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Ink Traces: East Asian Calligraphy

August 11, 1998–August 2, 1999

Drawn from the Museum's permanent collections, Ink Traces presents screens, albums, textiles and decorative arts that feature calligraphy by Chinese, Japanese and Korean artists.

Among the pieces on exhibition are an eighth-century Chinese sutra Admonitions to the Monks, a handscroll of calligraphy by Chinese and Japanese abbots and priests at Mampuki-ji temple in Uji and a two-fold screen by the contemporary artist Morita Shiryu.

The dynamic brushwork and bold compostion seen in these works are hallmarks of fine calligraphy, traditionally considered the highest form in East Asian art.

Nukina Kaioku was born into a samurai family and trained in archery and the martial arts as well as in painting and calligraphy. Kaioku here uses his favorite calligraphic style, the semi-cursive, for the kanji (Chinese characters) appearing on each panel of this screen: "dragon sings" on the right and "tiger roars" on the left. The characters for tiger and dragon stand in for the usual physical depictions of the beasts, which are commonly paired on East Asian screens. Kaioku also added a sense of sound to the visual play by adding the characters for "roar" and "sing," inviting the viewer to participate in the creative process by supplying his own visual and audial images for the two creatures.

The poetic, semi-cursive calligraphy incised on this teapot advises that: because at first the tea should be intoxicating, you ought to drink it "at your leisure." The phrase "at your leisure" (ju-i) is a verbal pun on the shape of the teapot, which is known as ju-i in Chinese.

The six characters on this hanging scroll translate as "No Footprints Show where Flowers Grow Deep." The artist who produced this scroll, Munakata Shiko, is considered by many to be the greatest woodblock print artist of the twentieth century. The sense of speed and power evident in these characters distinguish all of Munakata's works. A Zen Buddhist, Munakata's pieces frequently reflect his faith; the phrase and style of the calligraphy seen here are imbued with Zen flavor. The somewhat cursively written squat characters are based on the Chinese "official script" style of calligraphy.

Main Building


Dr. Felice Fischer • Luther W. Brady Curator of Japanese Art and Acting Curator of East Asian Art
Adriana Proser • Research Associate

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