October 12, 2018

Saito's Signals

        Saito Kiyoshi (Japan, 1907-1997) worked as a designer for a railway corporation before taking up printmaking.  Clearly it left him with an interest in the aesthetics of railways, and I really like these two woodblock prints depicting railway depots.  There are no trains here, just the skeleton of infrastructure without any movement or life.  There are tracks, girders, and signals: all manmade geometry.  The dark colors could be interpreted as baleful or ominous, but  for some reason they seem almost peaceful to me.  I guess it’s that everything is so strictly ordered, mathematical and under control .  I suppose they’re set at dusk, or just before dawn when no trains are running.
        I don’t know how many blocks went into each piece; I’m guessing three or maybe four if the red lights got their own separate block.  (The red and the skyline could have been done in a single block inked in two colors.)  The grey ink of the ground is rolled on lightly enough to show a lot of white speckles, which evokes gravel.  Against this gravelly grey, the solid black and red look particularly dramatic, and the shadowy skylines offer a fitting backdrop.

[Pictures: Signal (B), color woodblock print by Saito Kiyoshi, 1962 (Image from Our Sense of Place);
Signal (A), color woodblock print by Saito, 1962 (Image from invaluable).]

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