CONTEMPORARY WOODBLOCK PRINTS - THE JAPANESE RENAISSANCE
After the difficult times in the first half of the Twentieth Century in Japan there grew a slow renaissance in the art of Woodblock Prints: Many artists began their own publishing companies and new artists experimented in style and form. New markets appeared and interest in the artform spread into the Western world.
A new confidence and optimism encompassed the Japanese art world fuelled by demand from America and Europe and as the 1950’s ended it no longer seemed hopeless for a young artist to study the woodblock form and have an ambition to support himself through his art.
By 1980 an artist could hope to have his art displayed in New York, Amsterdam or Paris and woodblock prints began appearing in art competitions and Art Galleries both private and public in major cities around the world. No longer did one need to rely on the Japanese population for recognition or income.
As the 21st Century began this market exploded due to the internet and now millions of people could study, appreciate and enjoy Japanese woodblock prints from the comfort of their home. No longer were only art aficionados in control but normal people who had taste and discrimination of their own began to take notice of this unique and amazing form of artistic expression.
These modern day artists are diverse and they cater to a host of tastes. Many display a creative brilliance that has caused their woodblocks to escalate in value and demand and as more people search out Woodblock prints for, decoration and or collection, the investment value of these modern works continues to grow.
Japanese Woodblock prints by Contemporary Artists offer the wise collector the opportunity to amass beautiful artworks at the same time as creating a private portfolio of tangible items which are easy to house and offer hours and hours of pleasure.
For the home decorator Woodblock prints by modern artists can be found to suit any design style or décor and will add a unique dimension to any room.
A SELECTION OF CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS
Among the recognised contemporary artists there are some who have managed to maintain the unique custom of Japanese expressional form while creating scenes of sometimes ultra modern realism which display the timeless cultural imagery of Japan. One of the most creative and skillful of this group is Motoji Sugiyama who, at over 80 years of age, maintains the age old tradition of Japanese Woodblock Prints by creating scenes of everyday life in Japan and through incredible detail and ultra-modern form allows the aura of ancient Japan to be seen in the images of modern life.
Early Morning in Ginza, 2004, Motosugui Sugiyama, Limited Edition of 100
SUGIYAMA, MOTOSUGU. Motosugu Sugiyama, whose Christian name is sometimes translated Motuju, was born in 1925 in regional Japan but after marrying moved to Tokyo with his wife who was born in that City. They lived a comfortable life and he had a career in the business world but he had a deep artistic urge and, in 1975 at the age of 50, he began studying the Woodblock Art with Funasaka Yoshisuke. He created a number of woodblocks which were well received and after retiring from work in 1995 he decided to begin an artistic life full time. He has a unique style which no one has been able to successfully imitate and in these latter years of his life has won amazing international recognition. One of his works stole the show as the centre piece of the East Meets West Exhibition in Michigan in 2004.
Sugiyama's woodblocks are all hand signed, dated, titled and numbered limited editions of mostly small amounts often only 50 and never more than 100. Many are Large Format, up to 60cm (Almost 2ft) Wide.
In our opinion he is the MOST undervalued in monetary terms and one of the most creative of Japanese contemporary woodblock artists. He is dedicated to his artform and seems to have an almost disdainful attitude towards commercialism.
Detail of one of Sugiyama's most sought after woodblocks entitled Fune Tamari, A Group of Boats, Dated 1992, Limited Edition of 100.
IDO, MASAO. Masao Ido was born in North-East China in 1945 then moved to Japan in 1946 where he has lived ever since. He studied in Kyoto with Yoshida Koho and Otsubo Shigechika and by 1984 was a Teacher of Seiji Sano. Masao Ido is One of the Most Highly regarded of Contemporary Woodblock Artists and has Work in Many Museums including the New York Modern Art Museum, the Boston Art Museum, the Kyoto and Tokyo National Museum and the Florence Municipal Museum. He has an extremely individual form of expression and an amazing skill with persective and form.
Masoa Ido's woodblocks are all hand signed, dated, titled and numbered limited editions of mostly small amounts usually only 100 and only very rarely more than 200.
Terraced Rice Field in the Morning, Masao Ido, Dated 2001, Limited Edition of 200
SANO, SEIJI. Seiji Sano was born in Iwata in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1959. He moved to Kyoto in 1978 and studied with textile designer Sano Takeshi. In 1984 he began studying woodblock printing with Ido Masao, one of Japan's top contemporary artists. Sano's beautiful woodblock landscapes focus on the natural beauty of the countryside around Kyoto and display an instinctive feel for colour and form that is very rare among the artists of his era.
Seiji Sano woodblocks are all hand signed, dated, titled and numbered limited editions of mostly small amounts often only up to 100 but some extra fine prints up to 300.
Snow in the Afternoon, Dated 2002, Seiji Sano, Ltd Edition of 300.
MAEDA, KOICHI. Koichi Maeda was Born in Tokyo in 1936. He is a Lecturer at SBS Gakuen, Shizuoka city, Shizuok Shunyo-kai member of a number of Professional Associations including Shunyo-kai, The Japan Artists Association and the Shizuoka Prefecture Woodblock Printers Association. Between 1961 and 1979 His Woodblocks were Exhibited through Nihon Hanga Kyokai and a number of other venues where he has won awards including the Art Festival Award at the Shizuoka Prefecture Art Festival in 1978 and 1979, the Mayor’s Award at the Exhibition of Shizuoka Prefecture Woodblock Print Show in 1997. His work is highly sought after by collectors in the U.S.A.
