Philadelphia artist brings modern touch to traditional Japanese house and garden

Aaron Mannino with his art installation at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden. DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Aaron Mannino with his art installation at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden. DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: June 19, 2012

AFTER GRADUATING from the Tyler School of Art in 2007, Aaron Mannino found himself at a standstill. He had a lot of time, a lot of experience and a lot of vision — but no outlet to express it.

He then realized he could try to combine what he loves with a place he loves: the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Fairmount Park.

Mannino had first come to the house for a tea ceremony during college, and he eventually realized a lot of his artistic ideas were stemming from things he had picked up on while there.

This is clear when observing Mannino's current installation, "The Way Home," part of the artist's six-part "Shofuso Colors" exhibition now displayed at the Japanese House. Planted near the entry of the garden stand doors, the instillation is aligned in the manner of a folding screen. "The shape is something very distinctly Japanese, but I wanted to make it out of something very distinctly Western," said Mannino.

The doors are each painted a color reflective of something natural found at Shofuso. One door is painted a pinkish hue, representing the famous Japanese "Cherry Blossom pink," while another is painted a vibrantly golden yellow to mimic one of the many koi fish in the garden's pond. "Aaron is really synthesizing East and West here," said Kim Andrews, executive director of the Shofuso House, who helped to bring Mannino's vision alive.

Mannino's passion for Japanese culture started when he was 12, and continued to blossom as he grew older. "My first encounter was with film, and it bubbled up from there," he said. "When I was in art school, I got to explore what was then just a crush on Japan. It became an authentic romance."

Besides Mannino's keen sense for Japanese culture, most notable about his installation is how it integrates into the setting. The Shofuso House is an extremely traditional place. And bringing Mannino's work added more than a splash of color — it added a splash of modernism. "We have never used Shofuso like this before," said Andrews. "We've never had art installations in the garden. We've never had a contemporary artist working at the site, certainly not one who has used the site as its inspiration." n

Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, Lansdowne and Horticultural drives, West Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, (215) 878-5097, shofuso.com.

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