21 March 2013

Sosaku Hanga - Kanae Yamamoto

Yamamoto, from "Modern Japanese Prints"
This post is the first in a series about the artists of the sosaku hanga (creative prints) movement which took place in Japan during the early-to-mid 20th century. Artists involved in this movement held to the idea that for a woodblock print to be considered “art” rather than a commercial print, each step (design, carving, and printing) needed to be carried out solely by the artist rather than by separate artisans.

[Note added 3/24/2013: My friend Gerrie at The Linosaurus blog wrote an interesting post about Kanae Yamamoto last year, including research into his relationship to the French impressionists of his time.]

Kanae Yamamoto (1882-1946) is often called the founder of sosaku hanga. At age 11, he was apprenticed to a wood engraver and after his apprenticeship he worked as a newspaper engraver/illustrator. At age 21 he entered art school and in 1904 he made what is considered the first sosaku hanga print, called Fisherman. By the time he graduated from art school, Yamamoto was deeply excited about creative woodprints and he became an influence on many other artists.

Fisherman by Kanae Yamamoto

As you can see, this two-color print is carved in the style of an engraving although, unlike an engraving, it was made on a plank board and the chisel marks are fairly loose. At the time the print was published in a Tokyo magazine, it was labeled as a toga, literally a “knife picture.” I kind of like that term.

In 1912 Yamamoto went to Europe for several years and further developed his style, which became looser and more oriented toward the u-gouge like the German expressionists. The chisel marks are what stand out to me in these prints, as well as the European subject matter.

Kanae Yamamoto, Bathing in Brittany

Kanae Yamamoto, Cow

Kanae Yamamoto, Dutch Girl In Landscape

Kanae Yamamoto, French Pastoral In Spring

Kanae Yamamoto, Woman of Brittany
Kanae Yamamoto, On the Deck

Once back in Japan, Yamamoto started a sosaku hanga organization which lasted many decades, and he also started and ran an arts and crafts school in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture. The school, which took Yamamoto away from pursuit of his own art, was never a great success, but it birthed another movement in Japan called the "Free Drawing" movement. This movement in childhood education argued against the old copying method of learning to draw and encouraged freedom and creativity in children's expression. After the school failed, Yamamoto returned to Tokyo determined to take up his own artistic practice again, but he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage shortly afterward and died in 1946 at the age of 64. Before his death, Yamamoto got out of bed and took a hatchet to his wood blocks. As Oliver Statler writes, "For a man who believed so deeply in creative prints it must have been anathema that somebody else might print from his blocks."

Kanae Yamamoto, Fishermen


dinahmow said...

Lovely to see this work. I do like his choppy marks. To me, it's no unlike some of Van Gogh's early Flemish work.Thank you, Annie.

Annie B said...

Hi Dinah. Yes, I think there was a lot of influencing back and forth between the impressionists and the Japanese in the early 20th century. I love the sosaku prints.

William Evertson said...

After seeing the Smith College Museum show I was doing a bit of research on the origins of sosaku hanga and came across The Fisherman which left me transfixed by its composition and fierce carving. I'm very pleased to see some more images and the background on this artist. Thank you.