Christine Flint Sato began exploring a new mode of expression involving the successive pouring and layering of sumi ink washes on washi two years ago. For her, the creative process is as important as the final product, and she enjoys participating in the interaction of ink, water, and paper. She lets the materials “speak” and at the same time searches for ways to exploit them, fascinated with the endless expressive possibilities.
Keen to try new papers and ink, for awhile Christine experimented with Chinese paper. She eventually settled on a washi made in Yoshino, which is 100 percent kozo. She chose this type of washi because the ink washes do not bleed as quickly as on other straw-based papers. She uses liquid ink made at the famous ink shop in Nara, Bokuundo. The different properties of the inks result in washes displaying diverse tonalities and textures.
Christine does not have specific images in mind as she works, but rather concentrates on the overall design and movement as she pours the ink washes onto paper spread out on the floor. She has always been interested in space, and this technique allows her to play with what she describes as “unpredictable space.” She has learned to manipulate the ink washes to achieve certain effects, sometimes spraying water or ink in around the areas of applied washes. The only brush she uses is for adding in the fine lines; it is the type of brush that painters use for rendering delicate facial features. After the initial pouring, she may continue to work on a piece for days or even weeks, adding intricate linear brushstrokes to create even richer textures.
At first glance, the nebulous ink washes evoke the tarashikomi technique exploited by artists connected with the Rinpa school. Japanese painters of other traditions (nanga, Maruyama-Shijo) also experimented with achieving dramatic effects using ink washes. The origins of tarashikomi can ultimately be traced back to Chinese painting. As I look at Christine’s work, visions of swirling clouds, writhing dragons, mist shrouded mountains, and bursting flowers all come to mind. None of her works have such overtly recognizable imagery, but the metamorphic ink forms on the paper are the distillation of images Christine has assimilated from her lifelong study of Asian painting and calligraphy, transformed into something new and evocative.
When asked about influences, Christine in particular cites being inspired by the work of the contemporary painter Li Huayi. Born in Shanghai, Li received training in traditional Chinese painting as a youth, but later went to the U.S. where he encountered and studied Western styles including abstract expressionism. His work is clearly inspired by Chinese landscape tradition, but his approach is Western, i.e. pouring washes on the paper and then going in to paint fine details such as trees.
Christine acknowledges links to the past as she moves from tradition to abstraction. Like Li, she lives outside her home country and thus has been exposed to both east and west. Not bound by any tradition, she freely manipulates traditional materials in new ways, in accordance with her own personal vision. I see her work as connecting more with Japanese art than Chinese, mostly due to the bold designs, the creative use of empty space, and the dominance of blurred tarashikomi-like ink washes. Underlying the balance of ink and empty space, contrasts of dark and light, wet and dry, I also sense the dynamic eye of a calligrapher, who, as the brush moves rhythmically across the paper, intuitively adjusts the strokes so that the characters are aesthetically well balanced and coordinated with the surrounding space. In her new work, Christine follows the inclination and flow of the ink, exercising her design sensibility to give birth to scrolls imbued with the rhythms and kinesthetic forces of nature.
International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto