Sōsaku-hanga Creative Prints
Summary of Sōsaku-hanga Creative Prints
Prior to the 20th century, printmaking in Japan had been largely relegated to the commercial process of ukiyo-e woodblocks in which an artist would work with carvers, printers, and publishers to create highly reproducible works of art glamorizing traditional subjects. With the arrival of the Mejii Period in 1868, Japanese artists became exposed to Western influences, spurring the sōsaku-hanga, or "creative prints,' art movement. Prints were transformed from cheap products made for the masses into original works of high art created by an artist that emphasized his or her individual voice and perspective while incorporating modern techniques and styles. Sōsaku-hanga's emergence was concurrent with Yōga, a painting movement also influenced by Western art ideals. The emergence of both, with their impetus toward creative self-expression, was responsible for establishing the new avant-garde in Japan.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- In contrast to its sister movement shin-hanga, which was an evolved contemporary form of ukiyo-e, sōsaku-hanga artists were solely involved in the printmaking process from design to finished project. They advocated that art should be self-drawn, self-carved, and self-printed.
- Although many sōsaku-hanga artists departed from historical Japanese art methods and materials through the introduction of perspective or by adopting from Western movements such as Folk Art, Naturalism, Expressionism, or Abstraction, they did so while still paying homage to decidedly Japanese subjects and traditions.
- Sōsaku-hanga's principles contributed to a new intellectual discussion of the "self" that was taking place in the Japanese cultural arena. Its artwork sat side by side with this new discourse in magazines and societies that grew during this time.
- With the rebirth of Japan after World War II, sōsaku-hanga became a strong part of the country's economic reconstruction as American patronage aimed to promote a more Democratic art. Much of the movement's prints at this time became more abstract and were viewed as an authentic blend of East and West.
- Sōsaku-hanga helped elevate the print from a work seen prior as a cheap advertising tool, or lowly form of artistic output for the commoner, to a valid medium for fine art. This elevation made a major contribution to today's proliferation of artist prints as credible forms of high art.
Overview of Sōsaku-hanga Creative Prints
In 1868, the onset of the Mejii Period in Japan brought about new open trade borders with the West, causing a countrywide rush toward modernity that affected all areas of society. Many Western teachers were imported to impart education in science and art in order to elevate Japan as an equal peer with the rest of the world. Many Japanese artists began to shake up what they viewed as the country's staid art traditions by adopting fresh styles and techniques from Western art movements and marrying them with aesthetics that were still decidedly Japanese toward creating a contemporary lexicon.
Important Art and Artists of Sōsaku-hanga Creative Prints
This groundbreaking print shows an aged fisherman, wearing a somewhat worn looking ceremonial robe, as he stands on an elevated spot overlooking the simple huts on the edge of the harbor. The fisherman is seen in profile with his face turned away from the viewer, contemplating the sea as he holds his pipe. The rough gouges of the wood carving create the swirling folds of his robe, the straw pilings on which he stands, the gritty worn feel of the village, and the sea framed by the dark lines of mountains or clouds on the horizon. Retaining the traces left by the chisel, the work is unmistakably modern, in its poignant and expressionistic feeling.
Kanae was originally trained in wood and printing techniques before he began studying Yōga at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts, and this work combines both aspects of his training, as the innovative treatment of the block creates the shadow and depth of a Western-influenced naturalism. The gouges on the surface convey both the harshness and dignity of the fisherman's life.
By eschewing the traditional collaborative process that had been previously established for woodblock prints, and lending the scene a sense of individual artistic expression, this piece launched sôsaku-hanga and also established the movement's divergence from the smoothly finished prints of ukiyo-e and shin-hanga.
This print, depicting the deck of a boat in flat broad planes of orange and yellow with a blue speckled deck, focuses on the stylized figure of a woman, wearing a full length white robe, also flecked with blue, her back turned toward the viewer. The horizontal lines of the background contrast with her curvilinear form, emphasized by the black curve of her hair, and her left, unrealistically accentuated shoulder and arm. A subtle counterpoint of color is created by her orange sash, echoing the color of the lower horizontal band and the right edge of the railing, and by the variations in the blue and white pattern that pools on deck and surrounds her figure like ocean spray.
This work with its color palette and stylized lines brought the influence of Post-Impressionism and Art Nouveau to sōsaku-hanga, while retaining the simplified elements and composition of a Japanese print. The artistic process of carving the woodblock is retained here, giving the work its spontaneous and modern feel, and distinguished sōsaku-hanga's approach from the finished surfaces of both shin-hanga and ukiyo-e.
This print was groundbreaking in Japan, being the first abstract work, and that firmly connected the sōsaku-hanga movement to the modern avant-garde. This early print combined printing from both carved sides of the block in order to create the unfolding shape, which opens organically from overlying curves of red, outlined in flaring lines of white and red tones. The white shape draws the viewer's eye to the print's center, with its simultaneous organic and geometric vibrancy, highlighted by the four asymmetrical red crescents placed within it.
Onchi's innovative printing process created a composition of multiple prints, overlaying one another, so that multiple perspectives were displayed in a single image. Rather than viewing printing as a reproduction technique to create multiple images of a single block, he focused on the single print as an image composed of multiple blocks or impressions. Even though he was to also create figurative works throughout his career, Onchi said in that abstract art was the "true sphere" of art, and that abstraction was not an imposition of Western influence but a return to the abstract in Japanese art from its ancient beginnings.
Useful Resources on Sōsaku-hanga Creative Prints
- Koshiro Onchi, 1891-1955: WoodcutsBy Koshiro Onchi
- Onchi Koshiro: The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, January 13 - February 28, 2016By Tohru Matusmoto and Koshiro Onchi, et al.
- Hanga: Japanese Creative PrintsBy Chiaki Ajioka, Noriko Kuwahara, and Junko Nishiyama
- Japan's modern prints - Sosaku HangaOur PickBy Oliver Statler and Margaret Gentles
- Japan's Modern Prints - Sōsaku HangaBy Art Institute of Chicago
- How Japan's Master Printer Merged Modern Graphic Art and Buddhism: A new exhibition at Ronin Gallery examines Shiko Munakata's interest in Buddhist history.Our PickBy DJ Pangburn / Vice.com / March 3, 2017
- Japanese Woodblock Artist Un'ichi Hiratsuka Dies at 102Washington Post / December 6, 1997
- Holy Shit, These Japanese Woodblock Prints of Famous World Landmarks Are IncredibleBy Beverly Brian / The landscape prints of world-traveling printmaker Hiroshi Yoshida are on view at Ronin Gallery. / January 27, 2017