Friday, June 28, 2013

Images of Rain and Solitude by Hasui Kawase

I have a love-hate relationship with rain, as I imagine most people do. It all depends on the context in which it falls. How wonderful are refreshing buckets of rain on summer evening after days of unbroken, intense heat. And how annoying is the downpour that suddenly erupts while one is walking from the train station to work and about to face a long day in the office in damp slacks and soggy shoes.

Hasui Kawase explored the many moods inspired by rain in his exquisite wood block prints. I've picked out five of them to write about here. I think this small selection shows off the range of meaning and emotion to be found in this climactic subject matter.

I start with the brightest, most cheery of my selections. Kasuga Shrine in Nara depicts a couple sharing a blue umbrella in the rain outside a shrine. The vivid, red trim of the shrine is complimented by several shades of green foliage. Everything appears clean, and I can imagine inhaling that fresh, outdoorsy scent that often accompanies a spring drizzle. The couple is turned away from the viewers, as if to emphasize that this is their private moment of togetherness.
Night Rain at Kawaraka Ibaraki presents quite a contrast. It is an image awash with greyish-blues. A heavy, slanted shower falls over a narrow, desolate, residential road, made more ominous by the wires overhead, the numerous smooth, slick stones that haphazardly line both sides. An small, empty boat dominates the foreground, the front jutting up, into the street and leading the eye toward the barely noticeable, lone figure in the distance. One hopes he is heading home, for the only other suggestion of any human presence are the windows of the houses, lit with warm, yellow light.
Rain at Shuzenja Spa uses a similarly monochromatic wash beset with yellow lights from the houses, except that here the overall color is warmer, more greyish-purple, and thus more inviting. Again, there is a single figure, but instead of walking in what seems to be a cool rain, this person appears quite cozy, immersed in a bath, under a protective roof, and illuminated by golden light. The spa is its own little island. It hovers over the river on stilts. A small, wooden bridge is all that connects it to land. I imagine the sound of the rain on rocks, roofs, and river as thoroughly soothing.
Rainy Night at Maekawa displays yet another lone figure. As in the second image, he is small and stands in the street made slick and reflective by the rain. Though here the street is wide and clear, and the figure is far more noticeable. The rain falls straight down, mirroring the person's posture and elongated reflections of light in the street. Somehow this person seems to enjoy being in the rain, though I'm hard pressed to explain why. Perhaps it is just the warmth from the soft browns and the gentle way the shadow in the foreground, trees, and houses curve around the person like an frame.
And finally, I come to Rainy Season at Ryoshimachi, Shinagawa, Tokyo. Here we have not one, not two, but three figures. Two are together on the sidewalk, their faces obscured a bright, blue umbrella. There is a strong suggestion of intimacy between them. The other figure walks across the bridge toward them, holding a muted yellow umbrella. The rain is slanted toward the couple. The figure on the bridge seems more like an afterthought. His reflection and that of the bridge are slightly faded and distorted beneath him.

So small are we. Some day our faces will all wash away, our colors go grey, and our voices be drowned out. Rain can cleanse what it touches, but it can also dissolve.

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