The graphic tradition in Japanese two-dimensional works is strong and internationally recognized. It is to be remembered that the current Western fascination with Japanese anime and manga, for example, is a contemporary evolution of early graphic traditions.
The influence of Japanese graphic art on the development of Art Nouveau, Art Deco and the Impressionists is well documented. Modern print artists were also part of a 20th century movement, similar to the Sodeisha movement in ceramics, aimed at aligning Japanese arts practice more closely with what was perceived as ‘fine art’ in the West. From more or less ‘mass produced’ woodblock prints of the Edo and Meiji periods, Japan’s print artists of the 20th century adapted their considerable skills to the production of limited edition prints. Modern and contemporary Japanese prints continue to be amongst the international best in this genre.
In particular, Imamura Yoshio and Nakazawa Shinichi have drawn on long standing graphic traditions to create startlingly original works in mixed media. Traditional materials such as gofun, sumi, gold and silver foil are combined with metal, wood, earth and clay in works that engage both eye and soul. Nakazawa speaks of ‘pluralistic space’, the co-existence of complex and discrete spaces, a philosophy distilled from his appreciation of the particular treatment of space in 16th and 17th Japanese art. Imamura’s work is strongly influenced by the idea of transience in Zen Buddhism, the beauty of change and decay that characterizes all life. He seeks to capture moments of evanescence in wondrous collages of sensual materials and textures.
Calligraphy and Zen painting traditions have a stronger contemporary influence than that of oil painting introduced from a European tradition. Abstract sumi-e and calligraphy-inspired graphics can be seen in cutting edge works by young artists who are emerging from a street art background to challenge perceptions of ‘artist’, ‘painting’, ‘gallery’. As spray can and paint lid replace brush and inkstone, we are reminded of the dominance of the visual in Japanese art and are given an opportunity for an honest, unfiltered appreciation of the human emotions and experiences that are expressed.