There aren’t many opportunities to see Japanese calligraphy in London – the last exhibition I saw was Tairiku Teshima back in April. So when I heard that Akemi Lucas was having an exhibition at the Frameless Gallery on Clerkenwell Green I had to take a look. What I found was calligraphy in a tradition that goes back in a direct line to the Meiji era at the end of the nineteenth century, presented with a modern twist.
Akemi’s artist name is Akemi Koshu – hence the name of the exhibition. As tradition dictates, her artist name was given to her by her master, Seizan Fujimoto, whose own master’s master studied with Meiji era calligraphist Kusakabe Meikaku. Meikaku’s strong, precise Chinese style supplanted the soft, fluent kana (Japanese phonetic script) calligraphy of the official school of the time and his teachings became very influential, with his style coming to be used in official documents and school copybooks.
Akemi has an impressive range of qualifications in calligraphy. She studied brushwork at the Japanese Bunka Calligraphy School in Tokyo, painting with black (suibokuga) and coloured (nanga) ink at the Kansai Nanga College in Osaka, Certificate Form Writing at Japan Calligraphy Kigo College in Tokyo, Seal Carving and Traditional Scroll Framing at Hounan Art School and Pen Writing at Japan Bunka College in Tokyo. You can see the range of her work at the exhibition.
She showed me works in a soft, three dimensional style, achieved by using an absorbent paper which meant that she had to work extremely quickly as the paint soaked into the paper at such speed.
At the other end of her range is this series of three scrolls, each containing a poem of a thousand characters written in China in 500 AD that describes the creation of the universe. The scroll on the left is written in the regular style, the middle one in the semi-cursive style and the one on the right in the cursive style.
Here’s a detail of the semi-cursive style.
She also works in what looks like white ink on a black background, though she told me the ink is actually transparent and, having done the calligraphy, she paints the background in without being able to see the ink until it is finished.
I liked the works where the calligraphy is combined with painting to make a complete picture, as in this one, which is decorated with cherry blossom. The letters say Love is the Source of Life.
Or this, Kaikatutenku, which is hard to translate but means the endless breadth of the ocean and the sky.
This picture may look like the lipstick counter at Shu Uemura, but in fact it’s a collection of Akemi’s hanko which are personal seals used in Japan to sign important documents.
Her pictures of moonlight are very atmospheric.
Akemi has been practising and teaching calligraphy in the UK since 2001. If you want to attend one of her calligraphy courses, you can find details on her website.
The exhibition at the Frameless Gallery, 20 Clerkenwell Green, continues until 23rd November. It’s open Monday – Thursday 11:00am – 7:00pm, Friday and Saturday 11:00am – 10:00pm and Sunday 11:00am – 4pm.