Janet Turner Print Museum

Turner to Feature Modern and Traditional Japanese Print Works During "After Ukiyo-e" Exhibition, Nov. 8-Dec. 14

The Japanese woodblock print has been in existence for centuries. Used for mass-producing art as well as creating books in 17th-20th century Japan, it is what links that country's Ukiyo-e master printmakers with their modern counterparts, according to Cynthia Sexton, guest curator for the Turner's upcoming exhibition, "After Ukiyo-e: Modern Japanese Prints".

"All of the artists in this exhibition produced woodblocks, better know as woodcuts, at the beginning of their careers and many continued using woodcuts exclusively," said Sexton, a graduate of CSU, Chico's Department of Art and Art History and current Adjunct Professor of Art History at CSU, Sonoma. "As time passed, the majority of the modern artists began working in other printmaking methods, but they never quit working in wood entirely."

"After Ukiyo-e: Modern Japanese Prints" features works by modern Japanese artists Sigeru Taniguchi, Kojin Toneyama, Shiko Munakata, and Hiroyuki Tajimi, among others, as well as prints by historic Ukiyo-e artists Hiroshige and Hokusai.

The exhibition runs November 8-December 14 with a free curator's talk and reception taking place Thursday, November 18 at 5:30 p.m. in the Turner gallery.

For this exhibition Sexton selected several Ukiyo-e masterworks from the Turner collection as well as a number of modern, 20th century Japanese prints that had something in common with the Ukiyo-e print movement.

"Most people are aware and may even own copies of the many Japanese Ukiyo-e prints," said Sexton. "Many, however, may not be aware that a number of the early 20th century Japanese artists whose works we will be displaying were as famous as the Ukiyo-e artists of their day."

"The concept for selecting works for the exhibit was for Sexton to look at the beginnings of modern Japanese prints in the 20th century through the filter of the earlier Ukiyo-e print movement," noted Catherine Sullivan, Museum Curator for the Turner.

Thankfully Sexton had quite a few works to select from. Janet Turner, while being a great artist was also an avid collector of print works. She purchased many Japanese prints in her lifetime; some of well-known artists others of obscure artists.

"The late Dr. Turner did not base her acquisitions on artistic reputation, but looked for artistic intent, content, technique an innovation," noted Sullivan.

Including several of the rare master works from the Ukiyo-e era, 27 artworks were culled by Sexton from the Turner's collection of more than 3,000 prints; these works will be shown in the Turner Print Museum Gallery, located in Chico State's Meriam Library; an additional 10 works will be displayed in the first floor cases in CSU, Chico's Ayres Hall.

While modern Japanese prints have much in common with the Ukiyo-e prints, the modern Japanese works differ somewhat because they are not bound by the conventions or genre well-known in the Ukiyo-e tradition.

Ukiyo-e (translated it means "floating world pictures") is a term used to describe the prints created in Edo (Tokyo) between the 17th and 20th centuries. Ukiyo-e was very popular in Japan during this time primarily because the works could be mass-produced.

Initially, an artwork, usually a painting, was created by an artisan. For each color of the work other artisans carved intricate woodblocks. Another group of artisans used the woodblocks for the final step in the process – creating the actual print.

Under the supervision of the publishers this system is often known as the "Ukiyo-e Quartet." Later as the movement flourished, more colors were added by brush.

The original subjects of Ukiyo-e works were genres and scenes, in particular activities and scenes from the entertainment district.

"The artists of this period created images derived from the pleasures of society such as theatres, restaurants, teahouses, geisha and courtesans," said Sexton. "During the latter part of this time period, vacation spots, sightseeing trips and national and cultural spots were included as topics."

In addition to not being bound by the conventions of the Ukiyo-e movement, another significant difference between the Ukiyo-e works and those created by the modern Japanese printmakers has to do with the later having greater access to Western culture and art movements than their predecessors; their work reflects Western influences as well as traditional Japanese imagery.

Also the modern Japanese printmakers were not limited to doing just woodcut works; they had a full array of printmaking techniques -- intaglio (metal plate), serigraph (screen print) and lithography (stone) -- available to them.

Featured modern printmakers whose works will be on display during "After Ukiyo-e: Modern Japanese Prints" include Sigeru Taniguchi, Kojin Toneyama, and Shiko Munakata.

Taniguchi began working for a commercial printing company while pursuing art part-time. In 1979 he was awarded a prize at the Japan Art Festival in Osaka. He used the money to purchase a Nikon camera and began to incorporate photographic images into his printmaking. His works are located in various public and private collections throughout the world.

Toneyama graduated from the literature department at Waseda University and later joined an art group in the 1950s. He traveled to Central America in 1963 to collect rubbings of Mayan relief sculptures and eventually stayed. He spent a considerable period of his artistic life in Mexico and was eventually decorated by the Mexican government for his achievements.

Munakata was a self-taught oil painter and print artist. Many of his prints won international prizes during the 1950s and '60s. In 1970 he was presented with the Order of Cultural Merit, Japan's highest artistic honor. Munakata was considered to be a forceful personality and his printmaking could even be described as performative; he worked at great speed, succumbing – as he put it –"to the power of the board, which held forms waiting to be released by him," said Sexton.

One of the most well known of the Ukiyo-e prints is Hokusai's "In the Hollow of a Wave Off the Coast at Kanagawa." This iconic, intricate work features a giant tidal wave with angry tentacles of white foam about to swallow up a boat full of people. The Turner has an original copy of this work and it will be on display during the exhibition.

Hokusai, perhaps the greatest of all the Ukiyo-e artists, created art until his death at the age of 89. At the end of his life he had produced more than 30,000 print designs. Hokusai's "In the Hollow of a Wave Off the Coast at Kanagawa" and the series "36 View of Mt. Fuji" are among his best-known prints.

Hiroshige, another Ukyio-e artist whose work will be on display at the Turner, was born the son of a fire warden. He started his career as a woodblock engraver. His fame is based on his landscape designs.

"Hiroshige is best known for his many (over 30) series on the Tokaido, a kind of highway system in ancient Japan connecting Edo and Kyoto," said Sexton. "His compositions were influenced by Western art and in turn had a great impact on French Impressionism."

The modern prints selected for "After Ukiyo-e" have not been displayed in this setting before, noted Sullivan. "This is the first exhibit at Chico State that uses these prints to show their connection to the Ukiyo-e movement."

Sexton said the modern works that will be on display show a variety of print techniques, artistic styles and perceptions/subject matter of the early 20th century Japanese artists while at the same time connecting in some way with the Ukiyo-e works.

"I hope people who view this exhibition will be able to understand how modern Japanese artists, while verbally denying their links to Ukiyo-e, were in fact conditioned to create works that were based on an ingrained cultural heritage, the woodblock print," she said.