Ion Codrescu: Hagia Painting

Blog post by Michael Hotchkiss

Ion Codrescu: Hagia Painting

The building in which the Mandeville Gallery is housed, the Nott Memorial which sits in the center of the Union College campus, is in and of itself a piece worth walking about. Much like the Guggenheim, the Nott is hollow in its center and opens to a dome. its halls act as rings that are true and snug to the building’s circular form and polygonal exterior.

The Mandeville gallery generally occupies its second floor, as it did with its most recent exhibition, which featured the work of artist Ion Codrescu. His style is derived of an early form of Japanese art, called Hagia, in which the artist complements haiku poetry with an image that is often relative to the verse laid before it. However, it is worth mentioning that Japanese calligraphy is an image and art form all its own, which is something Codrescu masterfully reminds us of. Take for example his piece Winter Sky, with verse by Alison Woolpert, ink on paper, 16 1/2 by 11 3/4 inches.

The ink doesn’t share the space with the abstracted form presented by it, rather they are one and work strictly together or not at all. This piece, like so many others, is comparable not only to Zen painting, but Zen Buddhism itself. Within zazen, the meditative practice of Zen Buddhism, it is vital that one maintains good posture and steady, organized breathing.

“When we inhale, the air comes into the inner world. When we exhale, the air goes out to the outer world. The inner world is limitless, and the outer world is also limitless. We say “inner world” or “outer world,” but actually there is just one whole world. In this limitless world, our throat is like a swinging door. “The air goes in and out like someone passing through a swinging door.”

In a way, the outer world is dependent on the inner world, and vice versa. So too in Winter Sky is the verse dependent on the abstracted form that accompanies it, and the abstracted form dependent on the verse. The free strokes are representative of the flight pattern of the doves mentioned in the verse, and just as well, in its transparency, they are indicative of the winter sky in its haste to go dark when it was just so astoundingly clear.

Though these pieces are seemingly simple in their rendering, they are just the opposite. They are extremely complicated in the way that it can take years for one to master the brushstrokes found in Codrescu’s work. Among other things, this is reason to see Codrescu’s work in person. Though the prints are not large, one cannot understand the wit of his stroke if they are not before the paper on which it is laid.