"Rengetsu: Buddhist Nun and Artist,” at The Art Complex Museum until September, is among the works by women that, according to members of the museum’s Collection Department, both demand respect and inspire contemplation. Otagaki Rengetsu, who lived from 1791 until 1875, was a Japanese artist who, says staff member, Kyle Turner, “defied artistic and cultural traditions and whose achievements have had a lasting impact.”
Her earlier life was marked by tragedy which included the deaths of two husbands, five children, and her adoptive parents. At the age of forty-one, she was alone and became a Buddhist nun. It was then that she took the name of Rengetsu which means Lotus Moon.
In order to support herself and also as a way of meditation, Rengetsu began making ceramics. Despite the fact that at the time this was primarily a male occupation, her work met with immediate success. It stood out when compared to the highly polished pieces then being made. And it appealed to the common people.
Mostly self-taught, her work, when first viewed, can seem unassuming but there is also a sense of intimacy especially when one discovers the indentations from her fingertips. Rengetsu composed poetry which she inscribed onto her forms using her own distinct calligraphy.
In the end, her work is said to have been found in every household in Kyoto. In order to meet the demand, it was necessary for her to turn to assistants for help. Even today, her work is imitated. The authenticated pieces in the museum’s collection contain her mark and demonstrate her very individual style.
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