|The Sumida River at Night|
It makes such a difference to see these works in person. Prints tends to be smaller than paintings (these were mostly horizontal, about 15 inches across), which emphasizes a more intimate experience similar to reading a picture book. To look at them on a wall, each framed, and one after another is a kind of peering through windows; quietly spying on a foreign land from a bygone era.
|A Steam Locomotive in Hazy Moonlight|
As Kiyochika worked in the traditional ukiyo-e style of woodblock printmaking, it was slightly jarring to see imagery of trains and clock towers depicted in that style. I found myself deeply pondering how both threatening and exhilarating it must have felt for the people who lived through such times to see so much rapid change shaped by foreign influences.
Another reoccurring image in Kiyochika's work is the crack in the sky. In these works, it often seems as if something ominous and disapproving is gathering overhead. There is a feeling of helplessness and being guided by mysterious and powerful forces.
The people in Kiyochika's images seem ghostly and anonymous. They are frequently shown in dark silhouette, and often floating, such as when they cast no shadow on the ground. Since the layers of color are often translucent, figures whose forms cross a highly contrasting horizon line are divided by it. It is as if they are dissipating in the rain or hazy evening light. Things are changing, but this is still the floating world.
|Asakusa Bridge and the Great Fire at Ryogoku|
My only disappointment was that the museum produced no catalog for sale. After seeing all the work, I'd resolved to buy one even if it was pricey. Alas, I walked out empty handed.
You can see some shots of the interior view of the exhibition and read another good review of the exhibition by Farrah Skeiky here. The work is up through July 27th, so if you'll be in or near DC before then, check it out. Admission is free!