Welcome to the new online exhibition at the Toshidama Gallery. The show is divided into three categories: People, Places and Things. In Japanese woodblock prints, the people often tend to be kabuki actors and the extended essay on our blog examines the subtlety of whether these are portraits of the actor or the role… or the sometimes successful conjuring trick of holding both representations at once. The "places" seen in woodblock prints tend to be the stations of the Tokaido Road or the Kisokaido Road... These prints like the yakusha-e (actor portraits) also held a subtle balance… in this case between simple travel picture and outstanding artistic endeavour… at their best, such as Hiroshige’s One Hundred Views of Edo, it is no exaggeration to say that this and a few other great series by Hiroshige and Hokusai changed forever how landscape is viewed and framed, from print to painting to photograph to screen! It all starts with these fine woodblock prints and their imaginative cropping and viewpoints. That this fact remains unacknowledged is one of the great sadnesses of contemporary visual understanding. There is no real tradition for the still-life in Japanese art - the still life is inherently a product of European capitalism and that primacy of the object does not have the same importance in that culture. Nevertheless, the idea that the object can ‘stand in’ for something abstract - metaphor in western art, - finds an equivalent in the Japanese culture with ‘mitate’.
In the current show Kunichika’s portrait of Nakamura Shikan compares the actor to a lily, a series that attempts at least to find a concordance between six performers and six common flowers. Other objects in the show are more prosaic, the andon in Chikanobu’s 24 Paragons of Filial Piety lighting the way to the statues of the subject’s in laws. Perhaps the gigantic spider Tsuchigumo, a fine ‘thing’, standing in for a displaced primitive people… the spider perhaps representing a strange kind of collective guilt.
We are showing some very fine characters…a personal favourite is the very rare and striking Yoshitoshi portrait of Ichikawa Kodanji as the Magician Hokkesan Kesataro, which is also our featured print. There are several okubi-e (large head portraits) notably the astonishing ‘missing link’ piece by Yoshitora of Nakamura Shikan which illuminates the stylistic relationship between Kunisada’s great Edo series and the Kunichika prints that were to come later in the Meiji period. A truly outstanding print is Kunisada’s print of Hojo Tokimasa dreaming of the water goddess Benzaiten. This print effortlessly combines a portrait of the warrior leader Tokimasa at the caves at Iwaya dreaming a dragon! Three in one.
We hope you will enjoy browsing the show and find something that takes your interest. Further essays on Japanese Woodblock Prints, and other aspects of Japanese culture can be found at our Wordpress and Eblogger sites.