Friday, 22 May 2009

Kuniyoshi at the Academy

Kuniyoshi, Japanese artist, died 1861. I can't say 'printmaker': he didn't make prints. He made brush paintings which were meticulously translated onto woodblock by highly skilled woodblock cutters and printers. The idea that an artist should make prints is by and large 20th century. Rembrandt made his own prints, only a few artists did. Munakata is the 20th century Japanese artist printmaker who drew and cut his own woodblocks, near-blind, with his nose to the wood.

There's just one of Kuniyoshi's drawings: a quick brush sketch establishing a composition. The brushed line has the energy of time and movement: however skillfully it is cut in wood, that energy is flattened out, lost. The printed line doesn't move like the brushed line. But the prints make up for this in colour and pattern.

Kuniyoshi loved pattern and colour. The prints are a riot of graphic imagination, brilliant colour and finely detailed pattern, not only of clothing and architecture but also of tatoos on the bodies of his samurai. Patterned as a whole, patterned in detail. I've the feeling it switches something on in the brain: you come out tuned into pattern. Wonderful, and quite different from our minimalist preference.

Wonderful, omnivorous drawing. My companion delighted to point out a renaissance figure: Kuniyoshi devoured books of engravings and recycled them. But chiefly I remember how imaginative his ideas are: this skeleton is about to pull the backdrop away from the two noblemen, pulling at their world and all it contains as if it were no more than a painted cloth.

1 comment:

msHedgehog said...

That one's magic :D