Friday, 2 October 2015

Japanese Prints and Their Place in the World - A Personal Appreciation by Alex Faulkner

Yoshitaki, Bando Hikosaburo and Arashi Rikan, 1850
It is five years since Toshidama Gallery made the decision to open an online, virtual exhibition space on the internet. In that time we have had nearly fifty dedicated and themed exhibitions, we have published even more 'catalogues' on subjects ranging from The Chushingura to David Bowie. We have written hundreds of thousands of published words on our Gallery site, on our Wordpress site and on this blogger site. We have shown and sold hundreds and hundreds of Japanese prints to hundreds of different clients. Most pleasingly has been the feedback, the personal meetings, the relationships made with clients and the interviews and articles in other forums and offline, real world publications.

Kunisada, Enjoyments of Beauties, 1863
 What I have noticed is the enthusiasm of visual artists and those involved in the tech’ industries for the world of Japanese woodblock prints. I have no idea whether this is because in the case of people in information technology, the woodblock prints illustrate a world where there is visual order, where the components are divided across the page and the narrative is ordered into chunks of time and chunks of data. As far as contemporary visual artists are concerned, there is an obvious pleasure and delight in the extraordinary inventiveness of the printmakers, the designs, the colour and the bending of such a rigid medium into such fluid and extraordinary ends.

Yoshitora, 53 Stations, 1872
The world of Japanese prints remains niche. It is a lamentably under resourced, under funded and unrecognised as an  area of research. Most publications continue to be written by committed amateurs and without the work of outstanding individuals such as Roger Keyes, there would be no catalogue raisonnĂ© of any of the greatest artists from Japan in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Despite the continuing popularity of prints such as Hokusai’s Great Wave, or his many depictions of Mount Fuji, the myriad other masterpieces of Japanese art fail to find a place in the pantheon of overly reproduced contemporary images. Recent exhibitions in England have tended to focus on Shunga, the one genre of Japanese art that people never fail to respond to, albeit with sniggers and some embarrassment.

Kunisada, Sumiyoshi Dancers, 1820
 For me, the best, and even the not so outstanding Japanese prints are vital and great pieces of art. They are also the repository of the soul of the Japanese peasant and the merchant class that they were to become. The myths, stories, superstitions and cultural framework of a whole people are enshrined in these marvellous and magical narratives. In 2013, I wrote about the idea of these great characters from Japan’s mythos as archetypes from the Jungian universe. The lusts, disappointments, dreams, successes, failures and imagination of these characters and their stories talk to all of us; the myths of Japan are universal and vital and they have their home in the kabuki plays of Edo and the woodblock prints of the same period.

The influence of Japanese prints on art and design in Europe and America is another theme that I have returned to repeatedly over the last few years. The astonishing, and scandalously unacknowledged influence on Japanese culture on the architechture of Frank Lloyd Wright and the modernists that would follow his example was featured in a post over on our Wordpress site. The still underestimated influence of Japanese prints on western avante garde painting and design is something else that the Toshidama Gallery has worked hard to correct. There are lots of publications that look at 'Japonisme' and the minor stylistic influence that ukiyo-e had on Degas and van Gogh for example. What is still not widely stated is the profound shift that the Japanese socialisation of art had on the painters and printmakers of Europe in the nineteenth century and later. 

Toshihide, Portraits of Sansho, 1893
We are celebrating five years of the Toshidama Gallery with an overview of all the exhibitions we have held so far: Five Years of Toshidama Gallery Online.  All the prints pictured here are available to buy in this exhibition. We are in the process of relocating the office and gallery. I hope that you will visit Toshidama Gallery, continue to read our posts and to also join our mailing list. There will be some changes ahead also for our online presence as we continue to grow and develop. Our next show of original prints will be in early December following our relocation. I hope sincerely that you find time to enjoy the changing colours of the autumn, wherever you are.

Alex Faulkner
Director Toshidama Gallery.

Kunichika, 36 Views of the Eastern Capital - Yashamitagomon, 1864