Visual Art

Where Land and Water Meet

Libbie Masterson's new series of photographs is inspired by Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement

By Michael Hardy July 16, 2013

Libbie J. Masterson: Water's Edge (Mizugiwa)
Thru Aug 31
Catherine Couturier Gallery
2635 Colquitt St

Earlier this year, in preparation for her role as set designer for the Houston Grand Opera’s HGOco production of The Memory Stone, Houston artist Libbie Masterson took classes in Ikebana, the traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement. Masterson, who had previously visited Japan, became fascinated with Ikebana’s rigidly codified rules. “It’s a very meditative thing,” Masterson says. “I’m not going to call it a religion, but it’s a very formal way of looking at things. Everything has a purpose—everything is meaningful. My whole experience of Japan could be called ‘everything is meaningful.’”

Inspired by her immersion in Ikebana, as well as her installation of illuminated lilies in the Hermann Park Reflection Pool earlier this year, Masterson set to work on the series of photographs now on exhibition at the Catherine Couturier Gallery. The photographs are all based on the concept of mizugiwa, which in Ikebana refers to the point where flower stems intersect with the water. In a perfect flower arrangement, the stems should line up like an allée of trees.

Masterson, who also serves as curator of the Houston Center for Photography, realized that many of her landscape photographs already focused on the intersection of water and land. When she traveled to the South of France and the Loire Valley this summer, Masterson took even more shots of these liminal spaces. Although they were taken in France, Maine, and elsewhere, the photographs share a distinctly Japanese sense of order and harmony. The world Masterson captures is untouched by human hands—a natural world suffused with spiritual energy.

“It’s this beautiful and tranquil sensibility,” says gallerist Catherine Couturier, who worked with Masterson to select the photographs for the exhibition. “There’s more fine detail in this work than in her previous photography. She’s done a lot of grand landscapes, whereas in this work you look at these rivers or ponds and you don’t have the sense of scale that you have when she’s photographing icebergs or mountains. You don’t know if you’re looking at a very small tree on the edge of a very small river, or at a very big tree on a very big river.” 

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