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John Brandi: From a Distant Road

12/12/13 - 3/09/2014

Main Library

San Francisco History Center Exhibit Space - 6th Floor

100 Larkin St.

The San Francisco History Center and Book Arts & Special Collections present an exhibition of haiga by artist John Brandi.

The art of haiga, or “haiku painting,” is traditionally a spare, ink-brushed image combined with a calligraphed haiku. For poet John Brandi, the writing of haiku has found a home in northern New Mexico. The form originated in seventeenth-century Japan and was popularized by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), Japan’s great haiku master. Like haiku, the world’s shortest poems, which depend on seventeen syllables or less to create a picture, haiga rely on minimal brush strokes to invigorate the viewer’s imagination.  John Brandi’s haiga are inspired by Japan’s wandering poet-painters and, like theirs, are influenced by journeys on distant roads.

To frame the haiga in this exhibit, curator Tom Leech created specially marbled papers using an eleventh-century Japanese technique known as suminagashi, or “black ink floating.” Inherent in the artform is the implication of meandering water, wind-blown clouds and tumultuous topography.

The exhibit is accompanied by a series of photographs. The photographs are from Palace of the Governors Photo Archives. They were taken two centuries after Matsuo Basho set off on his pilgrimages, yet they reveal many details of the landscape and people that inspired him. Walking thousands of miles on five different journeys, Basho recorded his impressions in the haibun form, a mix of poetic prose punctuated by haiku. His most famous journey, in 1689, resulted in Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North), one of the great prose works of Japanese literature.

Excerpts accompanying the photographs are from Basho’s haibun, written between 1684 and 1690, and translated by David Landis Barnhill (Basho’s Journey: The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho).

This exhibition was originally organized by New Mexico’s Palace of the Governors and the New Mexico History Museum.

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