Drue Kataoka
Drue Kataoka

Zen in Drue's art

Subject matter: "Now-ness"

At the heart of Zen is the importance of "the now." When Zen monks painted bamboo groves, misted mountains, and cherry blossoms, they were reflecting on their "now". Today, unlike other contemporary Sumi-e artists, Drue stays loyal to the Zen principle of "now-ness" by painting her "now" -- Silicon Valley, sports, jazz, real people, Stanford University. Painting the immediacy of the world around her, Drue's work embodies the invigorating spirit of Zen. "When I enter the 'now' of the subject I am painting, I become one with it," says Drue. "What place is more 'now' than Silicon Valley?" Drue asks. "In continual flux, even the landscape is poised on shifting tectonic plates. The "now-ness" of Silicon Valley is also demonstrated in its meritocratic culture: what you've done before is in the past. The question is what are you going to do now? That's what matters. That's what I call Valley Zen."

Extracting the essence: Economy

Matsuo Basho, the 17th century Japanese poet recognized as the most influential figure in the history of haiku captured the spirit of Sumi-e: "Poetry of other schools is like colored painting. Poetry of my school should be written as if it were black-ink [Sumi-e] painting." Like haiku, Drue's paintings eliminate all but what is most important, leaving only the most powerful essence in the traces of the brush stroke. This economy of action and restraint in its most refined form is highly prized by connoisseurs.

Artistic language: Technique and beyond

Drue's technique is grounded in the same intense discipline and training that Zen monks practiced centuries ago. Meditating for hours before forming a single stroke, Drue follows the spirit of the Zen monks who honed incredible powers of concentration. In Zen, the path to enlightenment is in transcending technique. After a lifetime of preparation, Drue is not bound by technique but emancipated by it.

Experience over appearance: Immediacy

The purity and directness of Sumi-e make it one of the most demanding art forms in the world. "I strive to give my brush strokes the living spirit of the subject I am painting," says Drue. Delving past the superficial, she reaches towards the inner energy that gives a subject its distinctive motion. "All training and experience must coalesce in spontaneous intuition." Drue paints a bamboo with leaves sharp to the touch. A jazz saxophonist's fingers fly off the keys, syncopating the space. A runner explodes off the blocks. "That's what pulls the viewer into the world of what's being represented."

Releasing the inner energy: Asymmetry

Asymmetry in a Zen composition is greatly revered as it reflects the asymmetry found in the natural world. In the Sumi-e aesthetic, symmetrical balanced compositions constrain space and render forms static. In Drue's art, masterful asymmetrical compositions set free dynamic energy at one with the flow of existence.

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