The I’nen Garden

The I’nen seal is a mark that was placed on several Tawaraya works during Sōtatsu’s lifetime, an indication that they were produced either by his own hand or by his studio. The seal was used with greater frequency by the studio’s artists after Sōtatsu’s death in circa 1640.

Many I’nen seal works depict flowers and plants. The Japanese had always sought metaphors for the complexities of the human heart in the world of nature. But beginning in the seventeenth century, there was a marked increase in their interest in botany, exotica imported from afar, scientific examination and categorization of plant types, and rikka, an early form of ikebana flower arrangement. Personal gardens varied greatly in style, engaging both the heart and the intellect. People often gave seedlings, plants, and cut flowers as gifts. The Tawaraya studio and the artists who used the I’nen seal gained commissions that reflected this newly intense interest. In the decades after his death, Sōtatsu’s techniques and creativity became almost synonymous with images of flowering beauty.

Sōtatsu’s Methods: The Visibility of Craft

Sōtatsu dealt with extremely refined subject matter—ancient aristocratic poetry and illustrated court and religious narratives—but he sought to reveal the construction and inner workings of an image rather than polish the “building blocks” until they were invisible. Skilled in both the production of supporting materials—i.e., books, folding fans, screens, and scrolls—as well as the forms that graced their surfaces, Sōtatsu was first and foremost a craftsman. Indeed, it is “craft” that he apparently wanted his audience to appreciate in his work.

As you explore this exhibition, look for the three techniques Sōtatsu used in varying degrees throughout his career: tarashikomihorinuri, and kataoshi.

Tarashikomi (たらしこみ) is a technique of pooling pigment or ink in partially dried layers, allowing random, semi-translucent shapes to take form. The patterns that result suggest both dimensionality and ephemerality, and thus uncertainty.

Horinuri (彫り塗り) is a style of painting in multiple colors in which ink underdrawings—outlines of human figures and other shapes—remain partially visible. In the more traditional style, tsukuri-e, the outline is completely covered with opaque pigments. Horinuri honors the tradition of works created with brushed ink, which in East Asia is considered to be the skill par excellence.

Kataoshi (型押し) are stamped patterns, frequently seen on the paper Sōtatsu and his studio prepared for calligraphers. The artist forms shapes—cranes, bamboo, flowering plants—with inks that have varying degrees of thickness, and the patterns that result are both manipulated and random.

Peonies and Lilies Coxcombs, Maize, and Morning Glories Coxcombs, Maize, and Morning Glories Mimosa Tree, Poppies, and Other Summer Flowers Trees Flowers and Grasses of the Four Seasons Summer and Autumn Flowers