Technique and its application
Both painters and garden creators are concerned with the representation of depth in a composition. Garden creators have an advantage in that they are working in three dimensions, whereas painters have a flat, two dimensional, space to work in. Depth is the key to allow the eye and mind of the viewer to roam, to move about in a composition. For the garden creator this may be physical as well as purely visually.
|Guo Xi - Level Distance|
|Guo Xi - 'observing from above'|
In East Asian art perspective is not expressed in the linear (straight line) manner in which it is normally expressed in Western art., where perspective lines extend towards a notional horizon where they are swallowed by a vanishing point. In nature, in wildness, there are no straight lines. Rivers meander and forests are not composed of trees growing in regimented order equidistant from one another. There is a more subtle, flexible organisation, which speaks a language of interrelation and interaction between elements. It is an organisation that is organic, dynamic, ever shifting and developing according to constantly varying environmental conditions; the path of the sun, the shape of the landscape itself. Chinese painting reflects this quality very well.
|Looking Up From Below.|
|Observing Landscape From Above.|
Sen-no-Rikyu (千利休 1522 - 1591) the great tea master was also a builder of gardens. He taught a system of composition (‘Distance-lowering style’ saki sagari) in gardens in which larger trees were planted in the foreground, and lower ones in the background, thus assisting the effect of perspective distance, a particularly desirable advantage in small gardens. Also he utilised larger leaved planting in foreground areas, and smaller, finer, leaved planting in the background On the same principle, he also taught that more distant hills should be made lower than the nearer ones, and the level of artificial water made higher in the background than in the foreground. Furuta Oribe (古田 重然, 1544 - 1615) used just the opposite notion (‘Distance Raising style’, saki agari) in his tea gardens to create a sense of depth, though this would not work quite so well in small spaces.
Allied to the three perspectival views a painting was also divided into quite distinct sections representing foreground, middle-ground and background. Again this is a way to order the space, creating and representing the internal logic of the landscape being rendered. It addresses the way a landscape unfolds in relationship to the viewer, the eye being lead on from one plane on towards the next. This is evident in looking at a garden such as at the Tenryu-ji Hõjõ. The scenery unfolds sympathetically in respect of the position of the viewer, enhancing the inclusion of the viewer as being part of the scenery itself, not divorced from it. Looking at a painting or garden we can then subliminally recognise ourselves as being part of the landscape, it (the landscape) becomes an extension of our self. As landscape we stand surrounded by all that is landscape.
We can deal with shakkei (借景) or ‘borrowed scenery’ here too. Shakkei is the incorporation of elements of the landscape beyond the garden perimeter into part of the overall composition which the garden represents. It is a device that the garden creators would have seen used in paintings as a means of rendering far distance and depth. All kinds of landscape features can be captured by some means of framing them; the most frequently used ways are with architectural features such as posts, with hedges, tree trunks or canopies pruned to allow specific views through, or even the sky itself as used in Shugaku-in Rikyu. What is ‘borrowed’ will depend upon the specific location, it may be a single detail, such as a temple roof, a mountain, or hillside or even a range of mountains. Shakkei extends the boundaries of the garden potentially far beyond its physical limitations, it also binds the garden with the surrounding landscape, thereby enhancing the illusion of the garden scenery being an element of the natural landscape itself.
Miegakure, or ‘hide and reveal’ is another compositional technique that has been in long use in painting, and can also be found to be employed in Far Eastern architecture. This can be seen in the paintings where paths and rivers for example, appear and disappear in amongst the landscape scenery. Miegakure contributes to creating rhythm as well as enhancing the layering effect in a composition too. It is yet another means by which the viewer is drawn into and so can become engaged with the totality of the experience. In Japanese gardens this is usually used in the setting out of paths. Paths do not have a direct line, but will meander, opening and closing views to the viewer, offering glimpses of scenery, then withdrawing the view, before representing a view from a different perspective. The nature of the path itself will influence how a view is revealed, for example by the use of stepping stones which tend to draw the eyes downwards (so ‘closing’ a view), and then at some point the tension will be relieved bt introducing a broad slab of stone as a resting point from where a view is presented. Most often, miegakure is created by screening with planting, but land shaping can be involved, as can walls or other architectural features. The use of suggestion is a cornerstone of Japanese aesthetics, and miegakure fits with this way of thinking, it is well illustrated in the writings of the Buddhist monk Kenkõ Yoshida (吉田 兼好 1283? – 1350?) who wrote “In everything, no matter what it may be, uniformity is undesirable. Leaving something incomplete makes it interesting, and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth.” The point is that the whole is better revealed incrementally to the viewer, and in so doing the whole experience becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
|Okichi Sanso, Arashiyama|
 ‘Themes, Scenes and Taste in the History of Japanese Garden Art’. Wybe Kuitert, 1988
 Kenko Yoshida. ‘In Praise of Idleness’ (Tsurezuregusa). Translated by Donald Keene. Columbia University Press 1967
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