I have a soft spot for Japanese art, be it brush painting, metal work, puppets, or prints. So when I saw that a special exhibit of Japanese woodblock prints would be at the Citadelle Museum in Canadian this spring, I made a mental note. Things worked out that my parents and I were able to go up there (90 minute or so drive) this past Friday, and it was worth the drive. Canadian is tucked away in the northeast corner of the Panhandle, and is one of those places that’s off the beaten track for most travel. The art museum is . . . a small gem, and you never know what will be there. Alphonse Mucha, Rembrandt sketches, art photography by Ansel Adams and others, Degas and Friends, hats from around the world . . . Plus the main museum with the permanent collection.
This time, the art was by seven modern masters of shin hanga, or “new style” woodblock prints. Some were derived from older works and reflected the style of masters like Hiroshige, while others tried to catch more impressionistic styles but using the woodblock medium. One, by Ito Shinsui entitled “Before the Thunderstorm” was especially impressive, catching grasses and plants bowing to the wind as a storm came in over faintly visible mountains or a cliff. Very Japanese, but also very Impressionist, and very good.
A more traditional, but not traditional work by Shinsui:
One difference between the “new style” artists and the more traditional woodblock artists was how they depicted women. Often they are more naturalistic, and show women of the working class, or women with tanned (by Japanese standards) faces and without makeup. There are more traditional depictions as well, because those sold, just like the kabuki actor prints sold. A few prints included embossed details, like one of two ducks in the water. A water lily had been embossed after printing, adding texture to the image. Others had a faint shimmer of mica added as a print layer.
One interesting contrast was a depiction of the Taj Mahal, drawn by a British artist, but done as a woodblock and sold in Japan by the major shin hanga and ukiyo-e printer, Watanabe.
The exhibition began with some background into the “new style” movement of the late 1800s-early 1900s, and a video about how Japanese woodblock prints were and are done. A few items of clothing and a sewing kit from Japan added context. The text with the art was excellent, good if you were familiar with the genre and time, but also good if the viewer is new to this type of visual art.
The exhibition will be in Canadian until April 26. If you are in the area Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM, I suggest you stop by. There are other things to do in Canadian, and good restaurants and an excellent coffee shop.
I love the first print – it reminds me of the Toshi Yoshida prints that I bought while stationed in Japan. A vendor of prints had a regular spot at the monthly bazaar held in the NCO club, and the unframed prints were available for a rather reasonable price. I have them hanging on the walls of my house now. After the tour in Greenland, I had enough money to pay for them being professionally matted and framed.
I love the Shin Hanga school of prints, and over-indulged in them about 8 -10 years ago when I found that some very good ones were available on EBay at reasonable prices. Not so much anymore. 😦
In researching the history of the Shin Hanga style, I read an interesting analysis that highlighted the cross-cultural aspects of Japanese prints and European art. The author noted the appearance of Ukiyo-e prints in Europe in the 1870s fed into the rejection of the Salon paintings and the rise of the Impressionists, and that the European art magazines which brought the Impressionist art to Japan in the late 1800s likely inspired the classical Shin Hanga artists of the early and mid 20th Century.
I know that my favorite works have an Imptessionistic feel to them, combined with the traditional Japanese accuracy of depiction.
John in Indy
Many years ago I snuck away from the conference I was attending to view an exhibition of over 100 woodblock prints from the artist Hokusai (famous for his Great Wave off Kanagawa). Still one of my favorite memories.