From the early twentieth century, the Library of Congress has collected Japanese graphic art. The Library's substantial collection is particularly strong in woodblock prints from the Shin Hanga and Sôsaku Hanga movements that dominated Japanese printmaking through the 1960s.
Shin Hanga, or "new prints," were produced in the time-honored way of Ukiyo-e woodblocks, with a publisher commissioning designs from the artist and the actual carving of the woodblocks and printing being done by professional artisans. Shin Hanga prints often refer to traditional subjects, such as landscapes and beautiful women.
The overriding concern of artists in the Sôsaku Hanga, or "creative prints" movement is toward the new and original. Sôsaku Hanga artists are involved in the entire printmaking process and design, cut, color, and print their own works either personally or by direct supervision. The selection on display here focuses on Sôsaku Hanga prints and ends with an example of contemporary Japanese printmaking which builds on traditions of Ukiyo-e.
A Modern Classic
One of the premier Shin Hanga (new prints) artists, Hashiguchi Goyô (1880-1921) studied at the Hakuba-kai (Western Painting Institute) and the Tokyo School of Art. His interest in Ukiyo-eis clear in this woodblock print of a beauty. The image, which recalls the work of both Kitagawa Utamaro (1750-1806) and Jean-Auguste-Domique Ingres (1780-1876), depicts a nude--a Western convention--using traditional Ukiyo-e techniques.
This Sôsaku Hanga (creative print) still life by Sekino Jun'ichirô (1914-1988) invokes a multitude of associations, including the depiction of shells and sea creatures common in pre-nineteenth-century Japanese art; surrealism; and the treatment of natural forms by such artists as Georgia O'Keefe. Sekino is also known for his treatment of subjects related to the kabuki and bunraku (puppet) theaters. During the late 1950s and 1960s, he taught and made prints at various universities and studios in the U.S., including the Pratt Graphic Center in New York and Tamarind Studio in New Mexico.
Inspired by climbing trips to the mountains of Japan, creative print artist Azechi Umetarô (1902-1999) embarked on creating a series of prints dealing with mountains and mountain people. His aesthetic defies easy definition, suggesting naive and folk-like imagery, as well as geometric modernism.
Creative print artist Hagiwara Hideo (b. 1913) began to explore abstraction in 1958, the year before this work was made. He is renowned for his innovative and experimental printmaking techniques, including incising fine lines into his woodblocks, seen here in the swirling background patterns. In the abstract print entitled Circus Horses, the artist creates a highly dimensional image using layers of woodblock-printed pigments and a very subtle dusting of ground mica.
Interpretation of the Apostles
Munakata Shikô (1903-1975) is well known for his black-and-white prints, which always contain religious or literary narratives. Inspired by a theme--in this case a Christian one--Munakata carved his designs directly on the block with a knife, working as a painter does with a brush on canvas in an improvised and expressionistic manner. Close inspection reveals marks in the figure's hands, feet, and side evocative of the stigmata, the wounds of the crucified Christ.
The Library of Congress
This print of the Library of Congress was created by Hiratsuka Un'ichi (1895-1997), one of the leaders of the Creative Print Movement in the 1920s and 1930s in Japan. He moved to the United States in 1962 and spent the second half of his life as an artist in the Washington, D.C., area. This print shows the "tsukubori" woodcarving technique created by Hiratsuka, which produces jagged edges instead of smooth lines. The artist's daughter, Keiko Hiratsuka Moore, reports, "This print of the Library's Jefferson Building was one of his favorite creations."
The work of Keiji Shinohara (b. 1955), as exemplified in this highly sculptural landscape print, updates and personalizes the spirit of Ukiyo-e.Shinohara first studied the traditional woodblock technique of Ukiyo-e in his native Japan. Unlike Ukiyo-e artists of the past, Shinohara shepherds the creative process through from start to finish and has made each impression of this print unique through variant inking and printing. Shortly after attaining the status of master printer in 1981, Shinohara moved to the United States, where he continues to promote the art form through his own work, teaching, and collaborating with artists such as Sean Scully, Balthus, and Chuck Close.