So once again it is that time of year. Starting on Friday, October 19th and running through the weekend, the College Women’s Association of Japan‘s annual exhibition and sale of modern Japanese hanga is on at the Tokyo American Club. Admission is free and open to everyone. Tokyo American Club members can also attend a pre-sale on Thursday night from 8-9 pm. Whether you go every year or this is your first time, I recommend that you do not miss this show. It is a chance to view and purchase top quality original art, whether you are looking for a souvenir of time in Japan, are a serious art collector or are simply tired of looking at your bare white walls. If you are not familiar with the history of Japanese printmaking I recommend that you read my Hanga 101 primer for history and context.

Featuring 201 prints by 200 artists, including the foremost printmakers in the field as well as 42 debut artists, the show gives viewers a real taste of the breadth of print work being created today. The prints span the full range of different printmaking techniques, from traditional woodblock to intaglio to silkscreen, as well as variety of subject matter. This year a newcomer to the show graces the cover, which is a rare event and it inspired me to highlight prints by artists appearing for the first time this year. Some are young, recent graduates of Japanese art programs, while many others have been working in their medium for sometime and have only recently applied and/or been admitted to the show, which is the case for YOSHIDA Hideshi and his dramatic cover print, The Strength to Destroy This Restraint. Reading like a mini sci-fi story, Yoshida has been conceptualizing this image since his 1993 reading of a story about an angel trapped in a hypercubic prison in The Fourth Dimension: Toward a Geometry of Higher Reality. The angel, turned into a sort of super hero/power ranger, escapes, symbolic of Yoshida’s emergence from an artistic slump. Having the prestige of the cover image would confirm that.

IWAKIRI Yuko describes her woodcut The Quartette very melodically: “As I was drawing the rows of trees of a virgin forest, I came to see a five-line staff score and it seemed to me like the cold autumnal wind which blew through it was playing a harmony…From oppressing low-pitched bass to sharp high-pitched notes that gradually vanish, and the sound of a bow scraping against the strings to a dry pizzicato – I described a field of the weaving sounds of the four string instruments.” Iwakiri uses 15-16 layers of water-based ink to produce a soft toned but dense image. She compares it to “drawing and painting with plates rather than just pulling out prints.”

TOHIGUCHI Toru’s silkscreen entitled Jaguchi is a bit of a mystery to the English language viewer. What do you see? I saw a face, until I translated the title, which means faucet in Japanese. A witty take on the art of the everyday, don’t you think?

Born in 1932, INOUE Katsue may be the oldest and most famous of this year’s printmakers to have a debut at the CWAJ Print Show this year. Her deceptively simple black and white woodcuts depicting flowing grasses and blowing flowers are both intensely graphic through their contrast of negative and positive space and atmospheric in a Georgia O’Keeffe way. Personally, I like her Flower in Wind poppy print because it would look good hung anywhere, with anything else, while keeping its own integrity. Practicality shouldn’t really figure in to art purchases, but sometimes its hard not to consider it. I think this one makes a lovely gift too.

A really sweet print is SOMEYA Mayumi’s Greeting Summer Solstice and her description of her working process corresponds with her imagery. “Block print is sometimes called blind work: You can’t visualize the result of your work until you see the final print. I always throb with excitement when I carefully turn over the final copy. You see, the paper comes out from under the plate which itself comes out through the press machine — all mysteriously and nonintuitively removed from the appearance of the final product. Whenever the result exceeded my expectations, I felt like joining hands with someone, anyone, and setting off on a journey somewhere far away. Now, that’s celebration! I work alone, yet I often feel as if I were collaborating with others, and then my atelier feels lively.”

The bargain print of the show is KAMATA Yuki’s small world lithograph with its subtle coloration and abstract photographic quality.

Numerous artists have layered in political and environmental thought to their works this year in response to the Great Japan Earthquake and the subsequent nuclear crisis. Amongst them are TAGO Hiroshi’s Murmuring Planet, a mezzotint on gampi paper with a drowning Earth in an upside down glass…

…and JUNG Il’s The Property of the Earth, a classic woodcut which looks almost computer pixellated yet has a very thick painting like texture. The whimsical nature of the print enforces his message that we need to cohabit our wonderful planet in harmony.

The souvenir print for those living in Asia has to be ARAI Keiko’s Temple of Daybreak as it has scenes of Angkor Wat and India all tied up in a glowing morning scene.

And for sheer decorative power take a look at lithographs from UENO Tomoko Time Plant

…and SAKAI Junji Lluna de febrer ’12-I. Both are very painterly – Ueno’s has such a sense of brush stroke and Sakai is masterly at color block work.

And again this year, the Young Printmaker Award winner is an absolute stunner! TAKEUCHI Hidemi’s Harvest Day quadtych touches on themes of time and life, representing “the day of fruition, the day of accomplishment honoring time well spent.” It certainly looks like a successful harvest – in more ways than one!

All of these new CWAJ Print Show participants join a historic event that has taken placed uninterrupted since its inception in 1956. CWAJ volunteer members have worked tirelessly through the decades to produce one of the most prestigious hanga shows, using the proceeds to fund their respected scholarship program.

And as an additional incentive to get you out to the show, a few little birdies have told me there is a special surprise this year – an opportunity not to be missed – so I am looking forward to seeing you there! I’ll be working as a docent most of Friday and intermittently through the weekend. Please stop by and say hello.

Related Posts:
Artist Spotlight…55th CWAJ Print Show
Artist Spotlight…56th CWAJ Print Show
Hanga 101…a Quick Primer on Japanese Prints