In 1896 Tomita Keisen moved to Kyoto and became a student of Tsuji Kako (1870-1931). A decade of self-searching began that led him into Zen meditation, the study of Western beliefs and the scholarship of ancient Chinese philosophy. But first of all his interest in the art of Sengai (1750-1837), continued to grow. (Literati Modern, Michiyo Morioka, p.306)
In this Zen painting there is Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion, sitting in the center of an Enso. The calligraphy on the left reads "Entsu", a Buddhist term combining the kanji for circle and authority, loosely meaning knowledge of the dharma wheel or enlightenment. The implication is that such enlightenment can go anywhere and work in all situations. The painting is signed Keisan-jin, and sealed Keisan.
Born the fifth son of a noodle manufacturer in 1879, Keisen's interest in painting began early. At the age for twelve, Keisen began studying Kano-school painting with Kinugasa Tankoku. Keisen also worked with another local artist, Ueda Tekko. During this period, Keisen first saw the works of Sengai Gibon, a Zen monk known for his whimsical painting style, who had lived at Hakata's Shofukuji Temple during his final years. Sengai's work held a lifelong fascination for Keisen, although this interest did not manifest itself stylistically until late in his career.
Tomita Keisen (1879-1936)
Ink on fabric
37.2 x 36.5 cm (14½ x 14¼ in.)
Mounting 122.5 x 50 cm (48¼ x 19½ in.)
Small damage to mounting upper right side
Further reading: Furukawa Toshitsugu: "The enlightenment of Keisen", in: Journal of the Japanese Society for Aesthetics, Volume 33, Dec. 31, 1982