N. S. Harsha, Shy Monkey -Twilight- (2017). Woodblock print on washi paper. 31.7 x 22 cm .© N. S. Harsha. Courtesy The Adachi Institute of Woodcut Prints. Makoto Wada, Marilyn Monroe (1979). 30.3 x 23.6 cm. © Wada Makoto. Courtesy The Adachi Institute of Woodcut Prints.
SHOP Taka Ishii Gallery is pleased to present Design + Contemporary Art in Ukiyo-e, from May 22–July 19, 2020, in cooperation with the Adachi Institute of Woodcut Prints. The group exhibition will feature woodblock prints produced from the 1970s to 2010s, created by eight artists, including Ay-O, Atsushi Fukui, N. S. Harsha, Mitsuo Katsui, Hideaki Kawashima, Ikko Tanaka, Makoto Wada, Akira Yamaguchi, with the expert craftsmanship of the Adachi Hanga artisans.
Striving to keep alive the woodcut printing techniques of Japan, the Adachi Institute of Woodcut Prints has collaborated with world-leading artists and designers from Japan and abroad, translating contemporary designs and arts into the visual language of Edo-period Ukiyo-e. The thirteen prints exhibited at SHOP Taka Ishii Gallery will construct an appealing floating world with figures and scenery both familiar and foreign, bringing new heights of imagination.
Ay-O, internationally renowned as 'The Rainbow Artist', has experimented with a variety of mediums, from prints, paintings, sculptures and sensory-engaging installations, known as ‘environments’. The famous rainbow-striped motifs developed in the mid-1960s is part of his avant-garde activities against the use of lines. From red to purple, Ay-O filled his works with different gradations until the present day. In his 1982 collaborative woodcut print, Ay-O turned the classic ukiyo-e motif of Mt. Fuji into a fantasy landscape, where ribbon-like lava bursts in rainbow colour, floating gracefully in the sky.
Atsushi Fukui’s oeuvre often expresses an air of tranquillity through fragmented imagery. A clump of mushrooms, a young girl in the woods, an ancient scene, the vast, starry expanse of the universe, when viewed side by side, Fukui’s paintings tempt the viewer into believing that they are somehow connected mythologically. Yet what emerges from these images is not a concrete narrative, but a newfound sense of perspective, as the viewer embarks on a journey from antiquity to modernity, from the minute to the unimaginably expansive. The woodcut print Lunar Eclipse (2014) represents another Fukui’s utopian vision, a free-spirited girl walking towards the crescent moon up above the sky. It is a vision that transcends time and space.
Drawing from his Indian heritage and armed with a unique take on the use of colour, N.S. Harsha breathes new life into the traditional art of Japanese woodcut printing. Interested in the representation of animals in Ukiyo-e, Harsha created the series of 'Shy Monkey' (2017), in which a bashful monkey covers its eyes with one hand as it points to the sky with the other, seemingly to guide the viewer on a spiritual journey. The Raid (2017) depicts an elephant, commonly believed in India to be an incarnation of the Hindu God Ganesh, as it relentlessly charges forward, leaving behind rows of trampled chairs in its wake. These two pieces are lively depictions of the absurd and the breakdown of worldly order, and Harsha’s light, airy palette adds to their whimsical charm.
Mitsuo Katsui has been a leading figure in Japanese graphic design, as well as a pioneer in digital design, who used technologies to further his expression of 'ikizama', or forms of life. When he was a student, he had a strong interest in colour contrast, gradation, light and shade in photography. Over half a century, Katsui’s works centred on the phenomenon of light, which is translated into colours in many of his designs. In 1968, the master created a comprehensive colour sample book DIC Color Guide. The woodcut prints series 'Closed Forms II' (1979) presents how Katsui experimented monochrome gradation, creating abstract graphics with geometric compositions.
Hideaki Kawashima’s creations touch upon themes of spirituality, mythical narratives, anxiety, depression, and isolation—all in an unapologetically monochromatic or minimalist palette. Critics speculate that the androgynous and sensuous figures that inhabit these works are versions of self-portraits. The artist, however, insists that his works are more like 'painting a character', as opposed to the 'ideological' act of self-portraiture. Wind (2013) is Kawashima’s first attempt in making woodblock print, which features his iconic female figure with flaming hair executed in yellow-red gradations, lying against a lime-cream colour background.
Ikko Tanaka, known as the father of contemporary design, develops a timeless style by infusing ancient Japanese art elements into Modern simplicity. Through his vision, forms appropriated from traditional ukiyo-e forms are reduced into universal abstract patterns, kanji characters are transformed into effective graphic tools. The series of 'Ropes' (1979) enlarges and features different forms of Japanese knots in urban and rural settings. By eliminating everything useless and superfluous, Tanaka’s minimalistic, bold, colourful designs strive to achieve universal aesthetic value.
Makoto Wada‘s graphic designs are testimonies of the blooming magazine-related media industry in post-war Japan. The Osaka-born illustrator persistently worked on personal subjects across different commercial projects, his simple caricature-like body of works reflect a unique artistic taste and a strong influence of film and jazz music. Depicting Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart, Jean-Louis Barrault and Marilyn Monroe in highly stylised form, Wada’s series of 'Six Stars on the Screen' (1979) is an attempt to modernise 'Yakusha-e', a genre that used to feature famous actors in the Edo-period.
Characterised by a style of traditional Japanese painting, Akira Yamaguchi‘s works equally demonstrate excellent Western oil painting techniques such as perspective and shading. Embodying a unique sense of humour, his creative expressions of birds-eye-view cityscapes and battlefield paintings, sculpture, manga and installation are imaginary, comedic fusions of past and present. The series of 'New Sights of Tokyo' (2012, 2014) is a contemporary take on 'meisho-e', which are ukiyo-e prints of famous views.
Press release courtesy SHOP Taka Ishii Gallery.