When the weather gods decree otherwise! / by Jeannine Cook

There are definitely times when plein air yields to the weather gods - my eagerly anticipated sojourn on Sapelo Island is off, victim of the steady downpours we have all been - or will be - experiencing along the Atlantic coast. Ah well! Maybe in January.

Meanwhile, in between battling with computers to prepare art exhibition proposals (when the main computer gives up the ghost, courtesy of local inept computer "experts"), I am being constantly reminded of the elegant circularity of events in life. The links that come around, even fifty years later, to make a coherent, constructive addition to present life, always surprise and delight me. They are frequent enough that they require exploration in silverpoint drawing(s), I think. And the important theme running through all these is longevity - you have to live long enough to see the links and re-links happening. The Chinese symbol of longevity is the bamboo - how suitable and elegant. The bamboo family is amazingly diverse, but universally beautiful. The Chinese and Japanese brush paintings and prints of bamboos come always to mind as somehow the light and shade, delicacy and strength and the restraint in foliage have been so wonderfully recorded over the centuries by their artists. An image, for instance from the amazing collections from the Ten Bamboo Studio, shows bamboo leaves drawn with a single line with fine, fine branches. It is so remarkable that you can almost hear the wind rustling through the leaves.

The Studio of the Ten Bamboos produced an album of woodcuts, images engraved on wooden plates and then printed, which is regarded as the most successful example of printing in the 17th century in China. The master engraver, Hou Yue-ts'ong, turned to art after serving in government in Nanking. He gathered a group of painter friends and together, they composed an album of the works of famous artists.Working in the Studio of the Ten Bamboos, they started work probably in 1619 to create this album with its eight parts. Printing the images in one, two or three colours, they grouped up to twenty images in each section, under the headings - fruits, birds, bamboos, stones, etc. Poems were paired with the images too. The first complete opus of more than 180 illustrations and the same number of pages of text apparently appeared in 1643. Alas, no complete editions remain but those that do are regarded as marvels. The publisher himself described the books as "a marvel of calligraphy... The paintings are poems, and the poems are paintings. They bear the spirit and the reflection of nature..."

Bamboo in Snow -- Illustration from the Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting (Shizhuzhai shuhua pu),  Hu Zhengyan [Hu Cheng-yen] , Chinese (c. 1582 -1672) (after 1732, before 1703), (Image courtesy of the Harvard Art Museum)

Bamboo in Snow -- Illustration from the Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting (Shizhuzhai shuhua pu), Hu Zhengyan [Hu Cheng-yen], Chinese (c. 1582 -1672) (after 1732, before 1703), (Image courtesy of the Harvard Art Museum)

The Manchu invasion of Nanking saw Hou Yue-ts'ong's workshop burned and many of the album's plates destroyed. Plates were re-engraved and the album was later reprinted in both China and Japan, but never again were the woodcuts of such high quality in the later editions. Thus the early editions, such as the one I alluded to of the bamboo, are held in very high esteem. Some of the prints are held at the British Museum, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and others in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Having planted bamboo myself and watched them grow - slowly and majestically - it seems only appropriate if I can use them in silverpoint drawings exploring longevity and the magical circularity of life. Now, if I can get the time.