BETWEEN WORLDS - MOKUHANGA
Curated by the Mokuhanga Sisters
Katie Baldwin, Matthew Willie Garcia, Hidehiko Gotou, Kyoko Hirai, Patty Hudak, Mariko Jesse, Shoichi Kitamura, Terry McKenna, Kate MacDonagh, Yoonmi Nam, Natasha Norman, Mia O, Brendan Reilly, Louise Rouse, Lucy May Schofield, Melissa Schulenberg, Ayao Shiokawa, Chihiro Taki, Katsutoshi Yuasa
Related Exhibition: FOCUS ON THE FLATFILES: Between Worlds
Exhibition Dates: June 17 - July 31, 2022
Opening Reception: Friday, June 17 6-8pm
Gallery Hours: Thurs-Sun, 12-5pm
Click Events page: Workshops, tours and public events.
BETWEEN WORLDS - MOKUHANGA
—April Vollmer, author of Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop
Between Worlds brings together artists who developed strong connections during shared residencies at the Mokuhanga Innovation Laboratory (MI-LAB) in Japan. As participants in the “Upper Advanced Residency” the Mokuhanga Sisters, as they became known, all had previous mokuhanga experience. The group includes Katie Baldwin, Patty Hudak, Mariko Jesse, Kate MacDonagh, Yoonmi Nam, Natasha Norman, Mia O, Lucy May Schofield, and Melissa Schulenberg. At the residency they refined their technique and built a strong network that has resulted in many shared projects and exhibitions. Between Worlds highlights connections between group members, their teachers, their students, and the community of mokuhanga artists centered around this international training program.
MI-LAB, conveniently located two hours from Tokyo at the foot of Mt. Fuji grew from the Nagasawa Art Park program initiated by Keiko Kadota in 1998. It opened in 2011 when the earlier program closed. In addition to the residency programs, Keiko Kadota established her head office and gallery at 3331 Arts Chiyoda art center in Tokyo to promote mokuhanga through exhibitions and short-term classes. An important initiative was establishing the triennial International Mokuhanga Conference to include a diversity of international artists and to provide a forum for maintaining contact among past residency participants. The first IMC was held in Kyoto and Awajishima; the second in Tokyo; the third in Hawaii; and the fourth, in 2021, had exhibitions and events in Nara, with international presentations and discussions online.
Keiko Kadota’s programs are unique in their personal flavor and international reach. She died in 2017, but her desire to promote world peace through the shared understanding of arts and culture lives on in the work of the many artists who participated in her programs. Artists who benefitted from her work have gone on to teach at universities and workshops around the world, written books, organized exhibitions, and published research on the history and materials of mokuhanga. Her success in fostering understanding through cooperative international friendships is epitomized by the strong bonds of the Mokuhanga Sisters and their work maintaining and strengthening the international mokuhanga network.
Between Worlds explores the expansion of traditional Japanese woodblock printing (mokuhanga) from Japan into the global world of contemporary art. Organized by the Mokuhanga Sisters and the Kentler International Drawing Space, the exhibition presents contemporary examples of this environmentally sustainable printmaking process.
The Mokuhanga Sisters, a print collective of nine women, met at the Mokuhanga Innovation Laboratory (MI-LAB) between 2017-2019 and forged friendships through their practice of mokuhanga. These artists have invited their teachers, students, and community members to honor the past and explore the future of mokuhanga.
Mokuhanga literally translates to “wood print” in Japanese. It originated in China and developed into a popular art form during the Edo Period (1603-1867). These ukiyo-e prints were profoundly influential on European artists in the 1800s. Though a traditional medium, ukiyo-e thrives on innovation, and has influenced both Japanese and global traditions.
During the Edo period, craftspeople trained in an apprenticeship system where prints were produced in separate carving and printing studios. Accomplished artisans passed down their evolving knowledge so the process has accumulated subtle changes over the years. Both Shoichi Kitamura and Kyoko Hirai trained this way.
Shoichi Kitamura learned by working in a traditional carving studio alongside a master carver. His techniques in carving contemporary ukiyo-e prints and the development of his own artistic expression can be seen in his work Eagle, where he reproduces a photographic image using layers of sumi ink.
Kyoko Hirai’s Kawatari Kin Sarasa, Textile, is an example of the decorative catalogs that were printed in Kyoto at the end of the 19th century. This style of printing imitated the complexity of richly colored kimono fabrics. Hirai’s position as a master printer is unique because the profession has historically been occupied exclusively by men.
A Sense of Place
Katie Baldwin’s print Meeting Place (garden), completed during her Fulbright fellowship in Taiwan, depicts the intimacy found within an enclosed space she is observing, yet not part of. The pair of birds echo the silhouette of the couple and the monochromatic image printed in shades of blue is richly melancholy.
Chihiro Taki’s layered landscapes suggest a place for imagination and contemplation where you can feel the weather. Taki’s large-scale Walking Day shows the watery technique gomazuri, or sesame seed printing, which creates a mottled texture, suggesting falling rain.
