Heaven, Fire, and Water……

     By the Grace of God and the reference of a good friend; I got an assignment to faux finish the interior of a Japanese Restaurant in Germantown, TN. The owner and his wife are both very sweet people and gave me alot of freedom with their walls. My son Yiri, who just turned 13, got his first experience at faux finishing. The owner encouraged me to let him do some of the work. His work was very good, and after I hurt my back one morning, he took over and finished out the main dining area. I can not tell the difference between my work and his. Needless to say I am very proud of him and I think he is pretty proud of himself.

     One morning the owner’s wife asked me what sort of decoration I would recommend that she put on the walls. This is a dangerous question to ask an artist. However, I didn’t flinch and launched right into some of the  ideas that I had already been considering. There is a party room that has four lighting sconces on a long wall that runs across the back of the room. The entry wall to that room is mostly glass and creates a wonderful viewing gallery. I felt that spaces between the sconces needed long vertical pieces to go between them. The perfect place to put the five elements. I suggested this to the owner’s wife. Her response was positive but quizical. I told her that I could produce the pieces for her. We worked out an agreement whereby I would use the restaurant to show the work in and she would get decorations for her walls without going into hock.

     Chinese and Japanese culture both utilize five elements in representational form. The Chinese use Wind or Air, Water, Wood, Metal, and Fire. These elements are part of a system of natural organization and order commonly referred to as Feng Shui. Roughly translated Feng Shui means the way of wind and water, or their directioal flow. This Chinese discipline sees a natural order to the physical world and the life force of Chi that flows through it. Therefore, everthing in the physical world is organized in such a way as not to impede the flow of this life force or Chi. Likewise the the organization of the elements of one’s environment should be ordered so as to not impede this flow either. Placement of buildings, windows and doors, and furnishings are all placed according to this order. The Japanese, on the other hand, employ a similar system with similar elements. There is a difference in that the five elements in Japanese culture are Void/Heaven, Water, Fire, Earth, and Wind or Air. The images on this page are the first three that I did : Heaven, Fire, and Water. I decided to do the Japanese elements since the name of the restaurant is a Japanese word: Akasaka. It means mountain resting place.  The owner and his wife are from Tiawan and the name of the restaurant is Japanese, so there was a bit of a cross cultural conflict so to speak. I see cross cultural blends like this all the time. Many Chinese buffets offer Sushi and Mexican chefs create wonderful Sushi rolls at a local Japanese reataurant my wife and like to eat at.

     Hence the name: Asian cusine. This term can mean anything from Mu Goo Gai Pan to Shrimp Tempura and everything in between, including Sushi. You can even get Sushi at the local gas station these days. So unless you are a purist and only eat Japanese food from a Japanese restaurant and Chinese food from a Chinese restaurant the options are endless. These blurred lines can be somewhat challenging when trying to decide which culture to pick your decor from for your Asian restaurant. I went with Japanese based solely on the name of the business and not the nationality of the owner. The Japanese restaurant I go to is owned by a Korean guy. So, I think the issue is the chance for success based on the market, and not nationalism.

     The work you see here is a departure from my usual venue. It has been a refreshing change and surprisingly easy to do and at the sametime very relaxing. The biggest challenge is to be simple, traditional and contemporary all at the same time. This especially applys to the traditional and contemporary part. I thing those words tend to be mutally exclusive at the least. I also like to render my work in detail so, keeping things simple is simply (no pun intended)  knowing where to stop. Most Asian painting is understated and tends toward the abstract. Many times it also includes poetry or the artist’s commentary written in calligraphy as well as the image. My first attempts were way too busy and fantastcal. They looked like a chemically induced Manga hallucination. I took them to the restaurant to see how they looked, and decided that they just didn’t fit anywhere outside of a comic book store. I decided to start over from scatch. I had done a small piece (12×24 inches) that worked very well and captured what I felt was the “look” I wanted. I used this preliminary piece and a couple of ideas from work I had seen done commercially as my starting point.

     I did pretty much everything the old fashioned way. I stretched my own canvases and treated the cloth myself instead of buying everything pre-made. I modified things slightly. This means that I used light weight unbleached cotton fabric instead of cotton duck and coated it with a combination of latex paint and modeling paste instead of gesso. This is, of course, not the reccommended way but we are outside the box here and I had not purchased any gesso (pronounced jess-o); which is a combination of acrylic/latex compounds and rabbit hide glue. Very durable stuff. Kinda pricey too. I think it was about twenty bucks a quart the last time I checked. I stained my treated canvases with raw sienna paint and went to work. I decided to be more exprssive than realistic with the images and exagerated the shape of the Torii Gate image in the Heaven composition and the Fujiyama volcano image in the Fire composition.

    The term for Heaven is Ku/Sora is often translated as “Void” but can also mean “Heaven” or “Sky”. It represents things that are beyond our everyday experience, things that are composed of pure energy. It also represents our ability to think and communicate, as well as our creativity. It is sometimes associated with power, spontaneity, and inventiveness. The term for fire is Ka. It represents energetic, forceful, moving things in the world. Animals, especially predators, capable of movement and forceful energy, are good examples of Ka objects. The term for water is Sui/mizu. Sui may be associated with emotion, defensiveness, adaptibility, flexibility, suppleness, and magnetism. The calligraphy letters or symbols are on each of the pieces. You can view the work up close or in magnified form by clicking on the individual images. I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed producing them. By the way it’s nice to have time to paint again. School starts up on January 13th. So this may suffer some but, I’ll try to post new work as it becomes available. according to my stats alot of folks look at Bran Mak Morn. Guess I should finish it. Arrigato.



  1. jeremiahbriggs · January 7, 2011

    I had 22 hit since I posted this at three pm. Thanks to everyone.

  2. Kitra · January 7, 2011

    I love your paintings, your faith and determination to do what God puts before you.

  3. Ahabah · January 11, 2011

    Beautiful post! Love the art work and the informative text! Very exciting news about Yiri…may the student far exceed the Master! ;P

  4. jeremiahbriggs · January 12, 2011

    Don’t say that to him

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