Elias Martin of the Floating World Gallery in Chicago gave a seminar today about Sosaku Hanga (Creative Hanga).
He showed about 50 prints from artists of this era, stating with Yamamoto Kanai, who started the movement ca. 1904, the year before the end of the Russian-Japanese war, in which an eastern power defeated a western power for the first time in modern history.
The era of Sosaku Hanga started with repression of artists. Japan was struggling to become a military power and not suffer the fate of India and China under the western powers. The government banned these artists’ works from Art Fairs and they had to rely on sales to other artists or other forms of art such as oil painting to support themselves. This situation continued until after WWII.
He focused on prints by a few later artists, particularly Minami Kunzo, who worked in the UK ca. 1914, Umeiji (1914), who influenced other artists including Koshiro Onjei. These artists were in the vanguard of showing things as they actually existed, rather an idealized world. For example, Ishi Hakute showed someone at a lumberyard selecting wood and a bleak city scape by Ishi Hakute.
During the US occupation of Japan, starting in 1945, many collectors came to appreciate their work and Elias showed examples of large-scale works that were intended to be displayed publicly, perhaps in a frame. These were mostly bleed prints with no borders. After all, oil paintings don’t have a border!
The gallery owns four separate printings of a large (about 40 x 60 cm) portrait of a apoet, Hagiwara done by Oichi, Sukino, Oichi’s son and finally Oichi at a later time. These were all printed from the same blocks and they give very different visual impressions!
Finally, a number of really lovely prints by Saito Kiyoshi were shown, and Elias pointed out that the influence of Gaugin was there to see. He was a favorite of collectors post-WWII.
The Sosaku Hanga era ended ca. 1960. Takumi Itow, whose exhibition I wrote about earlier, is a student of a Sosaku Hanga artist.