Notable Japanese painter Tawara Yūsaku did something at the peak of his painting career that many artists would never dare to do; he quit making art. Afraid that his work had become too listless, he took to studying artists that he considered to have more "weight." During his 30-year hiatus, he became known as an authority and collector of art work, as well as something of a philosopher. His artistic insight was highly affected by the teachings of Buddha and the religion's teachings on cosmology and the great beyond. After doubting his ability as a painter for three decades, Yūsaku returned to painting and it is this later work that is currently on display at the Asia Society Texas.
Universe Is Flux: The Art of Tawara Yūsaku opened this weekend and is a sprawling exhibition of the later works of Yūsaku. The exhibition was organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art and is the first of its kind in this country. Yūsaku is well known in Japan, but his work is not as recognized in the States. The collection will be on display through September 15.
When Yūsaku said that he feared his paintings had become stale, it was because he was comparing his work to that of other artists. To compare his art to that of the heavy-handed painters of the past and his present is an unfair analogy. The work of Japanese painters is distinctly different by nature and style, and Yūsaku proves that he is an exemplary model who had a masterful control over his medium.
The exhibition showcases several distinct phases in Yūsaku career, most of which were created during the 1990s. During his "Waves of Flux" or "Hado" phase, Yūsaku has created a series of pieces that are both static and constantly moving in a simultaneous rhythm. It is hard to imagine how one can create the feeling of both stillness and energy together, but it is the precision of his strokes that make this emotion possible. Everything is possible in these pieces and nothing is possible at all. It is a lovely dichotomy.
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Dualities seem to be common Yūsaku fare. In the "Vastness" series, a large-scale piezograph of "Space," an enlarged version of the original work, hangs gracefully on one of the walls. It is a depiction of the greatness that surrounds us, space, the ether, heaven, whatever name you give it. Everything is so empty despite being a canvas full of black ink. You can get lost in its power. "The Great Plains" series conjures up much of the same feelings. It is wide open space filled with grey nothingness. There is a quiet beauty to it, but it is also starkly frightening at the same time.
The exhibit also features more stereotypical Japanese ink paintings such as traditional characters, but Yūsaku pushes his effortless-looking strokes into another level of grandeur.
It's quite astonishing to see how something so unadorned, a straight line, a blob of black ink, can become something so striking. I have always felt that the Eastern arts have mastered something that Westerners will never comprehend: simplicity. A black stroke of paint could turn into a masterpiece.
Universe Is Flux: The Art of Tawara Yūsaku runs through September 15 and is on display at the Asia Society Texas. Tuesday through Sunday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. $5 or non-members, members are free. For more information visit http://asiasociety.org/texas.