Minimalism – Less is more

Lately I’ve been very fascinated with minimalism. Be it photography, sculpting or a style of painting. And in paintings, especially I find abstract minimalism to be a very powerful form of expression.

Minimalism is a style, where everything is stripped to a bare essence. It is where a subject is not hidden and is revealed with very little or no decorative elements or colours between the viewer and the artwork to camouflage it.

During my research on the subject, I have found out that there is one country in particular that has a long history on embracing simplicity, Japan. But it should not be forgotten that simplicity in Japanese tradition is – as the word says -not simple. Something that appears to be simple, can actually consist of complex set of rules. Be it a tea seremony or trajectories presented in martial arts. Somehow I find this very interesting. It is also obvious that when a cultural heritage is built on certain fundaments, it is a flourishing ground for a certain art movement to thrive.

What is minimalist Japanese painting?

Minimalist Japanese painting refers to a style of painting that emerged in Japan and is characterized by simplicity, restraint, and an emphasis on essential elements. This style is often associated with traditional Japanese art forms, such as ink painting (sumi-e) and traditional calligraphy. Here are some key features of minimalist Japanese painting:

Simplicity: Minimalist Japanese painting often embraces a minimalist aesthetic, focusing on a few essential elements rather than intricate details. Artists aim to convey a message or evoke emotions through the use of a limited palette and simple compositions.

Ink Wash Techniques: Ink painting, or sumi-e, is a prevalent technique in minimalist Japanese painting. Artists use black ink on rice paper, creating expressive brushstrokes that capture the essence of the subject. The emphasis is on brushwork and the dynamic relationship between black and white.

Emphasis on Space: Japanese minimalist painting often places a significant emphasis on negative space, allowing the viewer’s imagination to fill in the gaps. This use of space is influenced by traditional Japanese aesthetics, such as the concept of ”ma,” which refers to the dynamic emptiness between objects.

Nature and Seasons: Many minimalist Japanese paintings draw inspiration from nature and the changing seasons. Artists may depict landscapes, flowers, birds, or other elements of the natural world, capturing the fleeting beauty and transience of life.

Calligraphic Elements: Calligraphy, the art of beautiful writing, is often integrated into minimalist Japanese painting. Brushstrokes used in calligraphy may be incorporated to add expressive and dynamic elements to the artwork.

Zen Influence: The philosophy of Zen Buddhism has had a significant impact on Japanese art, including painting. Minimalist Japanese painting often reflects the Zen principles of simplicity, mindfulness, and the appreciation of the present moment.

Harmony and Balance: Japanese aesthetics often emphasize harmony and balance. Minimalist paintings strive to achieve a sense of balance in composition, color, and form, creating a serene and contemplative atmosphere.

Sesshū Tōyō – Haboku-Sansui

Artists like Sesshū Tōyō and Ike no Taiga are often cited as influential figures in the development of minimalist Japanese painting. While this style has deep roots in traditional art, contemporary artists may also draw on these principles in their work, creating a bridge between the traditional and the modern.

Minimalism and existentialism

When I was a young man I came accross with existentialism, a philosophical movement led by the likes of Sartre, Heidegger and Camus. It was Sartre that opened the gates of ontology to me. And I was blown away. To put it short: according to him, everything we perceive is seen through concepts that we are accustomed to or learned about. Thus, as adults, we cannot perceive anything – as the thing really is for we see it through a concept. When you see a cup, you know that it is a thing that you can drink from. When you see a ladder, you know that you can use it to climb somewhere. When you see a book, you know it contains information that you can read. But what if you did not know, what these things are made for? That they would purely be objects that exist, but have no meaning or use? Now, expand this thought to everything you see around you. And to every human you know as well. Kinda scary. And fascinating.

When creating an abstract minimalist artwork, an artist can try and strip down these learned processes and concepts that bury us under their functional command. He/She can capture an essence and present it without the burden of understanding concepts that are built into the western civilization. It can be a relieving trip closer to a bare essence of being a living creature on a solitary piece of rock rotating in the depths of the universe.

Minimalism – a work in progress

Back on earth. As you can probably tell, I have established a complex, demanding and a loving relationship with abstract minimalism. So far I have created a few works that have taken me closer to what I really want to create and present. Here’s one, I call it ”M1”:


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