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Born in Uji City near Kyoto, Jiro Okura once experienced during a long drive through the deserts of the American Southwest mu (nothingness), a state of mind that he had sought but never achieved in his long practice of Zen Buddhist meditation. Upon returning to Japan, he discovered a new appreciation of the nature of wood, shifting his attention from seeking a final polished product to the process of physical “chanting” through which his work is created. He repeated this process of bodily chanting and meditation with brush and ink on paper, creating works ranging in scale from single sheets to freestanding folding screens.
In the artist’s own words, “Before all else, there was space, and such things as conceptual constructs are, in the end, merely the tiniest trivialities wrought by human beings in the great void of the universe. I have found that what I need to do is to clear away, as much as possible, the litter of precepts cluttering my soul. Since I came to this realization, my work with wood has been a means of spiritual journeying, through the living being of the tree and by the repetition of simple actions upon it, to the very limits of space.”
Hamadryad is the Greek name that Okura gave to a series of wood sculptures and paper works that he began creating in 1992. According to ancient Greek belief, hamadryads are nymphs who dwell in trees in the deep woods. Their counterparts in Japanese Shinto belief are kami, the native gods who reside in the trees, mountains, and waters of the natural world.
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