August 26, 2016

Two Boats

        Earlier this summer we saw these two color wood block prints displayed together at the RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) Museum.  They are, roughly speaking, the same subject matter, even largely the same composition, and the same technique.  But they have a wholly different feel from each other.
        First, a cool, foggy morning in the Inland Sea in southern Japan.  The swirling fibers of the paper add to the mistiness, and the subtle variations in color are a far cry from the stark black and white of a traditional European woodcut.  I love the faint hint of other shapes in the distance, and the watery ripples of the reflections.  Yoshida Hiroshi (Japan, 1876-1950) has made an image so soft it’s hard to believe it comes from the force of a press on hard, carved wood.
        The exhibit in which these pieces appeared was showing how students of Arthur Wesley Dow (USA, 1857-1922) explored the history and practice of traditional Japanese color woodblock printing, and how it influenced their work.  In this case, however, the American
boat, by Margaret Patterson (USA, 1867-1950) is actually the earlier of the two.  Right away the difference in color is obvious.  We’ve travelled to full, sultry sunlight in Italy, and Patterson’s piece has intense, saturated colors and high contrast.  It’s less detailed, more stylized, with the focus on bold shapes.  You can also see the embossing of the paper, so that you really get the feel of intense pressure on hard blocks.
        I really love both these pieces, and love that they’re so different despite all their similarities.

[Pictures: Hansen, kiri (Sailboats, Fog), polychrome woodblock print by Yoshida Hiroshi, 1926 (Image from RISD Museum);
Torcello, polychrome woodblock print by Margaret Jordan Patterson, 1919.]

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