Lucy May Schofield’s bokashi gradation techniques use the same deep blues as ukiyo-e prints, suggesting an escape to an imaginative universe where ethereal longing creates a dreamscape of memory. Ayao Shiokawa prints in delicate layers, using only enough pigment to allow the image to emerge after a long, quiet gaze. Shiokawa’s imagery is like a whisper on the surface of the page.
Kate MacDonagh and Katsutoshi Yuasa’s surfaces rely on masterful carving to create textures that translate into optical mixing of values and colors. In Cadence 3, MacDonagh blends tones through her carving and careful control of water on the surface of the block. In Yuasa’s Making your own paper, printing, by hand, and seeing through the light he carves blocks, then prints his digitally generated halftone image on fine handmade washi, creating a conversation between the digital and the traditional.
The Sensitive Baren
Hidehiko Gotou is not only a masterful carver and printer but is also a craftsperson best known as the finest baren maker in Japan. The baren is the “printing press” of mokuhanga. It is a handheld disk that is rubbed on the back of the dampened paper to pick up color from the inked block. Creating a baren is a meticulous process of cutting strips of bamboo sheath and twisting them together to create strings that are then tied into a flat spiral, backed onto a lacquered disk composed of layers of sized paper and then covered with a bamboo sheath.
Gotou teaches contemporary artists how to use the baren to create different printing effects. Multiple baren can be used within one print, some press gently on the paper surface, others make a stronger impression. In Mariko Jesse’s print Night Garden (Green and Pink) the pressure of her hand and the character of the baren work together to control the density of the pigment on paper. In Gotou’s work Comb the Night, the flat, even application of dense pigment, called betazuri, contrasts with the watery feeling of the lightly burnished areas.
Technical Meets Personal
Terry McKenna, the author of two mokuhanga books with a studio and a school in Nagano, Japan, explores the technical side of mokuhanga printing. In Water from Heaven and Linden Falls, he uses the same set of blocks to create two distinct prints. He uses varying amounts of water to create color tints and spatial effects.
Mia O layers sheets of handmade paper to create luminous surfaces. She often joins the paper by sewing, emphasizing the strength of washi paper and its potential in installation. She channels her feeling for nature into geometric forms, flipping and layering shapes to create decorative surfaces.
Patty Hudak and Louise Rouse both collage their prints, layering and repeating shapes to reflect experiences from the natural world. Natasha Norman also seeks inspiration from nature, responding to the landscape of her home in Cape Town, South Africa.
Melissa Schulenberg is a masterful printer whose boldly patterned shapes suggest fantasy worlds. Her student Brendan Reilly brings these surfaces into his own work, which is informed by both Asian art and graphic design.
Yoonmi Nam and her student Matthew Willie Garcia each explore the sense of identity. Nam is inspired by woodblock-printed painting manuals from Asia and brings that language into her prints. Flowers arranged in disposable containers evoke cross-cultural dynamics and a sense of impermanence. Garcia creates colorful futuristic landscapes that investigate his queer identity through fluid ideas of multi-dimensional space-time.
Mokuhanga from the Flatfiles
Concurrent with Between Worlds, a selection of work by artists from the Kentler Flatfiles highlights mokuhanga engaged with contemporary issues.
Keiko Hara, Yasu Shibata, and Takuji Hamanaka were all born in Japan and moved to the United States as young artists. Each developed a unique approach to mokuhanga based on refined technical skills first learned in Japan. Emeritus Professor of Art at Whitman College, Keiko Hara has devoted much of her creative work to immersive installations that incorporate mokuhanga. Yasu Shibata is a master printer for Pace Editions in New York. He has developed his own approach to reduction printing to create mathematically precise, jewel-like prints. Endlessly surprising, Takuji Hamanaka’s carefully crafted prints are pieced together from printed elements that coalesce to create unexpected vistas.
Annie Bissett channels her emotions about political divisions into her imagery of fire symbolizing hope in times of despair. Jennifer Mack-Watkins’ prints empower women to look beyond confining stereotypes to recognize their own strength and potential. Both April Vollmer and Florence Neal’s translucent surfaces of repeated forms reflect the beauty and logic of nature while foreshadowing loss and ecological turmoil.
Between Worlds explores the technical innovations of mokuhanga and contemporary themes of identity, place, environment, and gender from artists working around the world. As a medium, mokuhanga is versatile and sustainable. Its subtle applications of color and the tactile surfaces create space for contemplation. Its connection to the past and its potential for innovation give it continued relevance for international art making in the 21st century.
—April Vollmer is a New York City artist and educator who specializes in mokuhanga printmaking. Her book Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop was published by Watson-Guptill in 2015.
—Mokuhanga Sisters is a print collective of nine artists: Katie Baldwin, Patty Hudak, Mariko Jesse, Kate MacDonagh, Yoonmi Nam, Natasha Norman, Mia O, Lucy May Schofield, and Melissa Schulenberg. This international group bonded while studying mokuhanga in Japan and has continued to work together to promote exhibitions and educational projects involving mokuhanga.
Special thanks to: