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“Now one feels blithe as a swimmer

Calmly borne by celestial waters,

And then, as a diver into a secret world,

lost in subterranean currents.”

from ‘Essay on Literature’ by Lu Chi (261-303) translated by Shih-hsiang Chen in the Penguin Classic ‘Anthology of Chinese Literature’

With David Hockney hitting the headlines with his hugely popular exhibition at the Royal Academy in London it seemed a good time to revisit wave paintings. Although the focus in this exhibition is on his Yorkshire landscape paintings through the seasons , he came to fame with his Californian swimming pool paintings in the hedonistic late 60’s.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa

The Great Wave off Kanagawa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was also about when I discovered The Great Wave by Hokusai, which I remember copying in pen and ink. It obviously appealed to the designer in me. I also appear to have developed a taste for Oriental literature. I chose for my 6th form school prize the Penguin Classics editions of ‘Poems of the Late T’Ang’, ‘An Anthology of Chinese Literature’ and the ‘Travels of Marco Polo’. I don’t remember what impulse made me choose these and it strikes me now as rather pretentious!

I was reminded of this by a recent Spring Festival event at the British Library ‘Celebrating Creativity, Fashion And Design’. At a session aimed at designers, called ‘Inspired By Patterns and Textures’, selections of books and prints were brought out for us to examine. The Japanese selection included ‘Hamonshu’ (Collection of Wave Designs) illustrated by Mori Yuzan and published in kyoto in 1903, 3 volumes of full-page woodblock illustrations of patterns of waves. A set for sale can be seen here http://www.trocadero.com/KumiArts/items/1047154/en5.html

Another item was one of the first kimono patterns books dating from the late 17th century ‘Shinsen o-hiinagata’, which was also one of the earliest examples of colour printing in Japan. All these delights can be ordered up by anyone with a Reader’s Ticket and examined freely in the library, which is so inspiring. http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelplang/japanese/japanesesection/japanantiquarian/japanantiquarian.html

My love of Japanese design and aesthetics has stayed with me and been a big influence in my work, particularly the textiles. I am now also more interested again in the philosophy. Is this a sign of the times or a sign of getting older? A fellow blogger has also given me the inspiration to look again at the books I mentioned and rediscover Tao and Zen. What goes around comes around, or as the Byrds (via Pete Seeger and the Book of Ecclesiastes) put it “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

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