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Isamu Noguchi’s The Well (Variation on a Tskubal) (1982)

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Japanese art is very unque. It simple. Its complex. Its deeply philosophical without being burdened by all the artificial trappings of high-brow philosophy.

One of their various art-forms is called  suiseki (water stones) which essentially involved the mounting, on a carved wooden pedestal, of interesting rocks that had been found in the countryside. The Japanese incorporated rocks heavily into their garden designs. It was only natural for them to create art out of it.

The following analysis about famous American Sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s artwork The Well is from  Artstory.org

The Well (Variation on a Tskubal) (1982)

Artwork description & Analysis: Located within the garden at the Noguchi Museum in New York, The Well demonstrates Noguchi’s mastery of natural elements, and the strong presence of a Japanese aesthetic. Noguchi worked with stone his entire life, first learning how to carve while an assistant to Constantin Brancusi. Noguchi produced his final stone sculptures at his studio on Shikoku Island, Japan, where he worked with the local basalt stone. The Well perfectly balances modernism with traditional Japanese stonework, the man made with the natural. The piece unites natural contrasts: the fluidity and transparency of water against the still, solid black stone. Filtered up from below, the water gently skims the surface of The Well; there is a slight indentation on top that pools with water before cascading downwards. Noguchi sensually combines natural elements, creating a work that is both contemplative, but joyous.

Water, Basalt – The Isamu Noguchi Foundation

The installation video can be found here – it can be a bit boring for those who are not into such things.

Why this post? – This is an example of Wabi Sabi art. Ever since I was a kid, I was strongly attracted to natural scenarios and man-made designs found inside artful buildings which displayed stones and water in a visually appealing manner. So to have found an absolute archetype of this aesthetic and to read an analysis as to why such an artistic expression is admired –

“The piece unites natural contrasts: the fluidity and transparency of water against the still, solid black stone.” –

was to find and understand a part of myself. Internet amuses me in such cases. Here I am, in a corner, in India. And I can watch and read and know about Noguchi, something I might not have done if not for the net.

In his own words, Noguchi explains his work in the video. He says

“In its middle is a void, that.., that well, which I have made by drilling in to the stone that is very deep. By its depth the water is stilled – it does not shoot up, but is pressured down by the weight of the water above, you see. Therefore it flows out horizontally over that entire stone. The water flows above every which way you see.”

His words altered my perspective. Is he just talking about the stone? Or is it a metaphor? A void in the middle created by drilling into a stone. Water, perhaps an allegory for our emotions, is pressured down by the weight above and it flows out horizontally, in this case, almost serenely, peacefully, calmly over our selves. Perhaps a metaphor for the emotionally-repressed modern man. Or the man who has attained zen. Or may be I am just over-analysing – its just a beautiful imagery.

The stone reminds me of this observation by Andrew Juniper in his work Wabi Sabi – The Japanese Art of Impermanence. He seeks to make the reader realise that a Rock is not just a piece of rock, instead –

Melted deep within the earth, caught up in ice flows, pounded by rivers, eroded by rain, and ravished by extremes of heat and cold, rocks represent the most amazing resilience to the elements and yet even the hardest granite must eventually yield to the omni – potent forces at large. Maybe in part it is the clash of these two great forces and the work that has been done by nature over countless millennia that makes rocks so magnetic in their appeal. The extremes they have undergone are written both on their surfaces and through their cores and can be literally entrancing.

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