Art of the Day: “Ju” by Morita Shiryu

Morita Shiryu (1918 – 1998), The character “Ju” (tree, wood), created in 1968, lacquered panel, 411 x 312 cm. Cicinnati Art Museum, US.

Established in Japan in the 13th century, Zen has influenced nearly all of Japan’s artistic and cultural traditions, from poetry to painting, from architecture to garden design. Morita Shiryu (1918-1998) was a renown Japanese calligrapher who applied Zen aesthetics to his artistic creations. Keenly aware of the history of Zen calligraphy and the development of abstract Expressionism in the West, he sought to transcend the barriers between the cultures, eventually producing works that manifest a new synthetic expression.

The theme of this four-panel lacquer screen is ju, the pictograph for “tree”. In keeping with Zen tradition, Morita meditated before creating. Then he painted the character spontaneously, the flexible brush responding to every movement of his fingers, wrist, elbow, shoulder and body. To inscribe the pictograph on this screen, Morita used two large brushes held together as one.

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