All Wabi and No Sabi
Upon learning that half of the Smokingpipes staff was going to the IPCPR (International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association) show in Las Vegas, this Friday, I felt a sense of dismay knowing that I, and the rest of the un-chosen, would be left to hold down the fort. I can only imagine what crazy debauchery the gang is going to get into, and, more importantly, if the trip will be a much less romantic, more grizzled, reenactment of the Hangover movie (save the sequels), in which Dennis winds up trapped on the top of the scorching roof of some hotel while Ted is mumbling something about a wolf pack.
Anyway, so to take my mind off the crushing disappointment, I perused our library of rare and exotic pipes, and something--a strange, magnetic force -- began to call out from somewhere within the tall shelves, pulling me towards a small, royal blue pipe case with tiny golden buckles. The label read Tsuge Ikebana, and instantly my mind's eye was transported to Honshu, Japan, soaking up the scenery in a traditional hot spring, overlooking the majestic Mount Fuji. Suddenly I was not only a long way from Sin City, but an even an further distance from Little River, South Carolina...
...Snapping back to reality, the escapist side of me gave way to the scrutinizing, critical artist, who only seems to want to know the mechanics or the historical influences that led to an act of creation; and as I carefully held an Ikebana bent Apple, I scanned and analyzed its profile--the bulbously round briar, swelling up like an over-engorged plant pod -- it's organically-inspired design surely attributed to traditional Japanese aesthetics. The country's affinity for this kind of natural asymmetry, as seen subtly in this piece, has a very interesting, but violent origin, which has its roots in the hedonistic court culture of the 12th century giving way to the military rule of the shoguns. The rationality of perfect balance and harmony of the Chinese approach, which once was the dominant influence in Japan's early aesthetic ideas, shifted because of the new ruling class's more direct, aggressive, and (often violently) bold mentality, spurring despondency among the peasantry, and giving birth to the concept of wabi-sabi: a comprehensive world view and aesthetic based on imperfectness, impermanence, and being in a state of incompleteness.
If the pipe maker had carried this idea to its extremes, this pipe, and indeed, the entire Ikebana line would look very different. Let us not forget that, though the term wabi carries a cozier, more object centered aesthetic of less as more -- sabi is much more raw, letting the asperity of the unfinished quality of an object (its roughness or irregularity), retain its original state. Looking at the smooth Apple design, with its clean, seamlessly smooth lines moving along the contours of its form, this is certainly not the case. The reason is simple enough, and is in some circles the stuff of legends; the streamlined stylization of Tsuge is a direct reflection of Kazuhiro Fukuda's apprenticeship with Sixten Ivarsson during the 1960s, during which he thoroughly absorbed the Danish school's Minimalist aspects.
I couldn't help but connect this interfusion as a kind of inversion to what transpired during the 19th-century Impressionist era, when Japan's trade re-opened up to foreign countries after more than 200 years of seclusion, and an influx of prints, ceramics, and other imports poured into Europe. This changed the course of art and design in the West, promoting a de-emphasis, in art, of perspective and shadow, with flattened areas of strong color, and unhindered, compositional freedom -- all of which aided in the inspiration for the planar breakthroughs of Paul Cezanne, leading to Picasso's Cubism, and onto the birth of Modern Art.
To look at this piece--knowing its violent and exhilarating history, the osmosis that occurred between cultures and artists over countless generations, and its aftermath, one can't help but experience the kind of blissful experience literary critic Roland Barthes described as what one feels after a first-hand encounter with a great piece of art, here all encapsulated within the perimeters of this beautiful little pipe.
I guess you could say that I took a trip without leaving the farm, so to speak, and you can too, with pipes that need no introduction (but that got an excessively long one anyway): Tsuge Ikebana. All these pieces feature a noteworthy display of cultural blending. Additionally, we have some "drop dead gorgeous" pipes from Former, some very masculine English renditions from Ashton, elegant poise from L'Anatra, sculptural complexities from Randy Wiley, some beautifully finished, hearty Italian briars from Claudio Cavicchi, and handfuls of darkly smooth and smoky pipes from Rossi. Also, check out our batches of yet more quality pipes from Brigham, Nording, Brebbia, Savinelli and Peterson.
Seth Ellison: Copywriter
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