Home 2003-2012 Summer 2012 Features An Original Haiga Voice
An Original Haiga Voice PDF Print E-mail

Robert D. Wilson

by Don Baird


If you sit in front of a flower, without blinking, remaining there hour by hour by hour, you will not see it change. Regardless of how focused you are, it will always appear the same. When you see the flower a day later, it looks wilted and "on its way out"; and, yet, you were unable to spot the transformation activity itself. Soon enough, you will observe a dead flower and wonder "when did it transform, how fast it died?"

Before your eyes, the "becoming" was active. Always before us is the becoming of all things from life to death, to death to life, all occurring in the continuum of transformation."In stillness, there is movement; in movement, there is stillness" (Tai Chi Ch'uan classics).

This is what Basho was noticing. This is what Basho, through his intuitiveness and keen sense of being,began to focus on. The transformations that attracted him, that caught his passion, were the transformations of beauty - the beauty of nature. He marveled. He marveled at things that caught his eye and heart, both. He marveled at a pond and a plop in the water by a frog; he didn't care how simple. He marveled at becomingness; he marveled at the activity and interactivity of nature including the relationship of nature and humanity.

Basho wasn't writing by accident. He had reasons; he had philosophy that caused him to perceive in a very particular way of which became the impetus for all of his writing and teaching to come. He clearly had a palette of aesthetics that he would continue to hone until his death. 

Robert Wilson is a student. One of his teachers is dead (Basho). But, the lessons he is discovering are numerous and have shuffled his writing inside-and-out! Basho's teachings are part of the "becomingness" of Robert. It's these lessons and writings that have triggered Wilson's wild and uncontained passion of which there is no returning - bitten by his own creative force. 

The journey continues for Wilson. He realizes that the integrity of haiku/hokku is at risk.  In martial arts (karate), many of the contemporary masters do not know the old forms, the old ways - the traditions that brought them to where they are today. Is that what is occurring in Japan regarding haiku? Are the poetics being lost? Is it possible that Robert is helping to keep a piece of Japan alive today - an art form that without "outsiders" participating, would be dead - the dead flower? Is it foreigners that are taking the responsibility to give the old aesthetics of haiku/hokku a fighting chance? Has Japan lost sight of its own art of hokku?

The difficulty of this journey Wilson has chosen is immeasurable. He is delving into an antiquated history of Japan knowing that most of the words, ideals and concepts are not part of Japan today. He knows the words zoka, yugen, ma, and the countless others expressing the aesthetics of Basho's time, would not be recognized or understood by many Japanese today. The language has changed; the people have changed. And in the changes, haiku/hokku and its poetics has all but died. Robert, in his way, for better or worse, just might be a warrior in motion attempting to protect the ideals of an old master - Basho.

Haiga is a challenging genre. Combining art with haiku is no easy task - at least to do it well. The art and the haiku must be able to stand-alone. Each must evoke responses from the reader. And together, they must open the door to the reader's imagination. The saying is "the haiku is finished by the reader." Wilson's haiga are much the same. He believes the reader 's imagination must be set free by the poem - the doors to his imagination fully opened - to the extent that the reader can effectively finish the haiga in his mind. The process is active - it's interactive between the image, poem (poet) and the reader.

"Learn from the pine, about the pine." This phrase (paraphrase) by Basho means “go to the thing itself.” When you go to the "thing" haiku, what is it? If you go to pre-haiku, you have hokku. You have what Basho was writing. And then, you have Shiki who created the "rejuvenation", the reform poem he renamed to haiku and giving it a different identity altogether. Noted, there was a waning of hokku directly before Shiki, but it had a crystal clear identity during Basho's life. That identity didn't cease existing; the recognition of the identity ceased to exist. The true identity remains; hokku is the DNA of haiku. That cannot change.

Robert Wilson is proposing that Basho is the true and original founder of haiku and that while Shiki discovered the name haiku, haiku should refer back to Basho and the aesthetics Basho astutely revealed to his students - to us, in the end. Haiku should retain the DNA of hokku and retain the aesthetics of kokoro, zoka, koto, yugen, wabi-sabi, ma, and more. These are the haiku aesthetics. Haiku is hokku - with the embedded hokku DNA.

Robert is a man of unquenchable passion. And while he can push hard (himself as well as you) at times, he is coming from a place of passion for haiku, its history and its beauty.  He's protective. He believes that without strong leadership, the true essence of haiku could be lost forever.

