Irene Sanderson first arrived in Japan in 1972 and set up a studio in Tokyō. One evening that hot summer she was invited to a class for the study of Japanese ink painting. In the windowless basement the master and her assistant, both in immaculate kimono, loaded brushes with sumi and set about creating images of the Four Friends. This artform based on the action of ink meeting paper has the intimacy of drawing, revealing origins and intentions, and its immediacy and candour captivated Irene. From then on she began a lifetime involvement with the methods and techniques of sumi-e and suibokuga, incorporating them into her own distinctive style for this portrayal of Japan at the beginnings of the Reiwa era.
Sumi-e, suiboku-ga and photographs of a journey around Shintō shrines – the oldest, the greatest and the newest, all beautiful and mysterious, and their enshrined spirits – a sun goddess, a mountain, a fox, the mythical founder and heroes of national modernisation – talking to Shintō priests, ultra-rightist activists, atom bomb survivors, strangers on the train and old friends, to observe as the country commemorates 150 years from its opening to the west and enters a new era as the new Emperor ascends the throne.
Foxes Kitsune Japanese sumi ink and watercolour on Moon Palace paper
Ise Naiku I Japan Sumi ink and watercolour on Moon Palace Japanese paper
Tatesuna I Japan Sand cones at Kamigamo Shrine Kyoto Sumi ink and watercolour on Moon Palace Japanese paper
Ise Naiku Japan II Sumi ink and watercolour on Moon Palace paper
Tatesuna Kamigamo Jinja Kyoto
Hikan Inari Jinja Asakusa Tokyo II
Yushima Seido Tokyo Japanese ink and watercolour on Moon Palace paper