Modern Japanese woodblock prints, however, presented collectors with striking diversity. Shin hanga (“new prints”), established during the 1920s and 1930s, adhered to the old-fashioned idioms of ukiyo-e; they were also produced by commercial publishing houses. By contrast, artists such as Onchi Kōshirō advocated an entirely different way of making woodblock prints. Beginning in 1918, Onchi and his followers designed, carved, and printed their own images. Thus, their work came to be known as sōsaku hanga, “creative prints.” Herein lies the focus of this exhibition.
Rather than use the woodblock to re-create aspects of a painting, sōsaku hanga printmakers called for the reinvention of the print medium. The marks of carving tools were left undisguised. Paper might be sized or left unsized to allow pigments to bleed into the fibers of the paper. Stray objects—leaves, fabric, pieces of string, planks of wood cut with the grain—were colored and pressed against paper to make tinted impressions of varied textures and shapes.
This exhibition features the work of sosaku hanga artists from the late 1950s and 1960s. To clarify their singular manipulations of the print medium, examples of traditional ukiyo-e and modern shin hanga are also on display. The work of foreign print artists who worked in Japan—Paul Jacoulet and Clifton Karu—underscores both the diversity that modern Japanese prints inspired and the enduring identity of the woodcut with Japan.