Sumi Ink drawing circa 1963


My artist-poet daughter, Sarah, shared a youtube video on Kazuaki Tanahashi- The Brush Mind (Calligraphy) a documentary from 2014/2015 by

Her facebook post carried the descriptor “DAVID! (ie me)- Kazuaki’s studio is below ground and he shuffles when he walks”!! 

It was a kind comparison to my studio below ground and my shuffle when I walk from a daughter whom I love dearly.

I watched the video and there is indeed a comparison to be made.

I studied under Tanahashi some 55 years ago in 1963- a course offered by the Ontario College of Art and conducted at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto.

My daughter’s post has set me about recollecting some of my past.                                       

In truth, I enrolled in Tanahashi’s calligraphy course because I was dating a Japanese-Canadian girl at the time!  Actually, I enjoyed the course which involved both traditional and modern approaches to calligraphy- while also enjoying Tanahashi’s performances and dances with almost life sized brushes! 

Calligraphy is a discipline very different from my current practice- you might say that I strayed from the path!!  

In a sense, Calligraphy demands years of practice and thoughtfulness sometimes comparable to the practice of traditional ceramics in Japan. It is a pure act. It demands a moment of calm reflection before the moment of giving life. It is a moment that can not be erased.  However, my current practice in painting involves many overlays, touch-ups and thoughtful editing.

I remember a course in drawing put on by Alex Millar at OCA which I responded to with drawing in Sumi ink. I did love my Japanese brushes!

But, in 1963, I was an art novice.

One of my instructors at the Ontario College of Art was Karl Schaefer a man who had survived world War two flying in Bomber Command. 

I respected him. 

I Remember him looking at one of my drawings in carbon pencil mumbling “Bosch, Bosch”. 

I did love drawing with carbon pencil as well as with Sumi Ink- still do!  

Now, I held a racing licence. To me,  Bosch meant spotlights, spark plugs and other wonderful automotive things! 

So, I went to the library and looked up Bosch. HOLY SHIT. This was art??? 

I was hooked for the rest of my life!!

Back to my Japanese girl friend. 

Her mother and father were kind and gentle. They took me to visit family and taught me how to cook and eat in their fashion. I was invited to the opening of the new Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre of which her father was president. 

My parents were invited to a tea ceremony. 

Now my mother was a Scot- so tea sounded good. Especially in the afternoon. 

I can always remember, with a great deal of humour, the look of horror on my mother’s face at the sight of this frothy green stuff that she was about to inhale.

Unfortunately, the memories of the atrocities and horrors committed by the Japanese in WW2 were still raw for many. They are still raw for many some 70 years later.  My father was a sergeant major in the Canadian Corps of  Engineers. I loved him dearly but the idea of me dating a Japanese Canadian girl did not go over well!!!. 

Unfortunately Japanese Canadians also suffered. 

They were interred. Taken to strange, inhospitable places. Enclosed in treacherous wire that denied them their rights as Canadians. 

It was an anguished time and emotions were raw.

The doctor who assisted in my birth in 1940 was Frederick Nishikawa, a Japanese Canadian. He was one of the few not interred.      He was watched. 

My mother was mid 40 when she gave birth to me....I was her last chance! 

My happy parents named me David Frederick Carlin after Doctor Frederick Nishikawa. 

Doctor Frederick Nishikawa took out my tonsils on our kitchen table.

The table was a neutral yellow with hospital green trim.

For the festivities at war’s end my dad made me a blue plywood jeep that was festooned with red, white and blue decorations.  It was complete with operating pedals.   I could drive it!  

A police officer asked me if I had a licence to drive my Jeep. 

It was a good day. 

My parents also took me to darker places. At around 10 years of age they took me to a presentation and film by E. Herbert Norman, a Canadian diplomat and, to me, a hero. The film was about Japan at the end of the war and about the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It was a presentation which had a lasting effect on me and on my art. 

It showed the destruction of buildings.

                the destruction of human beings

                the destruction of all hope

It showed the nuclear shadows on concrete from humans that had existed mili seconds before.

Those shadows, in different forms, remain in my mind and in some of my work even to this day.

..……… the excuses for these bombings were that they were necessary to save thousands of American lives.                                  

………….in fact they were also done to prevent the Russians from attacking Japan and effecting the spread of communism.………….and so it continues.

Kazuaki Tanahashi was a member of the first group of Japanese to visit China and ask for forgiveness for war crimes perpetuated by the Japanese in WW2.

New Birth (carbon penci) 1968
is a commentary on the effects of nuclear devastation. A neuter giving oral birth to a mutation- the the creviced chequerboard is a symbol of the “game” and its destruction.

The New Age (carbon pencil) 1968 The chequerboard is destroyed- probably to arise again. The finger spoked wheel a symbol of the continuing cycle of war, of hate, of destruction

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