Renewal and Revision | Art Review
The Smart Museum of Art presents Japanese prints from the postwar era.
Think of a Japanese print, and the image that most likely springs to mind is the rolling wave from Hokusai’s series “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” (circa 1831–33). That traditional style of woodcut, with its brilliant colors and linear forms, influenced European printmaking from the 1870s through the mid-20th century. But “Renewal and Revision,” a small exhibition at the University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art, suggests that Japanese printmakers after World War II were influenced in turn by European modernists like Picasso and the German Expressionist Erich Heckel.
Most of the 20 or so prints derive from the Japanese tradition of cutting an image into a woodblock, inking it and printing by hand. Yet there are important stylistic differences in the modern prints. Munakata Shiko’s Goyu, Station Thirty-Six (1964) depicts figures in a landscape, but the forms are stark and angular, like a scene from an Expressionist film. Face (no date) by Kawano Kaori plays dramatically with the heavy grain of the woodblock. And Hagiwara Hideo’s Fantasy in Red (pictured, 1962) is a purely abstract pattern of roughly cut rectangles and lines.
Aside from experimenting with modern formal conventions, Japanese printmakers began to design and create prints themselves, like their European counterparts, rather than dividing the work among craftsmen. This sense of individuality encouraged artists like Saito Kiyoshi to exhibit his work internationally, winning a prize at the 1951 São Paolo Biennial—and illustrating how printmaking has connected artists across times and cultures.