Autumn Evening

In the best poems you should use plain language but get away from plainness. You must employ ordinary terms but leave ordinariness behind.

— Yosa Buson

Buson’s paintings reflect so many different styles of brushwork, that it would be hard to find a common thread between all of his work. But perhaps this is exactly what defines his art, and makes him, admittedly, a frustrating subject to study. He was immersed in all of the traditions and trends of painting and writing that were available in Edo. Beginning with his studies of poetry among the followers of Basho, he developed a reverence for the poet that resonated in his illustration of Oku no hosomichi, echoing the narrative element of yamato-e.

Buson went on a similar journey himself, and even responded to Basho in his own poetry:

This road—
No one is on it;
The autumn evening.

Loneliness too
Has its joy;
The autumn evening.

Photos by Katrina

Buson was always connected to the tangible, striking that invisible balance between the ordinary and the subtly suggestive, as his painting reflects both Zen ideals and the most secular of literati styles. He was a part of the bunjin group of literati artists that took their inspiration heavily from China, even though Japan was, interestingly enough, cut off from outside sources at the time. Instead of trying to emulate Chinese works like most Japanese artists did, Buson produced paintings that were still his own distinct vision, such as his Landscape, a monochrome ink painting with a few silver touches, accompanied by the inscribed words of Yu Ji.

Perhaps his attention to words and brushstrokes compelled him to make haiga as the culmination for his reverence of both disciplines. However, as each expressed what the other could not, haiga reached yet another level of perception. Rock Haiga combines the wabi aesthetic, as the rocks are few dabs of ink, as well as echoes of Zen, which he would have certainly been aware of. Buson was not influenced by any particular style, but rather absorbed them all with the pure appreciation of the brushstroke.