Sunday, February 15, 2015

"Sea of Japan" by Junichiro Sekino and "Georgetown Locks of C&O Canal" by Unichi Hiratsuka

I happened to be looking at both of these woodcuts this week, and thus came to contemplate the similarities. Both feature a composition with thick, diagonal bands that come in from both sides and meet in the center. What first grabbed my interest in both was these diagonal bands. They pull the viewer's gaze in, giving each scene a sense of gravity.

In Sekino's image, the bands fall below the center and the event taking place is violent, churning waters. The calamity of the rolling and spitting waves is further emphasized in comparison to the stillness in front of the bands and in the black part of the sea seen in the distant horizon. The bands themselves curve, bending to the water's fury. The diagonal lines do not connect, but rather, they slip past one another, leaving more space to accommodate their own movements with the angry sea. The rendering is delicate and the changes in layers of color is subtle, giving the whole scene a thoughtful air, despite the tumultuous subject.

In Hiratsuka's more stoic, yet equally bold image, the diagonal bands are solid black, straight, and connect with each other just above the center. Instead of acquiescing to an torrid sea, here, unbending planks direct the river. The waters held back are calm and airy, like skinny clouds, before they discharge under the barrier, strained into a neatly contained waterfall.

In both works, the bands depict something man-made, intended to in some way control or mitigate our interaction with a body of water. I come away from both contemplating power, predictability, and the balance between deference and restraint.

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