well, along with the original meaning and purpose.

Indeed, everything has shifted along with the original meaning, and the stories behind them have been lost to us over the centuries.

And these objects do have stories have to tell, something which isn’t immediately noticeable in a museum setting.

Most of us never give this a second thought, but here’s the thing.

Of the many works of art housed in museums, we rarely consider the fact that we are viewing them out of context, far from their original location and purpose.

Take for example, a Buddhist sculpture, an object of worship that would have been housed in a sacred temple centuries ago.

Today, viewed in a museum setting, the sense of sacredness has been diminished. We know from the accompanying labels what the object is, plus where and when it was made, but little else.

We need to be reminded that this sacred Buddha – viewed against white walls and under electric lights – is a far cry from the dark interior of an ancient temple, dimly lit with candles and burning incense.

If only these objects could speak, the mystery of their past lives would unfold before our eyes!

Of course, in the absence of ancient works of art that can speak, museum curators and archeologist do the work, analyzing and exploring the evidence before them.

And the stories begin to reveal themselves.

“Like humans, objects also have baggage, and the more ancient they are, the more encumbered they become.”  Do Ho Suh, artist

Likewise, the objects in our homes can encumber us and weigh us down.

In this sense, an interior designer is a little like a museum curator, analyzing and exploring the evidence laid out before her.



The Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) has just opened a new exhibit of contemporary works by Chinese artist Wang Huaiqing.

Not being familiar with this artist, I had no idea what to expect when I first stepped into the galleries last week, yet I was completely captivated by what I saw.

Almost all of Wang Huaiqing’s paintings have a central theme of furnishings and architectural features.

The interior designer in me was fascinated and very pleased. I was seeing a whole new take on furniture!

This particular artist views furniture as a microcosm of Chinese architecture and society. It comes as no surprise, then, that in some of the paintings there is a very fine line between the two.

Hence a painting of architectural columns, or pillars, seems to morph into something else.



There’s a wonderful story in Chinese lore, about a 4th century calligrapher named Wang Xizhi.               

As the story goes, Wang gave a party at the local Orchid Pavilion, a gathering that was attended by a group of celebrated poets.

Wang devised a literary game, whereby the poets were to sit by the side of a small stream while cups of wine floated on by, each cradled in a leaf.

Whenever the floating cups came to a stop, the poet closest by had to either drink the contents, or compose a poem.

You can imagine that after some time, this would have been quite a merry little party, as the poets became drunk from cup after cup of wine while writing their poems.

The poems were eventually compiled into a famous anthology, to which Wang wrote the preface.

True story!

You will often find it depicted in Chinese paintings.

This story was re-told to me last week, when I visited the Seattle Chinese Garden.

In reality, the Garden is still a work in progress, the sort of place where hard hats are required.

Yup, it’s under construction.

Still, a brief slide presentation prior to the tour, helped us visualize how this lovely garden will look when the transition is complete.

Perhaps the most striking feature is the Moon Gate, such as the one pictured above.

The idea is that you enter the world through the Chinese Moon Gate. It’s very poetic.

At first glance, it might not seem clear whether the Moon Gate is a door or a window. Turns out, the raised step (that gives the impression of a window sill) is intentional.

According to Chinese belief, evil spirits are unable to negotiate the step, thereby keeping those spirits at bay.

A proper Chinese Garden must also include the following four features:  Water, Rocks, Plants and Buildings.

The buildings, in this case, would be temples, or meeting places with names such as ‘Gathering Together Hall’ or ‘Floating Cloud Pavilion’.

And of course, an Orchid Pavilion.

I’m sure I could be just as content in the ‘Greeting With Happiness Court’.

There will also be a ‘Willow Pavilion’, and a ‘Running Cups Pavilion’ names that evoke the gracefulness of the willow tree, or the wonderful story about the floating cups.

The ‘Pine and Plum Pavilion’ refers to the so-called Friends of Winter – there are three total, the third one being bamboo.

The idea being that pine and bamboo stay green throughout the Winter months, while the flowering plum begins to blossom just as Winter transitions into Spring, a fitting symbol of growth and re-birth.

A team of artisans and construction workers from China is currently stationed here in Seattle, working hard to bring this garden to fruition.

It’s been a long time in the making.

I can’t wait to see the results when the Garden is complete!


The Seattle Art Museum has a wonderful new exhibit titled “Fleeting Beauty” featuring a private collection of Japanese woodblock prints.

In a word, they are stunning.  

The Japanese term for these prints is “Ukiyo-e” – which literally means Pictures of the Floating World.

What is this floating world, and why do we call it ‘fleeting’?

The images depicted in these prints are scenes in and around the city of Edo (present-day Tokyo), during the late 17th to mid19th centuries.

They are from a time in Japan’s history that no longer exists.

