Shodo by Yoji Shinagawa

Part of the Editor's Choice series.

BOMB 8 Winter 1983
008 Winter Spring 1985
​Yoji Shinagawa

Yoji Shinagawa, detail: calligraphy, 1983. Courtesy of Jon Leon Gallery.

I would like to express or explain to you my thoughts and my understanding of the art of shodo, which is calligraphy. The word shodo is made up of two characters. The first means writing with the brush. The second, sometimes pronounced michi, refers to a path or way. A road.

The word shodo always evokes the translation of the spiritual discipline or path of a person, the way of the Cosmos, into brushed writing. The artist must be true to the true principles (of the universe) or the power and quality of the art will fail. And so the artist creates a certain rhythm: a great circle. The Great Wheel. He turns the wheel and jumps with great jubilance or jubilation (through?). This is what he expresses, expresses naturally.

There are many phenomena in the world that press on one with a feeling or the force of their reality: Nature, daily life, peoples’ conversations, etc. In responding to these phenomena above all one needs a true heart; one’s own individual heart/spirit. An unadorned unaffected heart. Without this spirit the various problems of reality cannot be resolved! And so one offers everything. The purest of everything. After that one does not ask for more.

Out of daily life there arise moments when one burns with the joy and passion of living. This is natural. Expressing this feeling in poetry, brushing the poem, and singing/chanting (from ecstasy, not consciously): the enjoyment of these three, shisho, and gin; these are the Three Pleasures. Everything comes together (remains separate too).

I believe this is the heart of the way of the brush: shodo.

If your heart is in turmoil (not clear), your characters will reflect the turmoil (will be unclear, muddy). You must see (perceive, ascertain) your self distinctly in your heart. Without prejudice, borrowing nothing from another, not grasping madly in, at, or from this direction or that, when you have firmly grasped the true essence of Human in your hara, in your guts. Bickering and fights are nonsense.

This is the state of consciousness that I have been striving to achieve, but I’m still a long way from that level of development. Technically I am far from proficient, but I only wish to express the joy of (his) life through shodo.

James Nares by Glenn O'Brien
​James Nares
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Originally published in

BOMB 8, Winter 1983

Edouard Roditi by Bradford Morrow, Taylor Meadeby Alf Young, art by Elizabeth Murray, Ellen Phelan, Pat Steir, and more.

Read the issue
008 Winter Spring 1985