"An Angel", the following haiga, expresses layer upon layer of wonderment for a reader.  The backdrop artwork seems to defy the white space (visual ma) and yet works (and works well). The poem and image remain balanced - each standing alone as interesting with rich meaning and together, guiding the reader to heights (limited or expanded) by the reader's ability to ponder.

Wilson's imagination is his creative force. There's no egret in the photo. Where is it? Is the young lady the angel? And there is no shadow being preened. And yet, all of these things are there but only if the reader can lose himself and open to the poem. Wilson demands the reader to do his job. 



"Late Night" references Vietnam and sorrow of war. It brings the reader hope that something beautiful survived. And yet, his work graphically depicts that much was lost to the hell of war. The fence, the fire and the overall feeling of chaos is clear in this image.  But, Wilson gives the reader a hope - a light above her hairline - a place to go - a place to be in her mind and spirit. There's hope. There's a Kingdom of Love . . . somewhere. Is Robert searching? Is he there and inviting you? Has he found peace or just glimpses of it?  Wherever he is, he has a clear, heartfelt image that it exists; and, he guides us to see and experience it . . . with him.

Basho was creative. He was cutting edge. Wilson has that mindset. He sees the layers in his mind through his life experience; he builds them graphically. In this haiga, he has placed the young lady at an angle, like she is watching, observing all of this horrible chaos. He's added in background/foreground and intentionally brought out of his mind, the gut wrenching chaos of a time now long passed. It has not passed for him though.



"Deep Morning" leaves us, again, wondering where the egret is. It's something left out of the image, and yet the reader "knows" that it is there. It's not there; it's there. What's an "egret's dream" and how does it "wade through stars"? And yet, it's clear (after a few moments of pondering) how it all works. Robert is very comfortable in leaving a lot "left unsaid". In fact, he specializes in it. One of his mantras references the "unsaid" and he remains relentless in that pursuit for himself as well for other poets he tries to influence.

There is smoothness in "Deep Morning" - a quietude. Wilson has revealed another side of his personality – he dreams, ponders and meditates. He finds a quiet side within himself (he fights for it really, in dichotomy) and this perfect, balanced beauty reveals itself to him and then he to us, the readers.


It could be a disservice to say too much in describing and sharing Robert's work. He has left much unsaid and therefore, it makes complete sense to leave much unsaid in my efforts to share his work and genius with readers. It is in the unsaid that Robert dwells. 

However, I want to share a few of Wilson's thoughts that occurred during a few of our email exchanges as I developed this article:

(Robert Wilson) "The process I use to create and compose my work is a painstaking, intuitive process, honed from decades of experience as a painter, photographer, and multi-media composer. I started in the 1960's experimenting with layers via painting and with the creation of liquid light multi-media shows for rock artists like Elvin Bishop and the Pointer Sisters. In high school my paintings gained notice, on the cutting edge back then, with one displayed prominently in an exhibition at Bullocks department store in downtown Los Angeles." 

Wilson continues: "I will intuitively in my mind develop a conceptualization of what it is I want to say and express emotionally. I then become one with the process I enter into as a form of koto (becoming, becomingness) meditation. I explore feelings, colors, and then experientially begin the composition, adding colors, superimposing images I know can't be seen visibly, but will add mood, hints, glimpses ... deliberately; my years of experience guide me as I carefully assemble and mix until I get exactly what it is I am looking for."

Regarding Photoshop: "Photoshop for me is too easy, and a tool I became tired of years ago. My current piece about the rat thickening grass is such a work. The layers consist of perhaps 25 different layers, alterations, under-paintings, so to speak. Albeit, some of my works are less complicated like the image of the boat, on Lake Taal, but even that one wasn't a cinch, requiring a surgeon's skill in the editing. Like me, my work is much more complicated than it (I) appear(s) on the surface."

Mentioning haiku: "The same process goes with my haiku: an intuitive yet guided process, almost metaphysical but deliberate as well, a koto meditative process in a continuum of becoming, a becomingness that never ends and in which I am never satisfied with, change being the key and perhaps to an untrained eye, inconsistency, because without continual change, integrity as an artist/writer/poet ceases to be." ~ end

Take a moment and ponder/wander through the remainder of Robert's haiga without rushing; stop to absorb each one in their philosophical construct, in their physical construct, and get to know the inner workings (creative force) of Robert Wilson.