Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Correspondences between Chinese Landscape Painting and Japanese Gardens Part 3

3. Triadic Composition

sankaku nensai

In both Chinese paintings and practically all of the Japanese art forms triadic composition is the fundamental manner in which elements are organised in space. Whilst at first glance paintings and gardens may appear to be organised in a fairly random manner, a more considered view shows that there is a coherent relationship between the principal features. The triangular relationship is founded on scalene triangles, that is, a triangle where all the angles are different. In gardens this is to be found principally in the relationships between stones which form the ‘skeleton’ of the garden layout. Following the practice of setting stones, a dominant or master stone is set, and then subsequent stones are set according to triadic composition.  In gardens stone arrangements are generally grouped together by the numbers 3, 5, or 7, the numbers are themselves regarded as being auspicious in their own right. Uneven numbers are seen as being favourable for many reasons, particularly as they naturally lead toward an asymmetrical organisation (see previous blog post on Asymmetry). Not only are individual groups of stones organised in triadic arrangements, but groups of stones are also relationally organised in this way too. Often the planting which will accompany stone arrangements also follows a similar pattern of organisation.
Triadic composition. Zuiho-in, Kyoto
In triadic composition there are three distinct lines of force, in the vertical, horizontal and diagonal planes. A strong vertical emphasis is characteristic of both Chinese landscape painting as well as Japanese gardens. In Japan the vertical line is sometimes referred to as ‘Heaven’, the horizontal as ‘Earth’, and the diagonal as ‘Man”, or ten-chi-jin (天地人, this symbolic classification is a foundational concept in ikebana or flower arrangement.). Each line of force carries its own particular energy or emotional weight. The vertical is aspirational, uplifting and creates a sense of spatial depth in the composition. The horizontal plane grounds the composition, playing against the energetic thrust of upward movement creating a sense of stability, even languor or calmness. The diagonal line is a linking device that draws the two opposing planes into a dynamic harmony without affecting their respective energetic flow. The diagonal line facilitates balance by offsetting any feeling of opposition between the vertical and horizontal. The three forces work together, distinct yet interdependent on one another.

Tenshō Shūbun. Reading in a Bamboo Grove (ca. 1446) .
In a painting the three forces help to define spatial depth on what is a two-dimensional surface creating the illusion of depth as well as providing connectivity between the carious elements, In a garden the triadic arrangement creates a profound harmony in which the viewer can become an aspect of the composition itself. Gardens being three-dimensional works allow an easier facilitation for the viewer to become a part of the composition, as depth is measurable and not simply a notional/intellectual construct. This comes clearer when one has the opportunity to experience landscape scenery in Japan or China. Much of Japanese landscape is composed of steep sided hills or mountains, sometimes rising directly from flat plains or broad valley bottoms. Likewise areas such as the Huangshan mountains or the landscapes of Guangxi province in China which were so inspirational to painters have landscapes that exhibit strong visual associations with the three forces discussed above. What both the painters of China and the garden creators of Japan were attempting to achieve was to represent what they felt was the essence of landscape, by recreating that essence they could draw the viewer into a deeper, more intimate, relationship with the emotional and spiritual qualities of landscape itself. It is a way of reaffirming our place in the universe, being born of landscape as part of landscape. Both the paintings and gardens remind us we are interdependent with landscape, not its master.

Landscape scenery, Miyagi Prefecture, japan

Huangshan Mts. Anhui province China

"If there are a thousand cliffs and myriad valleys, they must be low and high, clustered and scattered, and not identical. Multiple ranges and layered peaks must rise and fall, lofty and high, and yet each different.
If not confused in one way or another, you may spontaneously play whist lost in absorption."
Attributed to Li Cheng (d.967)[1]

[1]Early Chinese Texts on Painting’. Susan Bush and Hsio-yen Shih. Hongkong University Press. 2012

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