Morning grace: zen painting at Modo

Independent library Modo, nested between the crowded bars of Via Mascarella, is one of my favorite places in town. So much so that I won’t write about it in general now, because this deserves its own post. But let’s just say that the guys at Modo, other than having a cool selection of essays and great taste for graphic novels, organize some amazing workshops. Most of them are about calligraphy, lettering and miniature (visual orgasms for those with a fetish for ink on paper), and despite my ardent desire (not joking unfortunately) to learn gothic writing I haven’t managed to attend to any of those yet. In turn, I found a spot (keep in mind: workshops fill fast here) on the zen painting course. And there I was this saturday morning at 10 o-clock, eyes still half closed but heart open and already filled with anticipation.

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The course is run by Filippo Manassero, a visual artist based in Turin who also tours Italy to teach little workshops on zen painting, or, to be precise, Sumi-e. Sumi means “ink”, while e is just “painting” or “image” (think the most famous Ukiyo-e) and this particular technique, elaborated by zen monks that were inspired by Chinese decoration, is all about the grace, commitment and fluidity of gesture.

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Instead of creating a nice form or the perfect shape, the focus is on getting familiar with the tools (Indian ink, rice paper, Ingres paper and three brushes of three different sizes and softness) and with the movement. My class was dedicated to just two subjects: bamboo plants and maple leaves. Each theme required its particular technique of putting just the right amount of pressure with the brush on paper and then, with a wrist movement, letting go, delicately, as if caressing water. Sometimes you were asked to close your eyes, while at all times you were required to forget about the final result while concentrating on the process.

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Two hours and a half (especially in the morning, particularly on a sunday morning) can become quite long if they are all made of repetitions of the same small actions while watching the paper slowly being filled by canes, leaves, other canes and some more leaves. Not boring, certainly hypnotic. At a point, when I felt I had found my flow and was in the zone (and it did take time), I noticed I was breathing ujjiay: for those of you who don’t do yoga, ujjiay breathing is the thype of focussed, powerful, throat tickling breathing you do while sending lots of energy into your body and/or performing some intense asanas.

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You can find yourself going all ujjay without even noticing sometimes, and it happened today while finally mastering my sweet maple leave. I don’t know if that was a good thing or what the zen monks would think of my little yogic detour. But I had a good time, learned something new and valuable and discovered a new tool of artistic relaxation. So that I can finally stop painting fruit boxes like a crazy woman whenever I’m stressed out from work, which is already quite an achievement. So, once again, thank you Modo.

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