Agnes Martin has been one of my absolute favorite artists ever since I saw her work in person for the first time. I had known about her work, but having only seen images online, I wasn’t particularly struck by it. But as soon as I stood in front of one of her quiet, contemplative, meticulous paintings, I was obsessed. I appreciate art history and I can’t help but insist that appreciation of art benefits from knowledge, but at the end of the day, the artists that I love most of all in any medium spark a visceral, emotional reaction. And Agnes Martin’s art, seen in person, was like that for me. I soaked up her paintings and couldn’t get enough.
So I started collecting books about her and eventually made it to this amazing book by Arne Glimcher. Through its beautifully reproduced letters, stories, and essays, juxtaposed with images of her art (which, now that I’ve seen many in real life, transport me back to afternoons spent sitting in front of the real thing), I was glad to learn that my reaction to her art mirrored her own thoughts about art and life. She said “Reality is seen as beauty, felt as truth, and responded to as art.” When I read that, I felt like a forest had sprung up around me. I loved the book so much that when my copy was lost by the postal service during our move back to San Francisco from Tokyo, I had to buy another one.
So much of what her art says resonates with me. She wrote to the Whitney, “To live truly and effectively the idea of achievement must be given up.” I’ve been thinking a lot about how I live these past couple years as we moved across the ocean and tried to build a different life, came back and tried to rebuild an old one. I’m still unlearning a lifetime of overachieving, surrounded by other achievers, constantly trying to improve, grow, and accomplish. I often catch myself falling into the trap of caring too much about constantly getting better, doing things better than I did yesterday.
But when I look at Agnes Martin’s paintings, when I read her calls to respond to life with joy, I remember that it’s possible to let that compulsion go, if you try hard enough, or rather if you stop trying. And then you can experience perfection.
In my dream, I’m at a sweets party. But this party has an issue, and that’s the fact that there aren’t that many different kinds of sweets.
Maybe there’s an issue with the oven or something, but I’m expecting way more kinds of wagashi and cookies and things.
I manage to find a small stack of wagashi. I’m making my way around the party sharing these with people.
Someone is trying to make tea.
I’m trying to make tea.
I need a teapot.
Despite the fact that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, one of the things I miss most about Japan is being able to regularly have some wagashi and tea.
There’s no need to overdose on sugar, just a small piece paired with a nice pot of tea is enough.
And it’s especially fun to enjoy it on a plate I made myself, even if that plate is far from well-made.
On my way out, I pass by a planter full of Coelogyne in full bloom.
Everyone knows that Coelogynes are a particularly beloved orchid genus of min (how can you pick an absolute favorite though, really?). Not the showiest, most varied, or most colorful genus, there’s still something about the simple and graceful form of Coelogyne that captivates me. So of course I had to get myself one in Japan, thinking that I would build up my collection slowly. I do so miss my Janine Banks, tomii, ochracea, et al. This Coelogyne Cosmo-Crista (Shinjuku No. 8) is quite a pretty, plain-looking little plant that brings me so much joy. While I don’t have the skill yet to grow them to their full glory, inflorescences overflowing their baskets, the dream and its pretty scent sparked my imagination and I set to work on this still life.
I’ve arrived unexpectedly at a shrine with the distinct feeling that I don’t have my 御朱印帳 to get a goshuin. Ah, wait, of course I do.
For just a few coins, many shrines and temples in Japan will stamp special shrine stamp books (goshuinchou), adding the date and some hand-drawn calligraphy, as proof of your visit. Every shrine and temple has its own design, and of course since the calligraphy is written by hand every person writes with their own style. In times bygone, these books served as something like proof of your devotion. When the priest was around, you would get your seal handwritten, but when he was away, you had to make do with a stamp. As the stamps became more beautiful and loved, they combined the stamp and calligraphy into what we see today. It’s certainly the inspiration for the ubiquitous modern day stamp rally, which you can’t escape in Japan. Proper goshuin collecting has exploded in popularity recently, and I’m happy to join the masses of Japanese women lining up for my little memento.
Living in Japan, I went to a LOT of shrines and temples. When there’s another one practically around every corner, it’s hard not to. But I didn’t start collecting shrine stamps until my last couple months and was of course hooked instantly. Not least of all because collecting proof you’ve visited this or that shrine or temple satisfies the collection-oriented mindset that a lifetime of casual RPG-playing has trained me for. I’m no completionist, but I do love the thrill of collecting. I won’t even admit to you how many books I’ve already filled. Forget taking a selfie or checking in on social media, it’s really all about #goshuinoritdidnthappen.
I’m arranging some blue hydrangeas in my dream.
I used to hate hydrangeas, but after learning about different varieties and seeing some spectacular specimens over the years, I’ve grown to love them.
I’m particular about them, though. I don’t know how to explain what makes a great hydrangea (yet), but I know one when I see one.
I’m shopping for vases in my dream.
I never seem to have enough vases. I can always use another size or shape, so I’m always on the lookout for a new perfect vessel. Inevitably, vase shopping pops up in my dreams, reminding me to swing by the thrift store (one of my favorite sources) to see if there’s anything good to fill out my collection.
I’m wandering some grey stone ruins, winding up and down stairs, admiring the light glancing through gaps in the stone. I notice delicate geometric patterns painted in gold glinting here and there.
My dream was clearly inspired in part by the grey cement of Arcosanti, warped to be reminiscent of one of my favorite architects, Carlo Scarpa. Though I’ve never seen his work in person, I know I’ll find a way to some day.
photos by uknown, Laurent Millier, D. Teil