Ryoanji Garden | 16 x 34 in. | acrylic on canvas | 2018

“The garden at Ryōan-ji does not symbolize anything, or more precisely, to avoid any misunderstanding, the garden of Ryōan-ji does not symbolize, nor does it have the value of reproducing a natural beauty that one can find in the real or mythical world. I consider it to be an abstract composition of ‘natural’ objects in space, a composition whose function is to incite meditation.”

– “Japanese Gardens” by Gunter Nitschke

“The vacant space of the garden, like silence, absorbs the mind, frees it of petty detail, and serves as a visual guide – a means for penetrating through the “realm of the multitudes.”

– “Stone Garden” by Will Petersen

Tried a lot of new things for this one. I feel it’s important to keep pushing myself to try new things and improve my skills by working outside my comfort zone.

Japanese wash technique (thatched roof), painting free hand (paving slabs), textured rocks, painting micro dots (moss), painting pebbles, raking (sand) are some the new things I’ve tried to make this accurate, to-scale reconstruction of the most beautiful rock garden in the world: Ryoanji Garden, Kyoto, Japan.

Ryoan-ji (The Temple of the Dragon at Peace) is considered one of the finest surviving examples of kare-sansui (“dry landscape”), a refined type of Japanese Zen temple garden design generally featuring distinctive larger rock formations arranged amidst a sweep of smooth pebbles (small, carefully selected polished river rocks) raked into linear patterns, which is nothing but old boulders placed in such a way, supposedly mystical aesthetic, as to cause thousands of tourists and monks every year to journey there to stare at the boulders in the sand and thereby gain peace of mind.

However, it’s the empty space created by the placement of the rocks and the void created by the white gravel that has long intrigued visitors.

Apart from little patches of moss around the stones, this garden has no plants. Behind the mud wall a row of trees create a green backdrop for the garden, making the light gray sand seem even brighter. The design is more complex than it seems at first – for example is it impossible to view all 15 stones at once from any angle within the gardens. The composition is also a fine example for the delicate balance of mass and void.

We see a series of moss islands from which rocks protrude. The pebbles have been raked into a very deliberate pattern, one that emphasises the horizontal. It slows our eyes down. Ovoid shapes frame each of the individual islands, the waves of the sea, the analogy of water.

The sea of gravel, rocks, moss and the earthy tones of the clay walls, create contrast – evoking stillness.

Together, these concepts promote the aesthetic values of simplicity, spontaneity, and truth to materials that come to characterize Zen art.

Nature is looked at carefully, it’s innate qualities, it’s imperfection, it’s inherent forms, which becomes the starting point. The idea is not to erase nature and make something that’s perfect, The idea is to examine something, to understand its qualities, and then to enhance them.

This rock garden is an endlessly fascinating puzzle. Walls enclose it on three sides, so the garden can only be viewed from a single vantage point. This focus suggests the garden’s purpose as an object of contemplation, but we are not encouraged to study the transitory nature of life here, for there are no blossoms to fade and no leaves to wither and fall. Instead it’s simplicity: 15 rocks of various sizes and shapes, on a flat rectangular area of raked white pebbles, guides our mind into a purer meditation on the abstract relationship between emptiness and form.

The garden is not unchanging. But what significant changes do occur, occur not within the garden, but in the mind of the viewer and in his perception of the garden.

This is all about our eye, awakening our eye, asking us to look, asking us to pay attention, and the very act of paying attention takes us out of our everyday lives, takes us to a place of heightened awareness, of standing apart from things, and in that way, helping to prepare the path to self actualisation.

“Ultimately the garden must be viewed as art, and viewed in silence. As a silent sermon it raises many questions, but asks for no answers. It calls to mind the flower held before his disciples by the silent Buddha, which brought forth no classification, description, analysis or discussion, but only the comprehending smile of the clear-seeing.”

– “Stone Garden” by Will Petersen

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