Monday, December 18, 2006


He was the author of three books - Block Prints: How to Make Them (1929), Block Printing in the School (1941), and Portfolio of Block Prints (1932). He taught in the public school systems of the Bay area, and he also taught at the many art societies, including the San Francisco Art Association, the California Society of Print Makers, and the Prairie print Makers.

Rice wrote about his philosophy of printmaking and said:

...the viewpoint of the artist differs from that of the commercial printer. In hand printing, each print has a beauty and individuality of its own. The aim is not to produce editions in large quantities, all alike and uniform, but to obtain slight variations which give a personal character to each print. The making of color prints of this type is essentially a painter's performance. There is a great fascination about color experimentation. The real pleasure comes from seeing the same subject appear in different colors, the design gaining in interest with each new color scheme. Wonderful color effects may be obtained by continual experiments. It would almost seem, sometimes, that no block has ever spoken its last word when it comes to its final color scheme.1

rice was clearly not the only one who felt that way, as these charming images by arthur wesley dow, and yoshida hiroshi illustrate.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

between the earthquake and the war

arthur wesley dow created this work several decades before hasui kawase created his, but perhaps both were responding to the onrush of modernity, gatekeepers, both of them, of an imagined past.

or perhaps both just reporting on what they saw. like the impressionist painters, hasui didn't create his images in a studio, but rather on his constants travels in search of beautiful vistas. still preferring a kimono, he wandered the countryside, staying at inns and hunting for "live" views.

by the time he done this image of shichiri beach in soshu, kawase had already lost everything once: in a 1923 earthquake that killed 140,000 people, and that had destroyed everything in watanabe's publishing house (along with the work of many other shin hanga artists as well.)

everything was lost again in the bombing of tokyo in WWII. as they had once before, hasui kawase and watanabe shozaburo rebuilt again.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

the coburn and the dow

it's difficult for our eyes to even see it now, but the transition in art from depicting the literal to depicting the subjective was wildly revolutionary (as we've already seen). and this goes for photography as well as painting. for many years after their introductions both painting and photography were 'required' to reflect reality 'accurately.' at least that was true in the west.

in japan, it was different. it was just understood that the reality the artist produced was what he made of it. when arthur wesley dow suddenly realized this, supposedly while reading a book on japanese prints at the fine arts museum library in boston, it changed his work forever. he felt that this is what he had been looking for, what his work had been needing. dow realized that he did not want to be copying the prints, something he came to criticize whistler for doing, but rather creating his own style using the principles he had learned from viewing the japanese work.

it is our loss that dow spent far more time teaching, from his school in ipswitch to columbia, to the pratt institute in new york, with many stops in-between, than he did making art, and yet he bequeathed us the wonders of the work of his students.
one student, alvin langdon coburn, wasn't a true beginner when he came to ipswitch in 1903. (he would go

on to begin to photograph many of the 'men of mark' in europe the following year). he and dow became more than strictly student and teacher, as they twice went to the grand canyon together to shoot photographs, or paint.

coburn said of dow's ipswich school, "we were taught painting, pottery, and woodblock printing, and i also used my camera, for dow had the vision, even at that time, to recognize the possibilities of photography as a medium of personal artistic expression. i learned many things at his school, not least an appreciation of what the orient has to offer us in terms of simplicity and directness of composition....i think that all of my work has been influenced to a large extent and beneficially by the oriental background, and i am deeply grateful to arthur dow for this early introduction to its mysteries." the world was learning this from the japanese artists who, until being 'taught' otherwise by the westerners they were so enthusiastically trying to emulate, did not make a distinction between 'crafts' and 'art.' in europe the nabis embraced this philosophy (more on this later); additionally part of this was establishing photography's place as a fine art as well.

many thanks to pinholeman for turning me on to coburn!!

picture info: top right: 'salt marsh' dow; top left: 'moon over cherry trees' hiroshige. 2r: 'the blue dragon' dow's painting of the scene out his studio door; 2l: 'the dragon' coburn's photo of the same spot. (here i've stuck in dow's 'ipswitch meadows' because it struck me that this was essentially the same painting as his 'grand canyon'!) 3r: 'grand canyon' dow; 3l: 'grand canyon' coburn. 4l: 'oh-hashi bridge' koho shoda; 4r: 'london bridge' coburn.

Friday, October 27, 2006

dow unto others....

arthur wesley dow grew up in ipswich, massachusetts, which he ended up memorializing in woodblock prints and paintings.

having gone to paris to continue his art education, and to learn from other painters, dow eventually returned to ipswich somewhat disillusioned. though he had learned something about 'plein air' painting (the essential underpinning of impressionism), he felt dissatisfied.

in france, however, like everyone else at that turn of the century, became aware of the arts and
crafts of japan. when he

returned he continued, and intensified, his interest--so much so in fact that he was made assistant to ernest fenollosa in the asian art department of the mfa boston.

this study, and a long trip to japan revolu- tionized how dow thought about art, design, media.... and not only did it revolutionize his own work, but those of subsequent generations as dow began to teach, and his students began to teach, and so on.

follow- ing precepts he had gath- ered from long study of japanese art, asian concepts of space, balance, clarity, and simplicity became known as what he did, and what he taught.

(left: arthur wesley dow, lilies, and 'the bend';
right: 'bridge
at senju' by utagawa hiroshige,
'lily garden' by shoun yamamoto)

Friday, October 20, 2006

continental drift

"Because people cannot see the color of words, the tints of words, the secret ghostly motion of words;
"Because they cannot hear the whispering of words, the rustling of the procession of letters, the dream-flutes and dream-drums, which are thinly and weirdly played by words;
"Because they cannot perceive the pouting of words, the frowning and fuming of words, the weeping, the raging and racketing and rioting of words;
"Because they are insensible to the phosphorescing of words, the fragrance of words, the noisomeness of words, the tenderness or hardness, the dryness or juiciness of words, the interchange of values in the gold, the silver, the brass and the copper of words;
"Is that any reason why we should not try to make them hear, to make them see, to make them feel?"

these are the words of lafcadio hearn (pictured here with his family), just one of the westerners, mainly americans, who became intrigued with japan and made it a major part of their lives, thus becoming invaluable conduits for this cultural exchange that was going on.

i want to talk in depth about each of them (and of others i'm sure to find along the way), but i wanted to do a short introduction of each first.

"In the late 19th century Japan was still largely unknown and exotic to the Western world. With the introduction of Japanese aesthetics,
however, particularly at the Paris World's Fair in 1900, the West had an insatiable appetite for exotic Japan, and Hearn became known to the world through the depth, originality, sincerity and charm of his writings. In later years, some critics would accuse Hearn of exoticizing Japan, but as the man who offered the West some of its first glimpses into pre-industrial and Meiji Era Japan, his work still offers valuable insight today." (from wikipedia)

over time, i want to go more fully into the contributions of hearn, as well as those commodore matthew perry, edward morse, ernest fenollosa, ezra pound, bertha lum, helen hyde, arthur wesley dow, and of course, s. bing. it's fascinating to me, how the two cultures became intertwined. but i also don't want to lose track of the questions that keep cropping up: did the westerners "exoticize" japan? was it helpful to the japanese to redefine for them the nature of their own arts?

aggh.... too long a post already.... one step at a time....