“Cold wind soughs desolately
as it enters the empty mountains,
By houses in the country village
leaves are painted in variegated colors;
Desperately longing for a kindred spirit
amid the strange and wondrous rays,
The sky is filled with clouds and mist
and seems to have no flaws.
On the 23rd day of the 6th lunar month, some thoughts brushed in idleness.
On a quiet day I took my bamboo staff
and returned to the water’s edge,
How would this scenery be
if collected for a screen?
Facing you and
sitting without speaking
equals experiencing a (sheer precipice) of 8,000 feet,
and ten thousand valleys in autumn.
This stanza is a poem by Deng Wenyuan. On a summer day of the year 1825, painted to while away the summer heat, by a seventy-eight-year-old man whose vision has been blurred for a few days, in ugly and very awkward brushwork.”
The painted scene is framed by lines of calligraphy to either side, a composition which suggests visually that the verbal content is being translated into painting and then back again, a neat affirmation of the convertibility of poetry and painting. The scene is indeed devoid of people, as the poem says, and the warm coloring around the house conveys the welcome waiting for any friend who might come to visit.
Kaiseki was born into a family of merchants in Wakayama who had once been samurai, and were, during Kaiseki’s lifetime, enjoying the fruits of their work in commerce. From his own account in the Kaisei Gawa (“Kaiseki’s Talks on Painting”) he “absorbed in the core of my mind what Rangu taught during my childhood.” Rangu, who was primarily Kaiseki’s teacher in Confucian studies, also introduced him to painting, an education that would continue throughout his life as he associated with such greats as the Obaku priest- painter Kakutei (1722-1785), the Nanga painter Gyokushu (1746-1799), and, importantly, Ike Taiga (1723-1776). Taiga became his teacher and although Kaiseki painted with greater reserve and more discipline than his master, Taiga’s influence is not without notice.