|Rain in Maekawa 1932|
Being traditionally trained as a modern American art student, Asian art never played a large part in my education. When I was a boy, the Asian wing at the Met was merely a short cut to the Armor Room. I was familiar with Japanese art in as much as it influenced the Impressionists. Early in my career I illustrated extensively for AEG's Legend of the Five Rings, but although those paintings borrowed Asian costume pattern and architecture, they were still illustrated in a decidedly Western aesthetic.
In 2005 however, I was in Chicago and had the opportunity to see an exhibit of Japanese woodblock prints at the Art Institute. It was one of those formative experiences that you don't expect or look for, but changes the way you work for the rest of your life. Represented were the traditional 19th century masters Hiroshige and Hokusai, but most importantly I was introduced to Kawase Hasui (1883-1957).
I was mesmerized by these alluring, beautiful and candid snapshots of Japanese landscapes that straddled the 19th Century woodblock tradition and the 20th Century modernism, depicting a rapidly changing Japanese society. Simplifying of forms, dramatic compositions and cinematic use of lighting, including rain, fog and snow for atmospheric effect was almost Impressionistic, with modern colors, while maintaining the graphic compositions of Ukiyo-e prints that had originally influenced the early Impressionists.
|My Neighbor Totoro. Miyazaki 1988|
For further research into Hasui read: Visions of Japan: Kawase Hasui’s Masterpieces