While Sato san was demonstrating Kyoto-style woodblock printing in one part of the large room at Kyoto Kaikan, a carver named Hiroshi Fujisawa was demonstrating traditional carving. Fujisawa san is a professional carver who works in a home-based workshop in Kyoto. He was an apprentice beginning at age 16 to master carver Kikuta Kojiro and has now been carving for over 50 years. He is said to be one of the best carvers in Japan.
Fujisawa san speaks while Claire translates
By the time I made it over to Fujisawa san's demonstration, he had finished carving and was giving a talk about how his study of Buddhism informs his work. In his talk he used the words kokoro (心) meaning heart/mind/spirit and kuuki (空気) which means atmosphere/mood/tone. He spoke about the importance and the difficulty of representing these qualities, the heart of the artist and the tone of a place, in a print.
As he spoke, I thought about the "kokoro" and "kuuki" in my own work. I thought about how I've been using mokuhanga to express my thoughts and feelings (kokoro) about my country, about religion, about the uneasy international relationships of this early global 21st century. I thought about how I often surround myself with music or audio books or podcasts that have to do with the topic or the time period I'm working with, an attempt to create the "kuuki" of a time and place in my studio while I work. I've always felt that somehow those feelings and songs and words and ideas that I'm immersed in, the emotional/mental/spiritual energy I use to create my work, become embedded within it and are readable by the viewer, however subtly.
Fujisawa san's beautiful notes
It seemed to me that Fujisawa san was saying that something inherent in mokuhanga allows these invisible and ineffable qualities to be expressed, that something about the method itself allows this process of embedment to occur. My answer to what it is about mokuhanga that allows these ineffable qualities to appear would be the following list.
- The slowness of the method allows (or forces) one to go deeply into the work.
- The tradition and history attached to the techniques and tools give them an almost ritualistic quality.
- The deconstruction of an image required in separating the colors onto different pieces of wood and then putting them back together into a new form offers many opportunities for the artist to react and respond to the materials in the process, embedding new decisions in the "memory" of the printed image.
- A woodblock artist uses her whole body to make the work. There is a very physical wrestling with the resistance of the wood in order to carve an image, and printing with a baren instead of a press also requires a lot of physical energy. The artist's body is part of the print.
Of course, some of these qualities are not unique to mokuhanga. I'd love to hear from you readers who work in other media -- do you, and if so, how do you express these ineffable qualities in your work? Please leave a comment if you have thoughts about this.
Detail of a print with over 300 impressions
Fujisawa san spoke about another factor of mokuhanga that he believes is integral to expressing the ineffable in a print: the transparency and layering of the pigments. Because of this transparency the colors are complex and deep and each layer, even if seemingly invisible, affects all the other layers. He showed us a series of prints that had each received hundreds of layers of colors to illustrate his point, saying that this kind of tone and feeling would not be possible in a print made by other methods, particularly digitally.
I was very moved by Fujisawa's talk. He articulated many things that I've barely articulated myself, and I felt a deeper understanding of why I've been so attracted to mokuhanga.