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Marilyn Wells
Photo courtesy of Marilyn Wells

Behind the Spontaneous, Meditative Art of Sumi-E

Denver artist Marilyn Wells channels energy and emotion into the ancient art of ink-wash painting.

Watch Marilyn Wells sweep black soot ink over a handmade sheet of mulberry paper and you’ll undoubtedly be struck by her quick, confident brushwork. “It’s just whoosh, whoosh, and the picture is completed,” says the Denver-based artist, who happens to be the mother of beauty-industy mogul Margot Elena. But Wells’ work in sumi-e (the Japanese art of monochromatic ink painting) is deceptively simple. Those spontaneous strokes are released after a period of quiet meditation, often over a few lines of poetry (works by Rumi and Mary Oliver are favorites), and informed by a lifetime of art-making. “People will ask, ‘How long did that piece take you?’ and my response is always, ‘About five minutes and 50 years,’ because it took that long to bring myself to do something as esoteric as this,” says Wells, who shifted her focus from figurative oil paintings to sumi-e in the last decade. The method of ink-wash painting, which traditionally features shades of black or gray and a focus on a subject’s spirit, isn’t widely practiced in the States. As a result, says Wells, who often can’t resist adding a splash of vibrant color, “there is no sumi-e style; no right or wrong way to do it, but it needs to come from heart and soul.”

Marilyn Wells
Marilyn Wells’ artwork “My Sort of Heart” was inspired by the following Sanskrit poem, translated into English by Andrew Schelling: Because time is endless and our planet vast, I write these poems for a person who will one day be born with my sort of heart. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Wells

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