Friday, October 31, 2008

Keiji Shinohara, Contemporary Japanese Printmaker

Shinohara- SymphonyOn Tuesday I had the incredible experience of attending a demonstration of traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking by Wesleyan professor and independent artist Keiji Shinohara. It was amazing! He made four copies of this Hiroshige print:

Hiroshige- Myanokoshi
It's such an intricate and exact process, and really interesting to watch! Everything has to be aligned perfectly, and there are as many blocks as there are colors, so there are a lot of steps and repetitions. He didn't have enough time to finish the prints, but we got to hear a lot about his life and techniques.

After studying to be a nuclear physicist, Keiji saw an
ukiyo-e style print and decided that's what he wanted to do with his life. For five months he begged the artist to teach him, but was consistently turned down, especially after it was revealed that he was left-handed (apparently it is very hard to be left-handed in Japan). Eventually he was taken on as an apprentice and studied for 5 years. Then he worked 5 years as a master as a way to repay the years his master had given to him. He came to America in the mid-80's and worked with various other artists (including Chuck Close!) and companies, before eventually teaching at Wesleyan.

He makes reproductions of ukiyo-e prints, but also designs and creates his own pieces. During Edo Period Japan one print passed through several hands- the designer, the carver, the printer- before reaching completion. Keiji was taught only to make prints based on pre-designed and pre-carved images. However, he observed carvers while he was an apprentice, and picked it up from there.

Shinohara- Sonata
He makes beautiful and innovative landscapes, relying on expressive color to create interest. He has developed some new printing methods, including using crazy glue on the woodblock to produce subtle shifts in hue depending on where the ink sticks more heavily. This would be unachievable with just carving. I really love his combination of a centuries-old tradition and modern personal innovation, especially since woodblock printing is a dying art form in Japan.

Shinohara- Accelerando
Keiji Shinohara at DFN Gallery
More about ukiyo-e printing, with demonstrations by Keiji and high-quality images of his work
Exhibit at Colorado College's Coburn Gallery, starting November 7

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