In that sense, they are fleeting.

Just like weekends, or vacations that never seem to last quite long enough, these images of life in historic Japan, seem to have floated on by.

During Japan’s Edo period, the Shogun ruled the land, and Samurai warriors were in force. Their home base was Edo, a bustling, thriving metropolis.

In short, the Samurai warriors, far away from home and family, needed to be ‘entertained’ during their free time.

Hence the so-called “Pleasure Quarters” – a distinct area outside the main city, where courtesans, and Kabuki actors offered an enjoyable escape from everyday life.

It is here where the inspiration for the Ukiyo-e prints takes place.

I addressed the printmaking process in an earlier post, describing my own, amateur efforts at the craft.

However, the creation of a woodblock print is extremely complex, a process that involves four different artisans.

It begins with the Artist, who is responsible for the overall design, then moves on to the Carver, who carves the intricate details out of blocks of cherry wood, then on to the Printer, who magically applies the colors according to the Artist’s vision.

Keep in mind that a different block of wood needed to be carved for every single nuance of color visible in the final print.

In the print shown, by Hiroshige, we see varying shades of blues and greys, plus yellow, red, purple and black . What seems fairly simple, might actually involve up to ten different blocks of wood.

The white of the snow was the basic color of the paper – meaning one less block that needed to be carved!

It was the Printer who was responsible for perfectly aligning (or registering) the different blocks of color. In other words, if this individual was not dedicated to his craft, a woman’s red lips might not be properly positioned on her face, or her elaborate hairdo might appear slightly askew and not quite sitting on her head.

Clearly, that would not uphold the high standards that these craftsmen adhered to.

The final step of the process was the Publisher. The early prints were bound into books; it was only later that they were sold as individual sheets that served as advertisements, if you will, for attracting customers.

Much like the present day poster.

Some even served as the equivalent of gift wrap. (In their day, these Ukiyo-e prints were not considered fine art).

The woodblock prints in this exhibit focus on courtesans, kabuki actors, and landscapes. The latter came into favor towards the end of the 18th century, when the prints of the pleasure quarters were gradually being phased out.

On view are majestic scenes from Hokusai’s “36 Views of Mt. Fuji”, not to mention Hiroshige’s “53 Stations Along the Tokaido Road”

A road, by the way, that still exists for the intrepid traveler.

The Ukiyo-e prints capture a way of life gone by. They are at once magical, beautiful and yes, fleeting.


Driving into the city this morning, I was greeted by a most spectacular sight – the snow-capped Olympic mountains in full view, rising majestically against a clear blue sky.                                                                             MtBaringDSCN0663(1) (2)

It took my breath away, but also filled me with delight.

“What a gift!” I thought  to myself.

Apparently, the ritual of shopping for, and wrapping gifts was on my mind. ‘Tis the season after all.

In the whirlwind of holiday activity, it’s nice to slow down once in awhile and appreciated the simple beauty of nature, or the familiarity and warmth behind our annual traditions.

In another week, families across the country will be gathered beneath the Christmas tree, enjoying the end result of weeks of shopping and holiday preparation, which includes the unwrapping of presents.

Have you ever noticed that there are various ways to unwrap a gift? For example, some of us might tear into the package with gusto, leaving a pile of shredded paper and ribbon on the floor. Others are known to unwrap a present ever so carefully, with the intent of saving the paper and bows to be used again next year.

On a recent excursion to a museum, I was introduced to the ceremonious creation of a Japanese scroll painting.

Compact and lightweight, a Japanese scroll hangs effortlessly on a wall. Yet it is preceded by a complex process.

This unique work of art – carefully rolled up and tucked inside a custom made box – is subsequently removed from its’ box in a ceremony steeped in tradition, very much like the unwrapping of a present.

It might surprise you to know the effort that goes into producing this exquisite art form.

  • To begin with, a highly skilled and respected artist creates the painting, typically applying black or colored ink, onto a paper ground –  the equivalent of a Western canvas.
  • Upon completion, the painting is taken to a master craftsman, whose one and only task is to expertly mount the masterpiece onto exactly the right patterned silk background, thereby creating a scroll.
  • Next, the painting – now officially a scroll – is entrusted to another artisan, whose expertise is crafting custom boxes.  This box maker will create a perfectly sized box into which the rolled up scroll will be stored.

You might think this is the end of the process, but it isn’t.                                                ScrolliStock_000008011669XSmall

  • The box still needs to be inscribed. This is yet again, a separate artisan who is master of his craft.

When looked at in this way, the entire process is quite humbling. I can think of nothing in Western art that comes even close.

What is particularly intriguing to me about this entire process is the final ceremony of how a scroll is carefully taken from its’ box and just as carefully unfolded to reveal the masterpiece inside.

Exactly like a treasured gift.