September 9, 2016

Morimura's Geometry

        I absolutely love the dance between naturalism and geometry in these works by Ray Morimura (Japan, 1948- ).  Morimura began as an artist doing geometric abstract paintings, but something really wonderful happened when he brought that sensibility to the traditional woodblock party!  In some of his pieces there’s more realistic detail and perspective, while in others there’s more abstraction and geometric patterning, but they all have some of both.  He tends to choose scenes in which the geometry of the objects is strong, and to arrange compositions that emphasize these geometric elements.  For example, in this image of the Nanzenji Gate he’s elevated the perspective so that we see as much of the roof as anything else, making the linear vertical arrangement of the tiles play off the linear horizontal lines of the steps, punctuated by the round ends of each row of tiles, and the round, patterned bushes showing on the far side of the gate.
        One composition Morimura uses frequently is a large foreground of a repeating pattern, with a more detailed or naturalistic focal point in the background.  He certainly does plenty of pieces with other compositions, but I find that in picking my favorites I’ve selected a lot like this.  I find them striking and interesting - rather different from what I usually see, and certainly different from what I’ve done myself.  It’s an effective way to balance that traditional landscape scene with an abstract sensibility that glories in shapes and patterns for their own sake.

        Morimura uses color, of course, with a separate block for each color.  Sometimes I think colored block prints would be better in black and white, but not these.  The subtle interplay of similar colors is lovely, and in some cases the different colors actually help simplify a very busy design.  Without the different colors in this piece, for example, it might be hard to make out the house in the background against the pattern of the landscape, and the white cranes wouldn’t pop so beautifully.

        Unlike traditional Japanese wood block prints, Morimura carves some linoleum blocks as well as wood, and he uses oil-based inks instead of water-based.  I don’t know why the different ink - whether it’s just that he was more used to working with oil colors from his painting background, or whether he especially likes the more opaque effect, or some other property of the different ink.  He also does the whole process - design, carving, and printing - himself, unlike the traditional method where carving and printing are done by separate workshops.  Clearly you could never mistake these pieces for traditional moku hanga, and yet they do unmistakably have their roots in that aesthetic.  Think of Hiroshige’s travel images focussing on popular landmarks and everyday scenes of people in famous towns and locations.  Think of the different framing and perspectives used to depict well-known landscapes.  Morimura clearly continues this tradition.
        I’ve had a really difficult time choosing just a few of his pieces to share, so the best thing I can suggest is that if you like these, you should check out more.  A simple search will bring up plenty, or follow the link below to where I found these images.  Enjoy!



[Pictures: Nanzenji Gate, wood block print by Ray Morimura, 1995;
Dewa: Early Summer, wood block print by Morimura, 1999;
House in Tamugimata, wood block print by Morimura, 1999;
Lotus Pond, wood block print by Morimura, 2007;
Blue Sea, wood block print by Morimura, 2004 (Images from Jennifer Warburton).]

2 comments:

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  2. Sorry
    Congratulations for the choice!

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