In Praise of Shadows

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June 18, 2011
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August 4, 2011
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In Praise of Shadows.

By Jun’ichiro Tanizaki.

In praise of shadows is an essay on aesthetics by one of Japans most famous 2oth century novelists. My thrift shop hunting friend found this book for me, copies of it aren’t that rare and it has been reprinted. One of the back cover reviews called it a ‘sometimes perverse’ essay, but it is poetic read and explores the many interests of the author. One of the main themes is the deep differences between Japanese culture and the Wests, this was written in 1933. Tanizaki understands that ‘we find it hard to be really home with things that shine and glitter’ and explains a culture that reveres patina and wood grain, that ‘calls to mind the past that made them’. And an understanding of shadows that hold to mystery and beauty.

One example he uses is the Alcove, an “empty space framed by wood” where there is a “comprehension of the secrets of shadow” and that “this small corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence”. This unknown he sees being “destroyed by excessive illumination” and wonders what would a Japanese culture have produced if it had not been damaged by embracing the West.

I have been drawn to the use of shadow in my work, the nuances of wood grain and pattern mimic the subtle in shadows. My understanding of the  Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi sees the value in patina and the layering and depth on a natural surface. Wood has this and as a  material benefits from the use of fine natural light creating a visual sense of other possibilities and ways of seeing our environment.

Brighter light doesn’t mean a clearer view, I think of the light at dusk illuminating the rich deep colours in flowers that were not visible during the bright of the day. Or the way light filters in a forest producing effects of closeness and depth and playful change.

“…listen with a sense of intimacy to the raindrops falling from the eaves and the trees, seeping into the earth as they wash over the base of a stone lantern and freshen the moss about the stepping stones”.

An interesting read on the possibilties of seeing and an argument for less paint gade wood trim and more imaginative use of light.