Visit with Jim – Wabi Sabi Esthetic

If life is constantly changing, nothing can be complete or perfect.  Acceptance of this idea is perhaps a path forward to peace and freedom. The more I read here, the more any race to achieve perfection begins to sound like a fool’s pursuit.  

Imperfection and impermanence… Wabi – sabi… 

Slow down … Find beauty in imperfection and unexpected places… 

I wrote this note to myself a few weeks ago after watching a documentary on the Japanese philosophy and esthetic.  The piece centered on a multigenerational artisan family ceramics shop and an artist who worked in it.  He would throw mud and create stunning ceramics then introduce a flaw with a stylus, thumb or other items in his studio.  I began to think about it more, its relevance to me and whether this applies to any of my work.  Recall that some of my earliest works started with shattered Murano glass sitting in the foundry yard for several centuries (two shots below).  Murano is known for exquisite, perfect glass,  I was surprised to see the piles in the yard of abundant broken imperfection.  Within the 80kg of shattered discard that i purchased were pockets of beauty to capture.   A Pole Apart in Golden Solitude appears to us by looking through the side of a facet of this shard, there were ripples and a particular bubble of trapped air.  The reflections inside of the bubble gave a sense of internal echoes.  The ripples where the orb seems to press on the glass surface surrounding it.   Are there parallels to our bubble sitting inside a universe of stillness and silence?  If I did not, almost innately, have this mindset, I would have walked by this opportunity and likely found myself in an entirely different place. 


Wabi Sabi and its art esthetic are particularly intriguing in that most industries have an intense need to drive out error and waste.  At times this error removal can become such an intense devotion that the very nature of the work or activity in question can lose its nature and humanity.  Have you seen this happen?  The concept of adding imperfection was a breath of fresh air.  Allow the evidence that a body of work or activity has a human or people behind it.  The idea that there is beauty in the imperfection is found throughout my artwork.  

I often delete these initial three images from my files as waste.  As I am learning they are not.  In fact, they speak directly to this philosophical framework.  They assert that the final image on the right Lohita, and it sister photographs from the Red Series, are impermanent and imperfect.  The photographs selected for print are a few out of over a thousand.  They spoke to me and my community.  These first three now add real context in size, technique and the science-art question I pose: “What would happen if…”  The tissue culture dish and the pipettes are clearly there and would commonly be considered imperfections.  So the human behind the scientist artist appears. 

A similar view of this perspective is Poles Apart in Blue.  The distortions within the glass are nearly imperceptible.  Subtle waves frozen in glass ripple away from the air trapped … forever? A fault line in the glass shows us where air was able to enter and seem to be in a gravitational balance between the two bubbles.   There within the spheroidal defects, gentle rose colors bounce light back and forth from the external light sources.  Hints of the studio world can be seen on the inner surface of the bubbles.  Would this be Wabi Sabi or Kintsugi?

I am learning here, but I believe the purest version of Kintsugi breaks an object and then reforms it highlighting the cracks and imperfections as points of artistic beauty. 

Eternal Illusions was borne when this vase shattered and a whole new perspective appeared. We were able to literally see into and focus inside the middle of the glass.  The interior bubbles were deforming the immediate undersurface of the glass.  Dimples and bubbles of trapped air within the glass and this broken perspective create a beautiful macro photograph in blues.  Gentle rains fall. Imperfections on the surface of time and the universe.  What do you see from your perspective here?

The apparent vastness of Fearless Solitude and its name lie within the tiny speck of a black ink dot appearing to float across the photograph. Oranges, reds and browns play out in the background in what could be violent storms on a Class V Silicate gas giant like Upsilon Andromedae b as a lone moon drifts quietly with its gravity field gently pulling the Jovian size planet towards it.   The mistake in this photograph, the nearly indiscernible dot of ink, becomes the focal point  and magnifies the power of the forces behind it.  The imperfection is the story.  The drop of ink forces the observer to slow down, consider, and find beauty in that imperfection. 

So the wrap up here is to slow down, consider, contemplate, and find the surprise and beauty in the imperfect.  It abounds and is far more common than the perfect. Which perhaps never existed nor will it ever exist.  

Though there are works of stunning beauty that may appear perfect …

I will leave you to consider the two images below.  Remarkable work in the opposite direction of this philosophy.  Hyperrealism courtesy of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid.   

Left Tropic Nights C. Bell (67″ x 84″) | Middle 49th and Broadway Don Jacot | Lucky Dragon C. Bell (40″ x 79″)

Paintings … Yes … Paintings. 

Join me in a fireside chat via Zoom in the evening to discuss any aspect of my artwork.  To qualify, and join a video conversation send your contact information here and let me know what you would want to talk about.  The selected participants will receive a 25% discount on any of my unlimited edition pieces of art.  I will personally sign the piece at printing.  Even more, the gallery is offering this purchase risk free for you. Free shipping, Free return, and no questions asked if you are unhappy with the art work.  You can keep the print for 30 days to enjoy the selection in your home or office. This risk free offer does not apply to metal, acrylic and other specialized media prints.





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