Outtakes

Japanese woodblock prints. Very Zen, says Giles Anderson. Photographs by Michael Dean

The decorations in this Mairaiji temple in Kuse, western Japan, are by Zen Buddhist priest Iwagaki Shodo, whose extraordinary work is now on show in Britain. When Shodo was first posted to the Kuse temple in 1976 from Tokyo it was abandoned and dilapidated, with no money to rebuild it. His first thought, he says, was to give up, but then he decided it was his En (destiny) to restore its fortunes, physically and spiritually. A self-taught artist, he set to work, decorating the sliding paper walls of the temple using a woodblock technique, and over a period of eight years, he carved around a hundred enormous wooden blocks.

For the ceiling, Shodo developed beyond the basic black-on-white colour scheme of the walls and embellished his block-print designs using a technique called ura-saishiki, which involves applying a brightly coloured wash by hand to the back of the paper which then seeps through. "It's a revelation to walk into the building," says Michael Dean, who decided to organise the London exhibition of Shodo's work with his wife Hiroko after coming across the temple. "The outside is so dull. It's a shock when you go inside."

Shodo's first designs illustrated Zen sayings and poems, and the Hanya Shingyo, the most popular of the Buddhist sutras (sacred texts). His earliest style was influenced by woodblock artist, Manakata Shiko, and the pictures, such as those of the monkey, are complex and detailed. Shodo's later style is starker, with abstract, geometrical designs which were influenced by the work of a priest, Sengai. Appropriately for the temple, the simpler the pictures, the more Zen they become

`Zen Woodblock Prints by Iwagaki Shodo' is now showing at the Daiwa Foundation, Japan House, 13-14 Cornwall Terrace, London NW1 until 12 June, 0171-486 3053

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