Japan Table of Contents

Outstanding among the contemporary arts for vitality and originality are the works of the creative printmakers, which have brought worldwide recognition. The twentieth-century Japanese print evolved from the Western idea of a single artist's conceiving, executing, and producing one individual work. In contrast, the classic ukiyo-e (floating world art) print approach was of a team production by an artist designer, craftsman carver, colorist, printer, and publisher, who promoted sales of multiple copies. The modern print movement so stressed the creative process that even in the 1980s, editions of prints were seldom very large and were apt to differ in color or even design elements from one printing to the next.

In the late twentieth century, a broad spectrum of artistic styles from traditional to experimental was practiced in a multiplicity of media and techniques. Munakata Shiko, a major force in gaining recognition for creative printmaking, drew deeply on Japanese artistic sources, from folk art to Zen poetry-paintings, combining kanji with free-floating Chagall-like figures. He influenced many other celebrated print artists who drew on folk art and used natural earth and mineral colors to depict traditional village scenes and lively local festivals. Artists such as Sekino Jun'ichiro and Saito Kiyoshi were inspired to update famous views, as of the Tokaido, while others played with traditional themes derived from sumo, the theater, or geisha. At the opposite pole are the works of the abstractionists, the exponents of all the "isms" of the day, and the experimental essays of some consummate designers. Most avant-garde artists worked in mixed media, often using engraving techniques with silk-screened colors or monochromatic metal prints with soldered wires. They experimented freely with photomontage, photo-prints made with an electric scanner, and lithographs. Photography as an art form came into its own in the 1980s, and major international exhibitions displayed the stunning products of artist photographers such as Namikawa Banri, Kurigama Kazumi, and Hashi. In the 1980s, a trend among many young printmakers was toward the use of black and white for somber, often superrealistic, themes, captured with exquisite technical and artistic precision.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress