Sunday, January 12, 2014

"The Sleeping Dragon Plum Tree at Kameido" by Ogata Gekkō

We walk in snow that is 
As white as plum blossoms.
The snow erases on what it lands.
We are shielded by our parasols
And leave a trail of footsteps
Discolored impressions
Like bruises 

When I first encountered this print I thought it was a painting with ink and watercolor. not a woodcut. I have discovered that not only this image, but most of Ogata Gekkō's woodcuts possess this misty quality, complex gradations, and textures more common to watercolor paintings. This all seems counter to the more graphic, rough, and often punchy aesthetic of most woodcuts.

The work is particularly unique considering that at Ogata Gekkō's time (late 1800's-early 1900's) Japanese carvers and printers were specialized craftspeople with certain standards and requirements for the artists who designed the imagery. Standards and requirements Ogata Gekkō apparently defied.

But maybe this is not so surprising as Ogata Gekkō came of age just as the Edo period came to an end, and the modern era began. It was a time of cross cultural influences, of new technologies, of war (the artist is known for his images depicting war) and such dramatic, historical transitions are inevitably mirrored by not only the subject matter, but the style and techniques with which artists work.

I will certainly be looking more at the work of this artist and writing more about it in the future. If you would like to see many more of his works, countless high quality images and information about the artist can be found at this website.

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