For the past 6 years I have had the honor of working with the College Women’s Association of Japan on their annual exhibition of hanga – Japanese contemporary prints. This year is no exception. Featuring 195 prints by 181 artists, including the foremost printmakers in the field as well as 32 debut artists,  the show gives viewers a real taste of the breadth of work being made. The prints span the full range of different printmaking techniques, from traditional woodblock to intaglio to silkscreen, as well as variety of subject matter.

Since the inception of the Print Show in 1956, CWAJ has worked tirelessly to produce one of the most prestigious hanga shows, using the proceeds to fund their respected scholarship program. What I find even more extraordinary than the artwork itself is the strength of the commitment that has kept an exhibition of this size and stature running by an entirely volunteer organization for 55 years.

In discussing the prints below, I have left family names in all capital letters (a CWAJ convention to avoid name confusion) and titles in parenthesis are English translations.

While some artists are more local names, many are well-known abroad including Yuji HIRATSUKA. His print TRADERS is my favorite one of his since Rock Around the Clock from Print Show 2006. What really stands out is the layered texture and color detail of his intaglio/chine collé technique – her skirt just makes me want to get up and dance!

The perennially popular  Daniel Kelly returns to koi fish in his offering WHATS UP for this year’s show. I love the perspective and the narrow elongated form of his piece. Not all makers of hanga are Japanese – Daniel Kelly is an American artist who has been living and working in Kyoto for years.

For those wanting traditional woodblock prints with the old sōsaku hanga feel, look no further than two of the best (and more expensive) prints in the show. Akira KUROSAKI’s best print in years, Eight Views of Omi “Descending Geese at Katata” is a direct play on Hiroshige’s famous series while Isamu MORISHIMA’s The Moon at Musashi Plain makes me feel as if it could be 1920 filtered through a modern-day lens.

In contrast, a new gritty, almost photographic direction is taken by Kin-ichi MAKI in Which way to go 1 and Tadanori YOKOO (Soul and Body Intersected)

Looking to buy a print that is good for the environment? In addition to being beautiful, Atsuhiko MUSASHI’s BLIND FLOWERS 10-FEB is a green print. His technique, polymer intaglio, is non-toxic and does not require acid to etch the image, instead using a photosensitive polymer plate.

Highlighted in the 2007 Show, Keisuke YAMAMOTO’s dramatic monochrome prints, like Staircase D at left, sold out. This year he has submitted two prints on a completely different theme – almost romantic views of Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto – one in snow and the other in spring. While his topic has changed, his painterly command of the lithographic process has not. That is why they are “almost romantic”, as the preciseness of his technique keeps them from being at all saccharine.

If you are looking for a nostalgic print, Takeyoshi NAKAYAMA’s (Night before Gion Festival[Sugimoto Residence] ) is one of his most charming in years.  The soft rose tones of the lantern make it a perfect piece for a daughter going away to college or setting up her first apartment.

Another good “old Japan” choice is Noboru YAMATAKA’s traditional woodcut (Kabukiza Theater) as they will soon be knocking the theater down. Kill two birds with one stone and own both a piece of art and a piece of history.

My favorite newcomers include Mio OHMORI (Flower in water-Standing) as I am a sucker for its watery lavender thistles or the abstract expressionism of Eiji OBA’s (Blue and Black-101).

Another print close to my heart is Nature story-(heaven) by the Young Printmaker Award winner Kyung Sun KIM as I was the co-chair of the YPA committee this year. Evaluating student artwork and their grant proposals is a joy, as the level of the work has been so high. The scanned photo below doesn’t begin to do justice to the color and detail in this woodcut, nor does it suggest how large it is (100cm x 150cm). It is a very small edition of 3, so I imagine it will be gone by the end of the Donor and Artist Reception Thursday night.

My guess on what will sell out? The catalog cover print, Onbu by Sohee KIM, and not simply because it is the cover print and only an edition of 15.  For Kim, the image represents “the burden she [the figure] is feeling from the overwhelming affection and expectations of her family and friends.” Affection and expectations? Well she might see it that way, but every woman I know has had an absolutely visceral response to what they see as an amazingly huge (but beautiful) pile of laundry.

I could write about every print in the show, but neither space nor time allow.  The 55th CWAJ Print Show opens to the public in Tokyo on Friday, October 15 (10a.m.-8p.m.), Saturday, October 16 (11a.m.-6p.m.) and Sunday, October (11a.m. –5p.m.) at the Tokyo American Club. Free admission. Membership is not required for attendance. I’ll be working as a docent on Friday morning until 1:30 and Sunday until 2p.m. Please stop by – this is a don’t miss event!! The following weekend it travels to the Kobe Club, so if you live in the Kansai region you can catch it there.

Interested in working on the Print Show? Join CWAJ and get started.  Volunteers are needed for returning day in November and that will give you a chance to actually touch and see the work close up.

Image Credits: All images except #9 from the 55th CWAJ Print Show catalogue. Image #9 form the 52nd CWAJ Print Show catalogue.