In addition to the best-known temples and shrines there are many smaller religious structures punctuating the streets of Tokyo, tucked in between modern developments. One such Buddhist temple is Shugen-ji. To one side of the temple is a graveyard with shrines, and a columbarium-like structure for the storage of funeral urns. I witnessed the raking of gravel here: a meditative representation of water and waves, or of emptiness. For these two Vermeer pieces I wanted to reproduce in the brush strokes the way that gravel is raked, with contemplation and with mindful intention.
In Japanese gravel gardens, the troughs and peaks of raked gravel represent the waves of the ocean.
“Karesansui gardens express water surfaces and wave motions through sand patterns called samon. The history of creating waterless gardens in confined spaces dates to the 11th century. Zen ideology was popular in the 14th century when the Samurai became powerful. As the white sand scattered in gardens symbolized purity, they became sites for rituals and ceremonies.”
The Oceania Series of Vermeer reliefs
Rebecca Newnham 2020
The Vermeer series is a series of curved relief panels. Their reflective glass surfaces refract the room or the environment so that the viewer’s perception switches between the image and the reflection. Each piece starts by painting onto glass with enamels, which is then fired to fix the pigments into the glass. The glass is then cut and collaged to create a faceted, pixilated image. The shape of each Vermeer is a shallow, tensioned curve, like the lens of the eye.
The Oceania series is a group of works that reflect a trip to Tokyo and to Auckland early in 2020. Most have a relationship to water – either a beach, a lake, or the ocean – and to the natural and spiritual world. As Covid-19 was taking hold and the virus spread, they served to emphasise the value of the fiercely protected, unspoilt natural beauty of New Zealand and the restraint, focus and social consciousness of Japanese society at a time when the whole world is looking closely at itself and revaluating.
Medium: Enamelled glass, timber
Dimensions each: 920 x 920x 100mm