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Graphics
in the
Modern Japanese
Print

Kasai Masahiro, Baie de Manza (I), 2001, silkscreen, 23/50, gift of the Artist

Graphics in the Modern Japanese Print

 

March 26th - May 21st, 2005

Curator: Dr. Ilana Singer

 

In the mid-19th century, when Japan opened its gates to the West, the Japanese were exposed to a completely different culture from their own. Initially, this encounter was conducive to a certain sense of abnegation in Japan in regard to anything that was considered as western, but after a period of absorption the novelty of western art was accepted and integrated, and a new and original art form was created.

 

Modern Japanese art is cosmopolitan, especially because of the speed at which information can now be acquired, and because the artists move about the world to international exhibitions in which they participate. - No more classic woodblock prints of the floating world (ukiyo-e), usually motifs from the establishment - kabuki actors, views, portraits of beautiful pleasure girls, birds and flowers - that had predominated from the 17th century until the end of the 19th century. From now on, abstractions and occasional figurative works depict the artist's inner world. The streams and modes of western art have also introduced surrealist visual images and pop art into the Japanese print.

 

Just as Japanese art changed on encountering the print techniques of the West, so the graphic medium was also modified. New techniques that came to Japan, like silkscreen, etching, engraving and lithography, were combined with the long and noble history of traditional woodblock printing and stencil, techniques that were no longer unique and predominant. The changes did not just concern technique, however. Japanese artists have integrated the actual printing technique into their artistic expression. The sharp distinction between designing and carving of the traditional woodblock print and the printing itself has disappeared. Nowadays, many artists use western paper instead of handmade Japanese paper for their prints. Nor are they restricted to the standard formats - the oban (25 x 37 cm.), chuban (21 x 28 cm.), hosaban (14 x 34 cm.), hashira-e

(12 x 75 cm.) etc.

 

Most of the prints in the exhibition were made in the 1970s and 1980s. Characteristically, they present geometric and abstractionist spaces by means of lines and splashes of colour that convey refinement and harmony. In many there are also fine gradations of colour, and the careful and precise techniques that the Japanese artists used for the traditional woodblock prints are also evident.

 

Groups of prints are distinguishable in the exhibition: those in which geometric forms predominate, a rectangle or square defined by clear outlines and bands of colour, horizontal, vertical, or wavy; works with patches of colour like brushstrokes; and works with abstract forms, in which use has essentially been made of basic colours. The gradations of colour are created with great skill, often with a restrained tonality, recalling the works of prominent artists of the past. The range of colours and how they flow into each other endow the works with a lyric sensitivity that is echoed by their titles - Tanaka Kyoshi's "Improvisation", Suzuki Yuji's "Still Landscape" among others.

 

The modern graphic art of Japan has undergone many permutations and now has an international quality, but the impress of their tradition is deeply engrained in Japanese artists. It can be recognized in the refinement, aestheticism, purity and great technical skill of their works.

 
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