Friday, June 24, 2011

The Visual Poetry of Mono no aware (物の哀れ)

A Conversation with Artist, Rebecca Weber


Delicate rodent bones, scissors, a sand dune, bittersweet, pomegranates, a fire pit, a stick of incense with smoke rising in a thin column--what do these objects have in common, especially when Rebecca Weber focuses on them as content for her art? Beauty for sure. 

Beyond that, Rebecca Weber captures an object at a precise moment in time, while the progression of time simultaneously begins to affect form, cause natural decay, and extinguish the incense or campfire.  But, for now anyway, her painting of the object as well as the artist and viewer remain. They and we, too--at different moments--will become small points on the timeline and vanish into memory.

Beautiful sadness, the ephemeral, fleeting.   In the Japanese language and culture, this is Mono no aware (物の哀れ, mono no aware, literally "the pathos of things"), The term is used to describe the awareness of impermanence (Jap. 無常 mujō), or the transience of things, and a gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing.

Portrait of a distinctive carrot.
So, in Rebecca Weber's paintings, beneath the glow , the patina of time, oxidation, there is this hard reality--the understanding that the object is in the process of disintegration. In the case of her fruit--or this gnarled carrot--it has likely disappeared by now, but the record of it--in poetic terms--remains. In our conversation about her art, she used Japanese terms: Shibui, Wabi-Sabi...then, I found Mono no aware  and think it applies even more closely to what she is doing in her art.  Weber's paintings are visual poetry--in a way, the romance of "passing." 

At what point does this knowledge that all will disappear in time push us toward a nihilistic philosophy. Why bother, then?  I put that one to rest immediately. Rebecca told me that she hears the phase "Inshallah!" frequently in New York City..."God willing."  I think we all have a phrase that holds similar meaning, but has heavier implications. For example, when we say "See you!"  or  "Have a good day!" we know underneath the cheer  that there is actually no assurance it will happen.  Someone I know says that tomorrow is only a concept.

Great Dune.
As opposed to  the fatalistic and perhaps ironic Que Sera Sera or Inshallah, the objects or scenes Weber paints can't talk or rely on Other (e.g. religious or philosophical constructs) for hope or continued existence. They simply and poetically...disappear. But the paintings themselves are held in time--for now and future years---gracefully and that is what we see, as  viewers. It is a thoughtful contradiction.  
I remember the book title, Only Earth & Sky Last Forever.  Recent upheavals, tsunami, violent winds, potential meteorites...we are whistling in the dark to accept that notion of some planetary "forever continuity."  

In my 30 professional years working in historic preservation, I was writing the same thing, so the conversation with Rebecca Weber resonated deeply with me, The notion that we can’t recover the physical past in any authentic way (restoration introduces new elements and reconstruction means all new material).
Persimmons in a bowl.
In brief, the small natural or man-made objects that Weber chooses to paint are gentle reminders of our time here, our love, hopes, dreams and despair. Although they can be recorded through painting or scientific endeavors, ultimately, the records will disappear--as we will.  We can't stop the effects of time; and time is always change. But while we are here, the art glows with life, is brilliant, small and authentic.

Art & Poetry - Thematic similarities.  In his startling poem, Limited, Carl Sandburg describes in a matter-of-fact way the passage into nothingness of all things. I shared the poem with Rebecca and we agreed to include it in this essay.

I AM riding on a limited express, one of the crack trains of the nation
Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air go fifteen all-steel coaches holding a thousand people.

(All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall pass to ashes.)  I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he answers: Omaha.”
Carl Sandburg (1878–1967). Chicago Poems. 1916.

Granted, Carl Sandburg is very tough when he writes about what I call the "mortality container," our lives--with the amazing machinery we employ to make it go even faster in reference to the larger expanse of time.  But there are touch points and Weber recognized them immediately.  

Here are more of Rebecca's exquisite paintings:

Anna's Bones. This is in my collection.

Fire Pit.



Rebecca Weber at work in The Still Life Gallery.

Still Life
8713 Main Street
Ellicott City, MD 21043
Open Wed-Sun  11-5
Tel: 410-461-1616




Denee Barr Art News and More said...

Good Morning Friday, June 24, 2011
What's Up Ellicott City, Maryland
Brilliant posting!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kay! Wonderful...

Still Life Gallery
Ellicott City
Historic District

Anonymous said...

Thank you very Much Kay...
Very interesting!

Anonymous said...

Went to the blog and really liked what I read. You are quite accomplished in many genres of writing.


Anonymous said...

hi kay
I love her paintings-- especially the persimmons in a bowl.