Cracked Ice, by Maruyama Okyo

I happened to come across something I found really beautiful. This is “Cracked Ice” by Maruyama Okyo, painted around 1780.  Okyo was a distinguished artist, known for a naturalistic style of representation. Early in his career, he was trained in making megane-e pictures, which were one-point perspective images meant to be viewed through a wide angle lens, which then conveyed an impression of depth and three-dimensionality.

“Cracked Ice” suggests recession. The boldest widest lines are at the bottom “in front” and as your eye runs up the screen the lines get dimmer, thinner and closer together.  Okyo is said to have carried a drawing pad with him at all times and to have been in the habit of pausing frequently to make quick sketches.

But the image is also abstract.  The “cracks” are clearly simple brushstrokes rather than cracks in a clear material with thickness.  Real ice cracks are more jagged and less tapered at their ends. The image shimmers deliberately between being representational and abstract in a way I find very compelling, sophisticated and modern.  All this at a time when the US was fighting for independence from Britain.

-Sam Williamson