Koichi Maeda's woodblocks are all hand signed, dated, titled and numbered limited editions of mostly small amounts rarely more than 80. Most are Large Format, up to 60cm (Almost 2ft) Wide.
Large Format, Koichi Maeda, 2005, Village in Late Autumn Limited Edition of 80
NISHIJIMA, KATSUYUKI. Katsuyuki Nishijima was born in 1945 in Yamaguchi Province of Japan. From 1964 to 1968 he studied the art of Woodblock Prints in the studio of the Mikumo publishing house in Kyoto as well as exhibiting his work with the Kyoto independent artists and in solo displays. From 1972 he focused his immense talents on limited edition woodblocks using traditional old buildings as his main subject matter.
Katsuyuki Nishijima's woodblocks come in a number of formats and the larger sizes are almost always limited editions of 500, all hand signed, titled and numbered but normally never dates. His smaller sized woodblocks are hand signed and titled and open editions, again not dated.
Boat at Murotsu, Katsuyuki Nishijima, Ltd Edition of 500, undated but released around 1990. A very popular scene, now only available through resale by collector.
YUASA, HIROSHI. Hiroshi Yuasa was born in Hyogo Province of Japan in 1933. He was a student of Hiratsuka Un'ichi and created his reputation through regular exhibits at The Annual To-no-Kai Print Shows held in the Osaka Contemporary Arts Centre in Spring and Gallery Masagu in Autumn where he has achieved recognition for his skill in creating an amazing atmosphere in a scene while only using traditional, Japanese Black Sumi Ink. It should be noted that Sumi can only be used on wet washi so many of his woodblocks will show faint wrinkles in washi due to using these age old prinitng techmiques. Woodblocks by this artist are very rarely found outside of Japan.
Hiroshi Yuasa's few woodblocks which can be found unsold in Japan are all hand signed, titled and numbered limited editions of mostly small amounts rarely more than 20. Most are dated but there a few to be seen undated.
Detail of Path near Stone Wall, 1996, Hiroshi Yuasa, Ltd Edition of 20
KATO, TERUHIDE. Teruhide Kato was Born in 1936 and Studied at the Kyoto Art College. He had a Very Successful Career as a Kimono Designer but at the Age of 50 years Decided to Follow his Life Long Ambition to Become a Traditional Woodblock Artist. His Talent was Quickly Acknowledged and he has Had his Woodblocks shown in New York as well as Having a Book, entitled Kyoto Romance, Published about his Work.
Virtually all of Teruhide Kato's available woodblocks are in open editions and in recent years are published by Unsodo which is a mark of his commercial success.
Teruhide Kato woodblock, one of his larger sizes, Open Edition, Published by Unsodo.
FUJITA, FUMIO. Fumio Fujita was born in Japan in 1933 and studied at the Musashino College of Fine Arts. He began creating woodblock prints in 1963 and has always tried to maintain a type of minimalist style within the landscape genre. He has been very successful and is one of the few present day artists to have been contracted by a major Japanese woodblock publisher at the same time as retaining his independence and so continuing to create woodblocks prints himself.
Fumio Fujita's woodblocks are all hand signed, dated, titled and numbered limited editions often of more than 200. It should be noted that he will release a number of editions with the same title and change the colour of the background then call it "a", "b" or similar afterwards and revise the date. He has has done this numerous times with some of his scenes.
KANEKO, KUNIO. Kunio Kaneko was born in Tokyo in 1949 and studied at the Musashino University of Fine Arts. He often uses gold leaf in the colouring of his woodblocks to extremely good effect and has a well established reputation through a number of exhibitions in New York, Tokyo and regional Japanese cities. His woodblocks have an individual appeal and blend the classic design traditions with a modernistic approach to colour and texture.
Kunio Kaneko's woodblocks are all hand signed, dated, titled and numbered limited editions of often more than 200. Many of his editions go over 200 and it should be noted that he will release a number of editions with the same title and change the colour of the background then call it "a", "b" , "1", "2" or similar and revise the date. He has has done this with a number of his scenes.
Whisper Whisper 3, Kunio Kaneko, Ltd Ed of 150, Dated 2005.
OKAMOTO, RYUSEI. Ryusei Okamoto was born in 1949 in Muroran in Hokkaido Province. He studied at Nihon University and after Graduating as a marine biologist, he decided to become a full time artist. He had an excellent teacher, the famous printmaker Toshi Yoshida, who taught the young artist from 1974 until 1984. In 1980 Ryusei Okamoto taught at Mendocino Art Center recommended by Toshi Yoshida who was not able at that time to fulfil his teaching commitments. He has some of his work in Australiasian Museums and his art is mostly self marketed although some major Japanese Print auction houses also offer some of his work.
Ryusei Okamoto's woodblocks are all hand signed, dated, titled and numbered limited editions of often more than 200.
SEWAI, KOICHI. Koichi Sewai is a new artist we have discovered and I am presently trying to communicate with him via letter to find the details of his biography. I will include these details once received. A lot of the fun and excitement of contemporary woodblocks is finding a new artist like this and he displays a unique and extremely new dimension in the representation of modern like in Japan, using the traditional theme of buildings.
A Road, a Dream, Koichi Sewai, undated, Ltd Edition of 100.
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If you are interested in Japanese Woodblock Prints please read my Other Guides on Shin Hanga and Sosaka Hanga Artists and Antique Woodblock Prints.