Japanese artists were known for using media appropriate for the subject matter. Images depicting traditional Japanese narrative tales typically were rendered in opaque colors with outlines created in ink and later obscured by color overlay. Ink monochrome was closely associated with Chinese styles, particularly those transported to Japan via Zen Buddhism. Ink-based forms created with modulated strokes and layered washes suggested introspection and spiritual exploration.

In his application of the tarashikomi technique—random pools of pigment and ink—Sōtatsu subtly subverted the tradition. He used ink to depict the ordinary subjects of everyday life—puppies and plants—in a style that took on an allusive ambiguity. Instead of the solid, opaque colors traditionally associated with narrative painting, Sōtatsu used pooled ink and randomly changing color fields to indicate the underlying Buddhist theme: the unreliability of the visual world.


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Flowers and Grasses of the Four Seasons
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Sotatsu's Waves at Matsushima (PDF)
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The Zen Priest Chōka A Child Holding a Spotted Puppy Master Poet Motokata Sankirai Dragons and Clouds Dragon and Tiger Plum Tree Shamo Chicken

We are excited to reopen the Freer in October 2017, following a renovation to allow us to better present our art and serve our visitors. The Sackler remains open, with a full lineup of exhibitions and events both in the museum and around DC. For your safety, all visitors will have their bags checked. See the complete list of restricted items and bag sizes.