Monday, March 30, 2009
Japanese Screens FYI
Seriously? No one has anything to say about Rilke? I didn't know much about him other than his name, then I started reading his letters and whoosh, he floored me. I certainly didn't know his mother used to dress him as a little girl and tried to make him act like one. She had lost an infant daughter before him. This has little to do with our screens or Michael Knutson, but Rilke: if you have any opinion on the guy whatsoever- I'd like to know what it is.
Now, back to the point. The folding Japanese screen originated in China and was adopted by Japan in the Eighth Century. By the Momoyama era (say this out loud, it's fun to move your lips that way) (1568-1615) with some design changes, screens became the focal point of the home. Traditionally the dwelling consisted of open rooms with little or no furniture (because as I alluded to in the poem, the chair was invented -and should take at least 30 percent of the blame for the incredible statistic regarding our addiction to pain killers- much later.) Anyway, the rooms could be divided by opening or closing painted sliding doors fusuma, and screens. (I could use a set of those for the one room studio I live in with my husband.)
Screens softened the space. They were often used as a backdrop behind an important person (I think we're all important) or to create another area for eating or sleeping. The gold and silver had another function -and that was to reflect the light of the oil lamps. (This must have made for an ethereal atmosphere for those cloud filled stories.)
Some screens are inspired by Chinese designs and others by Japanese stories and ideas. One trick to finding out where your object is from, is to count the number of claws on a dragon; four for Chinese, three for Japanese and five for Korean.
Our screens are a pair, that's often how they were created, as sets. They have even sets of panels, from two to eight. Originally I read the screen backwards, from left to right, and had to read it right to left to understand it. I found out it is also helpful to view the screen from a low position looking slightly up. This gives you the best chance to see the screen as the artist intended.