Mokuhanga (Link to Ukiyo-e)
A selection of mokuhanga prints by nine artists from the Kentler Flatfiles
in conjunction with Alexander Gorlizki's Your Eyes, So Beautiful, Like Washing Machines (But Not As Big)
. On view in the Kentler Flatfiles located in the Front Gallery Space.
In Japanese calligraphy, the written characters for mokuhanga
can be translated into moku
– meaning “wood”; han
– the process of printing; and ga
referring to the “picture.”
Mokuhanga is the contemporary link to ukiyo-e
prints. Known for its vivid color, translucence and illusory perspectival effects, mokuhanga is a water-based woodcut printmaking process perfected in Japan with the woodcuts of ukiyo-e —“pictures of the floating world”— during the Edo period (1603–1868). The increased popularity of such prints led to fierce competition among the publishers who commissioned both the artists and the workshops of skilled artisans.
Each print begins as a drawing subsequently transferred onto a woodblock. The technique often involves the use of numerous blocks, each carved and printed with a different color. The carved woodblocks are printed by hand on washi, handmade Japanese paper made from kozo fiber, using a flat disc called a baren. Integral to this technique are hand printing and the natural elements of wood, water, pigment and paper. The artisans and artists have taken many years to master their skills in cutting and printing with a sensitivity to the materials required for mokuhanga.
Ukiyo-e prints were introduced in Japan’s largest cities during the Edo Period and flourished in what was then a new middleclass marketplace. This was the first time that popular literature and prints were accessible and affordable to the increasingly prosperous merchant class of Japan. The inventiveness of the artists and the technical skills of the artisans rose to a new level during this time. For 250 years during the isolation of Japan by the Tokugawa Shogunate, the cultivation of craftsmanship and culture was progressively refined, and the results were highly prized in the marketplace. Change occurred in 1868 when Japan opened to the world.
Today this ancient technique is undergoing another radical shift as digital technology offers more options for printmakers, allowing images to be made and disseminated very quickly. As if to counter trends in our technology-driven world, a growing number of international artists are now keen to learn the traditional skills that constitute the foundations of mokuhanga. They're returning to the use of water-based pigments, natural materials, and hand-made papers in their work.
Throughout its four-hundred year history ukiyo-e and now mokuhanga printmaking has proven to be a distinctive and durable synthesis of the highest standards of art, craft, and seemingly simple production techniques, while continuing to evolve and resonate today in contemporary art.
(from a presentation at the Third International Mokuhanga Conference, Honolulu, Hawaii, 2017)