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Lieh Tzu In The Sky


Jim Kelso

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Seems like I've been working on this for much longer than I expected it to take. Still not finished but getting close. A lot of distractions this fall, and it's been very nice to have this piece to work away at. I have to say my most enjoyable moments for weeks have been while carving it. The subject is the Taoist sage Liezi and is taken from a painting by Hokusai which I saw at the Freer/Sackler in DC in 2006. It usually lives at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Hokusai is more renowned for his wood-block prints, perhaps because they were so much more commercially available. His paintings are wonderful, and to me so much more moving than the woodblocks, and I can't imagine he didn't consider himself more of a painter than a printmaker.

 

 

In 2006 I saw an exhibition of paintings by Katsushika Hokusai at the Freer/Sackler Gallery in Washington D.C. I was very impressed with Hokusai’s paintings and bought the catalogue. One of my favorites is a “Daoist Immortal Liezi in the Wind” – Ink and color on silk from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts collection. I was so impressed by Hokusai’s expression of the feeling of being carried by the wind, that I knew soon after seeing this painting that I wanted to carve a version. I thought at first I would carve it in metal. More recently it occurred to me that I would prefer to carve it in wood, as I thought that, if I found the right piece of wood, the grain could convey the atmospheric quality of the painting, and lend it a softer quality. Also I have wanted for some time to carve a wood picture using the technique of katakiri-bori style with flat inlays, an approach used by some metal artists. I thought this could translate well into the wood medium, given a suitable design.

The wood is American Persimmon (diospyros virginiana). I thought this piece was perfectly suited to the work, having a flat-sawn grain figure that can be seen as swirling wind. It also has wonderful color and carves very cleanly. The face and feet are inlayed and carved mammoth ivory and the hat is Ebony.

A concern at first was how the inlays were going to appear, in contrast to the wood, but I think it worked out fine, after very careful consideration of many pieces of mammoth ivory for color. In the painting by Hokusai, Lieh Tzu is shown floating in the wind, a difficult thing to convey. I chose to bleed him off the right edge. What I've found in other works is that, rather than constrict the image, this gives an effect of the space extending off the boundaries of the wood. I also added some grace lines, as in the painting, to indicate the motion of the wind, as well as a few carved swirling leaves, three of which are tinted red for a color counterpoint.

My friend David Hinton, who translates Chinese texts, mentioned the following excerpt taken from his translation of: Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters, page 7

“Lieh Tzu rode the wind and set out, boundless and clear, returning after only fifteen days. To be so blessed is rare - and yet however free that wind made him, he still depended on something. But if you mount the source of heaven and earth and the ten thousand changes, if you ride the six seasons of ch'i in their endless dispute - then you travel the inexhaustible, depending on nothing at all. Hence the saying: The realized remain selfless. The sacred remain meritless. The enlightened remain nameless.”

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Hi Jim,

 

What shall I say...I'm really amazed by your work...

I'm not an artist neither I have artistic background but every time you do share your work with us...well I always enjoy the moment.

There's not unnecessary lines or colors or whatever. Your piece always are real pleasure to look at.

And here, I do find that you succeed in conveying the "floating in the wind" from the painting which shows that you are a true master at your art.

I'm jealous of the futur owner ;) But at least I had a glimpse at it.

BRAVO and thanks for sharing.

 

Christophe

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Hi,

 

I don't want to hijack the thread, neither I want to go into polemic, but while I do think that homo sapiens sapiens are able of amazing creation, without any hard work and time, nothing is happening.

And I think that work like the one display here by Jim is a proof that behind any craftmens there is plenty of work, to reduce it to the creator feels to me unfair.

Once again I don't want to offend anyone beliefs, but I do think that Jim deserves the compliment more than the other guy....

 

Christophe

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Hmmm...big questions raised. I think it's beyond the scope of this forum to delve too deeply into such epistemological waters. I did take Whimsical Wood's comment as a complement but think it's beyond our scope to parse the issues of who(Who) is responsible here. Personally I am thankful for my skills and see them as a gift. I also see the ability to put those skills to use as a gift.

 

Jim

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Most certainly meant as a sincere compliment Jim. Truthfully, I continue to be an admirer of all your work.

 

I can however, do no other than comment as a creature, in the context of a creature. I would be happy to discuss the 'big questions' with anyone (steel sharpens steel). Not here of course.

 

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