Saturday, June 13, 2009

Making their Mark: Japanese Prints by sosaku hanga artists, 1930-80

Through July 18th, I am showcasing a group of 25 woodblock prints and print folios by a group of 18 artists who were part of the modern Japanese print movement known as sosaku hanga, or the 'creative print' movement. The sosaku hanga movement started in the very early years of the 20th century. Sosaku hanga artists rejected the techniques and prescribed content of traditional ukiyo-e prints. They were interested in exploring their own individual artistic expression rather than following in the footsteps of a teacher, or catering to the commercial motivations ukiyo-e publishers. These artists instead, looked around, and took subjects from their surroundings: a view out a kitchen window, a pet cat, or these peaches.

These artists also believed that everyone could be a printmaker - and in the beginning years, it seemed everyone was. Encouraged by each other, or a bona fide artist-friend (often a painter-turned-printmaker), or even by the general wave of interest in 'individualism' sweeping through Japanese society at the time, hundreds of neophyte printmakers tried their hand at carving and printing. Some produced only a handful of images. For others it was the beginning of decades-long printmaking careers.

This period, particularly sosaku hanga produced before WWII, I am finding to be one of my favorite periods and styles. I like it because of its emphasis on urban life, and the glimpse it gives into an emerging Japanese modern graphic style. I also love the challenge of tracking down some of these obscure artists, or finding early work by artists who are better known for their later prints. Truth be told, there are some bad sosaku hanga; when everyone thinks that they are an artist, there are bound to be some dogs in the final heap. But there are also so many fine prints that emerged from this period. I've enjoyed pulling together what I hope you will think is a good group. You can see the whole show here.

prints illustrated top to bottom: Peaches, 1925, by Tomoo Inagaki (1902-1980); Mars, 1968 &
Morning of New Year's Day, Ginza, 1958, both by Toshi Yoshida (1911-1995)

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