Wabi Sabi: Impermanence, Art, and a Journey to Japan

Wabi Sabi: Impermanence, Art, and a Journey to Japan

I have long been intrigued by the Japanese concept of wabi sabi, the roots of which can be found in Zen Buddhism. Intrigued longer, it seems, than I have had a name for the idea. This changed shortly after I journeyed through Japan alongside my Japanese art Collector.

Wabi sabi is a philosophy that deals with transience, imperfection and the incompleteness of objects that man makes and has been making for all time.

Followers of wabi sabi believe that:

  • Nothing lasts
  • Nothing is finished
  • Nothing is perfect

I traveled to Japan on two occasions, once in 2007 and once in 2008.

One of my Japanese Collectors is a prolific collector of antiquities from around the world. He saw my work at a solo exhibition in London, during the spring of 2006, and purchased a great many of my paintings that year. Soon after, he invited me to Japan to travel with him throughout his country. We journeyed east and west, north and south visiting many museums, fish markets, galleries, and teashops.

While traveling with my Japanese Collector, who is well known throughout Japan, I experienced the country in a way very different than many others. At many stops along our winding route we would be served tea in the most wonderfully delicate manner. Amidst a good deal of polite bowing, the tea was always brought out in a beautiful clay pot and small teacups.

My eye was drawn to how often the cups might be a bit misshapen or have slight cracks running across the surface. I puzzled over the somewhat irregular glaze. It was not until a friend handed me a book wabi sabi that this all began to come together for me.

Wabi sabi appeals to me on many levels.

Wabi Sabi Japanese Pottery

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons

The ideas of imperfection and impermanence appeal to me. They appeal not only to my sense of design, but more importantly and more deeply, to my sense of the way that things come together. The way things fall apart.

One visits the Egyptian wing of a major museum and rarely sees a fully developed sculpture of a pharaoh or wall relief of workers picking rice in a wet field. Noses are broken off and sections of wall relief have been worn away over time.

And yet.

There is a great, great beauty to this imperfection!

Japanese pots and cups will have slightly wobbly shapes, glazes may be slightly uneven – but a certain asymmetry has enormous charm.

When I create a painting, forms are painted-in and painted-out: the painting speaks to me and changes are made. Curiously, these changes come to resemble works created with a wabi sabi aesthetic, but the truth is that there is no intention to reach such a point on the plane of life.

The forms in my work (and the entire paintings themselves) go through the changes that they go through as the forms and space interact when left entirely alone. When the painting is finished (and a painting is never really finished) what the viewer sees is the journey: full of dips in the road, forms painted-out and painted back in, space figured and reconfigured.

Imperfection and impermanence are at the root of what I do. Only…I had not realized that for many years. And this, too, is a good thing.

I believe my Japanese Collector responded to my work on a subconscious level, seeing in my paintings aspects and reminders of the antiquities he had been collecting for years: objects located deep in the backs of caves and buried underground, worn, torn and not clearly recognizable. These aspects appeared in my paintings and their appeal was stronger than I might have imagined.

Abstract Painting by Gary Komarin Wabi Sabi Blog Post

details from a new Dirty White by Gary Komarin (2015)

The imperfectly drawn Komarin vessel, a line drawn and re-drawn, an errant drip flowing south.

Wabi sabi: delightful in its imperfections. Life itself.





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