In the mid 19th century artists like Monet and Manet took a new interest in Japanese pictures particularly the Ukiyoe woodblock prints. They offered new design, color and subject opportunities. Horizons could be elevated or completely removed from the composition. The esoteric qualities of rocks, trees, flowers and water could be explored with a new perspective. Water especially was presented with different vocabulary iconic signs. Unlike the Mediterranean history of representing waves as a cursive “W” the Asian artists used spirals and “S” shapes.
Buddhist minimalist aesthetics as presented by artists like Kamasika Seka with his “pine Islands” (Example 1). Note his flowing lyrical horizontal thread-lines weaving around are island forms. Seka’s imagery followed an existing Japanese tradition. In 1820 Sakai Hoitsu (example 2) presented oil on ink and silk demonstrating vertically what Seka would later recompose horizontally.
Example 1. Kamasika Seka, “Pine Islands” 1903,
Example 2. Sakai Hoitsu, river, oil on ink and silk, 1820,
These new ideas found their way into Monet’s water lily series (example 3). The horizon disappeared. The imagery flowed horizontally in and out of the picture plane.
Example 3. Claude Monet Water lilies, 1920’s,
By 1917 Charles Burchfield had seen these Asian representations of watery movements and incorporated them into his own work (example 4). The idea of Buddhist reduction and distillation of forms would transform American Modernism through artists like Arthur Dove and Milton Avery (example 5). Like Monet, Avery found the shapes and palette of the sky reappearing in the water to be a tasty painter’s treat. The colors and forms of the sky were reconfigured and relocated to the surface of the water.
Example 4. Charles Burchfield, watercolor, 1917, Little Beaver River,
Example 5. Milton Avery, oil on canvas, 1858, Sunset Sky.
Later in the 20th century artists like Neil Anderson borrowed a Chinese idea with a more intimate and directly vertical view over a rectangle of water with autumn leaves mingling on the surface. They emerge and submerge in the sparkling light hovering like fish in his watercolor, example 6.
Example 6. Neil Anderson, watercolor, 1983.
I too use a plump and more foreshortened “S” composition as referred to in Seka, Hoitsu and Burchfield’s compositions. Like Monet and Milton Avery I relocated the color tapestry of the sky onto the surface of the water. My blurry quilted pattern of colored shapes (example 7) is interrupted by more precise elements floating on the surface. This device was used by Claude Monet with his lilies and lily pads.
Example 7. Sky patterns in a Farm Pond, oil on brushed silver enameled laminated aluminum, 48×48,
The light of the sky can appear as a colored atmosphere not only in the water but also, in the flora. Here in example 8 notice how the sunlight bathes and absorbs the edge information of the flora. The light has dissolved the edges of the landscape and the flora with dispersing and diffusing effects.
Example 8. Step one of “Lakeside Thistle in Sunlight”
Example 9. Step two of “Lakeside Thistle in Sunlight”,