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One week left to view Japanese suiboku-ga paintings


Tsugako Shimada’s suiboku-ga painting “Plum Tree” is one of many scrolls on display through June 29 at the Greater Starkville Development Partnership.

Tsugako Shimada’s suiboku-ga painting “Plum Tree” is one of many scrolls on display through June 29 at the Greater Starkville Development Partnership. Photo by: Courtesy Photo


Jan Swoope





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Original examples of suiboku-ga, the ancient art of Japanese brush painting, are rare sights in the United States -- and rarer still in the Golden Triangle. But through June 29, the work of artist Tsugako Shimada is on display at the Greater Starkville Development Partnership and at The Depot, next to Barnes & Noble on the Mississippi State campus. 


The exhibit stems from an almost happenstance connection between Shimada of Tokyo, Japan, and Lucy Phillips of Starkville. 


"Upon my husband's retirement as an English professor at MSU, he accepted a position as an exchange professor in Japan," explained Phillips, who lived in that country from 2003 to 2006. "It was almost through accident that I even became acquainted with this art form, but I got to study in a private home with Mrs. Shimada for about a year and a half." 




Art of the ancestors 


Suiboku-ga is a style of monochrome ink painting, a careful manipulation of light and dark shading. First developed in China, it was taken to Japan by Zen Buddhist monks in the mid-14th century. 


Artists use a type of ink stick (sumi) made from the soot of burned pine tree roots combined with a substance extracted from bones and skins of animals, compressed into a hard cake and fired in a kiln. The sumi is ground onto a suzuri, a stone receptacle to which a small amount of water has been added, to create boku-ju (ink) 


Bamboo brushes (fude) use the hair of animals. Even the largest brushes taper to a fine point, creating flexibility of tone, mood and line. With these tools, artists are able to produce paintings of delicate and expressive nuance.  


For Phillips, the opportunity to learn the art form was a unique gift.  


"It's very hard for a foreigner to have access to studying this," she said. Three of her own paintings are included in the exhibit at the Partnership. 


An auxiliary display at The Depot contains a large eight-panel work Phillips described as "breathtaking."  


"It's a magnificent piece," she said of the work that depicts a rocky coastline. Shimada has gifted the painting to the university.  


All pieces in the exhibit, with the exception of the eight-panel painting, are available for sale. Scrolls range in size, with prices from $40 to about $400. 


"For anyone who doesn't see this exhibit, it's a missed opportunity," Phillips emphasized. 


The Greater Starkville Development Partnership gallery at 200 E. Main St., Starkville, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Starkville Area Arts Council is the host organization for the display. 


For more information, contact Phillips at 662-323-8075.


Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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