“Calligraphy is not just about drawing lines, it’s also about the space between the lines.” Yuna Okanishi From a young age, Yuna Okanishi was drawn to the monochrome world of ink and paper, and at the age of seven, she began to formally study and deepen her understanding of calligraphy. For her, calligraphy is not only about drawing lines, but also about the space between the lines – the dichotomy of emptiness and fullness. Black represents emptiness, and white represents fulfillment. Okanishi believes that in a world where we don’t know what is real and what is not, we need to make an effort to find out what is really important. In this interview, we talked about the origin of Okanishi’s work, what his work means to him, and the influence of Zen philosophy on his creative activities. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Painting the Real and Imaginary Worlds The dichotomy of “emptiness and fulfillment” From calligraphy to ink painting Simplicity and the Zen lifestyle Calligraphy is Life Where to Buy Yuna Okanishi’s Art Bringing together the real and imaginary worlds Please tell us how you became an ink painter. I have been practicing calligraphy since I was seven years old, and had my first solo exhibition in 2010. It wasn’t until 2012 that I decided to learn ink painting from Mr. Sekizawa, who had studied under the famous Japanese and ink painting master Kawai Gyokudo, and whose skills were truly exceptional. I thought it was important to learn ink painting from Sekizawa, so I contacted him and immediately began to receive instruction from him. At that time, I did my best to learn ink painting and he taught me a lot. Large and small of Yuna Okanishi What is the most important thing you learned from Sekizawa? How many times did you have fun in class? I remember being asked over and over again, “Are you having fun? Mr. Sekizawa was always happy to hear, “Good, good! He was so happy to see me. Mr. Sekizawa often told me, “The best way to draw is to have fun. Calligraphy is a mirror that reflects one’s state of mind, so whether or not one is enjoying drawing can be conveyed to the viewer. You also said that enjoying the process of creation itself is the key to continuing to pursue art, and I am always aware of this when I create my works. That enjoyment extends not only to the work itself, but also to myself, which makes me feel really happy while creating. “Each line I draw represents me, myself.” You have been learning calligraphy since you were 7 years old, how did that influence you? I think that every single line represents me. For example, if I can’t draw a simple straight line, it means I’m not confident or self-assured. If your mind is not in the right place, it will show in the line; the straight strokes will start to meander as you continue. But if your mind is set — when you are sure of yourself from the deepest part of your heart — your drawing will reflect this. For me, I think calligraphy is very much like life itself as it represents your mind and spirit. As my calligraphy has become more and more refined, I have become more mature and have a clearer understanding of my own life. In a way, calligraphy is like a barometer of life. 6 by Yuna Okanishi The Dichotomy of “Emptiness and Fulfillment” How did you come up with the concept for your art series “Emptiness and Fullness”? It wasn’t “born” because I’ve been thinking about it since I was a child. What is truth, and what is a lie? Is the world I see real? Is the world I see with my eyes the same as the world I see with my soul’s eyes? These questions have always existed in my mind. Yuna Okanishi’s Communication with Parallel Worlds For example, when I was a little girl, I believed that the canvas could be broken down into particles, and that the world existed on those tiny particles, and that something was living on those particles. What if this world we live in, the universe we live in, is just another “particle” to someone else? Maybe we are being played with like Barbie dolls. What is truth? This is a question I have not yet been able to answer. As an adult, these questions have remained with me. The light I am seeing may have been created hundreds of millions of light years ago. So what is the light I see now? What is truth, and what is a lie? “I’m always thinking deeply about how to leave a white void, as if I were painting the void itself.” When I meet people, I keep asking myself these questions. I wonder if perhaps there is something I can learn from the people I don’t get along with. The truth can be found in the most unexpected places and vice versa. I think I am living in a world of “emptiness and sufficiency” looking for answers. I believe that we know everything before we are born, and that we deliberately choose to grow up with the parents we were born to. We are not repressed in any way, and I think the memories of these first few years of our lives are very precious and important. I always try to remember these memories of the early stages of my life when I create my works. What is it about your work that sets you apart from other calligraphy artists? People who see my work often tell me that my calligraphy has a unique style, but to be honest, I have yet to discover that for myself. However, what I always pay attention to is how to leave white margins so as to depict emptiness itself. I am not only concerned with calligraphy, but also with how to show the space around the letters. From Calligraphy to Suiboku-ga What is the difference between regular calligraphy and ink painting? Calligraphy reflects my mind and mental state very well. For example, when my mind is unstable, the lines become blurred. It reflects my mind. Katana (sword) by Yuna Okanishi Sumi calligraphy paintings are drawn using the techniques found in ink painting. Of course, like calligraphy, it reflects the mental state of the artist, but ink calligraphy is intended to depict more abstract images and concepts, rather than explicit ones as in writing. From a technical point of view, calligraphy prohibits writing twice, but ink calligraphy and painting is about layering heavy brush strokes on top of lighter ones, enjoying the natural flow of ink. In that sense, it is similar to ink painting. I think that calligraphy and Japanese painting are art forms that fall somewhere in between. A Simple, Zen Lifestyle The philosophy of Zen can be found in both your lifestyle and your art. Do you remember what inspired you to adopt Zen philosophy? As a child, I suffered from atopic dermatitis, and my mother had a hard time caring for me. I was allergic to commercial products, so I could only use natural products. My atopic dermatitis made my mother more aware of the environment and she began to lead an environmentally friendly life. Growing up seeing my mother like this, her way of life had something in common with Zen philosophy, such as valuing everything and taking care of things. When I started reading Zen books, I felt that there was truth in the spirit of Zen, and I wanted to practice Zen philosophy. There is another reason why I was interested in Zen philosophy. I found it strange that in today’s busy society, it is hard to live in the moment when we use our phones while walking, or watch TV while eating. When I heard that Zen training involves practicing “living in the moment,” I decided to study at Eiheiji Temple, which is known for its extremely strict training, in 2014. You said earlier that “calligraphy is a reflection of the heart”. How does your own growth affect your works? There are a lot of curved lines in my work, but I think these curves have become more exaggerated with the passage of time. It is the curve of nature, the sea of clouds, and the arching branches. As I discover more of myself through my love of nature, I often dive into the ocean or go out into the wilderness to discover more of the “curves” of the world, and my lines become more curved. My work represents me, and I am pleased with how my work has evolved. Calligraphy is life. I believe that calligraphy is life. When I practice calligraphy, I start by copying the characters in “Rinsho”. There are three stages in the practice of rinsho. The first is “guilin,” where you imitate the shape of the characters. This allows you to learn the master’s technique. The second is “iririn,” which is to understand the meaning and thought of the calligrapher and draw the characters while immersing yourself in the thought. The third is “Hairin,” in which students forget what they have learned so far and draw freely to create something unique and original. I think this stage can be applied to life itself. From the moment we are born, we imitate the people around us, learn their language, and develop our own individuality while trying to understand others. There are many elements in calligraphy that are similar to life. That is why I believe that calligraphy is life. Where to buy Yuna Okanishi’s art TRiCERA carries many of Yuna Okanishi’s works. If you are interested in the works of other contemporary Japanese calligraphers, please visit our Calligraphy Art page.