Enso by Torei Enji (1721-1792)
Susanne is a friend of mine who paints ensō’s. It is a Japanese word meaning ”circle” and a concept strongly associated with Zen. Ensō is perhaps the most common subject of Japanese calligraphy, symbolizing strength, elegance, the universe, single mindedness, the state of mind of the artist at the moment of creation and the acceptance of imperfection as perfect.
To me, it is a picture of an island. They can be drawn with or without an opening. Susanne’s ensō is an island with no opening. The island has its residents who move around paths and roads inside the island. Outside of he “o” there is a lot of traffic mainly at the bottom of the painting. Maybe, maybe there are some small connections?
When drawn with an opening, it can suggest that imperfection is an essential and inherent part of existence, a part of something greater.
I prefer to see islands as open ensō’s. No island can exist with a harbour which is the opening, the connection to the mainland, the acceptance that the island cannot survive as a secluded, self-supporting society.
I am, of course, heavily influenced by the fact that the Swedish word for island is ”ö”. It is a word of Germanic origin meaning “land close to water”. It is, as you can see, an ensō, a ”o” with two dots on top, like a French ”trema”. It’s could be a pictogram of an island with its round shape supported by two skerries or rocks or lighthouses.
In Danish, the word for island is ”ø” (not too bad), in Norwegia ”øy” (no ore a pictogram). In Finnish it ish ”saari” and in Estonian ”saar”, both languages have of Slavonic roots. Germans say ”insel”, French say ”île”, English people say ”island and so do the Irish and the Scots if they aren’t saying ” eilean” or ”innis”. The Italians say ”isola”, most of these are derived from latin and have to do with isolation. The Croatians say ”otoka” and the Greeks say ”νησί”.
I believe there is no more accurate and beautiful word for island than the Swedish “ö”. Open or not, you decide.
Ensō by Susanne Frunck
2014 enso by Jaysen Matthew Waller
A monk asked his master to express Zen on paper so that he would have something tangible to study. At first the master refused, saying, “Since it is right in front of your face why should I try to capture it with brush and ink?” Still the monk continued to plead with the master for something concrete. The master drew a circle on a piece of paper and added this inscription: “Thinking about this and understanding it is second best; not thinking about it and understanding it is third best.” The master did not say what is first best.
Zenga: Brushstrokes of Enlightenment