Saturday, September 17, 2011

still-sound 6. Ink

When Rob and I packed up the pug and left London in 2006 it was to live in Paris.  I was offered a place at the Cité International des Arts, an impressive Corbusier-like building perched on the Seine, right by the Hotel de Ville.  It's a residence program for artists set up in the 1960s by Monsieur et Madame Bruneau (back then things like this actually happened...non-profit organizations set up to benefit the arts in prime areas of cultural capitals - kind of hard to imagine now and I'm grateful to have been able to benefit).

We spent months without a tv or sofa - we didn't need them, the Marais was our backyard.  Rob read a lot and cooked.  Rosie tried to stay cool during the heatwave by spreading out on the tiles.  I tried to get some painting and plaster sculptures made but the three of us seemed to find ourselves just walking around the city most of the time.

The Mariage Frères tea shop was a short walk away on rue Bourg-Tibourg.  You can imagine it; dark wood paneling, slow ceiling fans, large tins of loose tea weathered in a way to suggest they traveled the seas from Ceylon or Formosa, sales assistants dressed in linen suits (sometimes seated in a small-booth caisse where they would accept your money in exchange for goods).  You wished that you could pay with colorful, massive bill notes rather than a little plastic chip-and-pin card. Obviously I sniffed every tin of tea, every candle and every incense. Many times.

Throughout the months of the residency I bought small boxes of the various incenses (all based on the scent of tea) - and ultimately favored the one that went by the name Encre de Thé.  The scent of ink and tea, 'inspiring the hearts of poets', or so it said on the box.  The sticks themselves were inky black.  When I eventually bought the larger box which contained a silver incense holder, the purchase felt like a ceremony and large investment (considering we had almost no money and a huge relocation ahead of us - it was).  The box has endured an unromantic journey to the US via United Airlines and several apartment moves throughout Los Angeles county.  Battered around the corners, I keep the box in a drawer and burn one of the remaining sticks only once in a great while.

This year I started dabbling in sumi ink, mostly for the smell. Choosing the brushes and rolls of rice paper completed the overall satisfying process of preparing the sumi-e experience.  So far the preparations have been more satisfying and fun than the drawing process itself.  Honestly, I'm not very good.  I've only practiced a few times, to ornament paper I then use to wrap ceramic objects offered to friends as gifts.

The first not-tiny object I made in porcelain was a simple cylinder pot.  To my surprise and slight initial disappointment, the pot warped into something elliptical and developed a golden burn along the top edge.  I now consider these irregularities to be the most interesting aspects of the piece.  I hold my ink brushes in this pot  - it's the correct size and the burn matches the color of the bamboo handles. The brushes stand upright, awaiting the next time the scent of of sumi ink lures me into drawing again.

1 comment:

  1. Oooohhhh, the sound of your life in Paris sounds idyllic!! It's whetted my appetite for my trip there this week...