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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Kyiv Collection of Japanese Painting

5 February, 2002 - 00:00

The Museum of the History of Kyiv is hosting an exhibition called Modern Japanese Painting. The canvases were donated by the Association of Japanese Artists and Kyoto city government, which has been Kyiv’s sister city since 1983.

Over the years even the most daring formal quest by Japanese painters has suffered conflict and incompatibility in face of the Ukrainian public’s and critics’ conservative perception. Today, their works look like perfectly traditional samples of modern art.

In view of what Japanese art theoreticians have to say, everything created since the 1868 Meiji Restoration is assumed to be modern Japanese painting. The later, without losing its contemplative character, has enriched its expressive arsenal with certain European techniques of European Realism. Extending the parallel further, one is tempted to see in the liberal strokes of Chinese ink, obliterating the habitual resemblance to real nature, evidence of Western avant-garde influence. However, the unwavering Oriental Weltanschauung with its inclination toward contact with others’ ideas while never discarding its own, allows one to discern in this experimentation something of a return to the ancient art of calligraphy. Works that directly address the traditional style use such traditional materials as rice paper, silk, and Chinese ink. By adding European landscape nuances to their portrayals of nature, the Kyoto artists emphasize the magic secreted in real landscapes. Landscape painters believe that pictures of nature created by trees and flows are charged with a certain energy capable of influencing people, somehow adding to their vital strength, and for this reason they rid their portrayals of all casual elements, as though cleansing the channel bearing that energy.

As with the haiku, using code words to convey a moment from one of the seasons, Japanese painting is capable of expressing a whole range of emotions with a minimum number of techniques, with just a picture of nature. Colorful minimalism, very much unlike the European concept, seems to support the Japanese assumption that color is necessary just to make things dissolve into emptiness.

After making unprecedented breakthroughs in modern technology during the twentieth century, drawing upon the latest inventions of civilization, Japan in its fine arts has retained a profound understanding of tradition. Not just preserving it but aesthetically perfecting its potential.

The ability to perceive the subtlety of ultimate harmony in the simple forms of the surrounding world is excellently demonstrated by the pictures carefully selected by the Japanese side as a present to the Kyiv museum.

By Natalia SMYRNOVA, art critic, special to The Day