Georgia Takes Tea with Sesson

Daily Draw March 23rd, 2012

I am pairing a card from the Georgia O’Keeffe Oracle with a snippet of text from The Book of Tea which was one of Georgia’s favourite books.

“There is no single recipe for making the perfect tea, as there are no rules for producing a Titian or Sesson.”

I was unable to track down the title of this pair of calla lilies in my books or online. Georgia painted a series of these in oil on small to medium canvases in 1923. They are fairly traditional still-lifes; she liked the tight, furled shape of the waxy calla lily and its lack of leaves. The next year she started to paint much larger canvases with flowers at closer range.

She painted a single flower called Calla Lily Turned Away, and it seems to be the same flower that is in the lower portion of this painting, so I am assuming the painting on this card is a variation she tried out.

Something that filtered into my mind lately is how Georgia painted. Many artists do paint in a series, but it could be that she painted the same object in the way a photographer might take numerous shots of one object. This is the influence of her husband and other photographers, and she was always keen on what people were doing in that field. I think many artists of the time were influenced by the huge strides in photography and the close-ups and blow-ups they were starting to do, as well as the odd angles and fresh artistic views and styles that came about as people discovered what cameras could do. That fresh view was part of the impetus for her larger canvases of flowers with their unique views.

And for the part of the quote that mentions two artists, I bypassed Titian as he is not one of my favourites. I was intrigued by Sesson though and in looking up this Japanese artist I find he lived from c. 1504-1589. His full name was Sesson Shukei and he was a pupil of Sesshu (a.k.a. Shesshui) Toyo who was a master of ink landscape. The Sesshu school used less empty space than classical Japanese painting and more solid masses and consistency of scale. A lot of older painting had isolated elements on the page but Sesshu taught his students to mass the principal elements. They have lots of motion and energy and are not as tranquil as other schools.

Sesson also had his own technique for using brushstrokes on forms and a bigger range of strokes that also gives his work a lot of tension and energy.

One of his most famous works is called Hawk on Pine and is ink on paper, a hanging scroll that is part of a pair but I like this one best. I love the look of this. You can see the brushstrokes that make up the body and the energy of the piece. The way the mass is in the centre and then zooms off carrying your eye around.

The other Sesson piece mentioned in my book Japanese Art by Joan Stanley-Baker, is Landscape in Wind which is another hanging scroll that has a lot of tension and energy. My scan isn’t the best but you get the idea, it is very volatile, hardly the tranquil Zen landscape you might expect in Japanese art.

Perhaps we are used to such things today, but back then it was very different and fresh, much like Georgia and her work: a new way of painting and looking at things. Someone has to be first, to start the idea, and then other people say “Hey that’s neat, what can I do with it?” and life gets interesting.

Such vitality carries along and inspires us for generations.

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