The splendor of the moon, the beauty of cherry blossoms; lovely courtesans, bulky Sumo wrestlers, young lovers; bustling street scenes, idyllic lakes and Spring showers – all were the subject matter of an art form hundreds of years old, rich in tradition and exquisite in its accomplishment.
This year, the Spring Pier Show, March 17 & 18 on Pier 94, will kick off Asia Week in New York City with a special exhibit and sale of wood block prints by Western artists living and working in Asia. Brought together by TOJ Gallery, many of these woodblocks were featured in major exhibitions organized by the Pacific Asia Museum this past year and are just now available to collectors.
It is the history behind these works of art that is so special. The art form has long fascinated Westerners, providing glimpses into a strikingly different culture. The earliest woodblock prints were made in temples and given to believers. However, it is the prints made during the Edo (Tokyo) period (1600-1875) that have consistently turned the heads of serious collectors, historians and art lovers worldwide.
The school of art best known and associated with wood block printing from this era is called uikiyo-e. The Japanese believed in an ephemeral world of fleeting beauty in which one could enjoy a realm of entertainments divorced from the responsibilities of the mundane, everyday world. –literally a “floating world” as the word translates in English.
Many of the woodblocks were done by women who, at the turn of the 19th century through the 40s, literally lived their lives “between two worlds.” Lilian Miller, born and raised in Tokyo, returned to the U.S. to attend Vassar. She then traveled extensively throughout Asia, perfecting the art of woodblock printing.
Scottish-born Elizabeth Keith went to Japan on holiday in 1955 and ended up staying nine years studying the traditional uikiyo-e style. Helen Hyde traveled to Japan with a friend she met at a California Sketch Club and stayed ten years to refine color wood block printing. These women made their homes in Asia during a period of time when European and American relations with Japan were entering a period of growing friction.
The beauty these women were able to find in ordinary street scenes and in nature; the courage they exhibited in taking on an unfamiliar culture and mastering an ancient and difficult art form is what makes these artists – and this collection – a standout. TOJ Gallery will also present the work of other Western artists residing in Asia, among them English born Charles W. Bartlett, who traveled extensively in Asia with his second wife, executing woodblock prints; and Paris-born Paul Jacoulet, who lived most of his life in Japan, surviving in the countryside during World War II by growing vegetables and raising poultry. Jacoulet earned the distinction of being one of the few western artists to have mastered the art of woodblock printing so successfully as to be recognized in Japan.
The collection also includes wood block prints by Western artists who were greatly inspired by the Orient, including Elyse Ashe Lord, Dorsey Potter Tyson, as well as contemporary artists Joshua Rome and Brian Williams.
Hours for the Pier Show are: 10-6pm Sat. and Sun. Admission is $15. Pier 94 is located at 55th Street and 12 Avenue. For more information, visit www.stellashows.com. Follow the show on Facebook.