Considering the influence that Japanese prints exerted upon Western modernism, discussion about the development of abstraction within Japanese printmaking has been surprisingly limited. Millennia of precedence for such abstraction can be found within Japanese art history—from the cord-markings on ceramic vessels of the Jōmon era (c. 10,500-300 B.C.) to the vibrantly colored patterns of Japanese textile art. In addition, after two and a half centuries of restricted trade and communication with other nations, many Japanese printmakers relished opportunities for cultural exchange and took inspiration from Western abstract artists. Onchi Kōshirō (1891-1955) pays direct tribute to Man Ray (1890-1976) in prints where silhouettes of various household objects are arranged in seemingly random compositions. The amorphous imagery of Shinagawa Takumi (1908-2009) similarly evokes the Surrealist creations of Joan Miró (1893-1983) and Jean Arp (1886-1966).
Japanese abstract art eloquently reflects the artists’ complex feelings about their country’s rapid modernization. While the luminescence in works by Fumita Fumiaki (b. 1926) and Hasumi Yukio (b. 1927) arguably celebrates the popularization of electrical light, Onchi Kōshirō’s organic textures harken back to an era before such innovations.
A playful suite of prints by Kobashi Yasuhide (1931-2003), displayed in the alcove of the Japan Gallery, serves as a reminder that within even the most inscrutable of imagery can be found whimsical references to the material world.