Tag Archives: woodblock prints

Sex, war & disaster: Japanese prints

By Bob Hicks

Geishas, kabuki actors, mountain landscapes, samurai scenes.

Check, check, check, check.

But what about those spine-tingling scenes of natural disaster?

Utagawa Kunisada, "Young woman surrounded by the text of a libretto," c. 1832, Portland Art Museum/The Mary Andrews Ladd Collection.The Portland Art Museum‘s collection of Japanese woodblock prints has long been a strong suit in its permanent collections, and the new exhibition The Artist’s Touch, the Craftsman’s Hand, which features about 230 prints from a collection of more than 2,500 covering the past 340 years, is a welcome and major summation of the museum’s holdings in this fascinating limb on the great tree of art. I wrote about the show in Friday’s A&E section of The Oregonian.

To call that story a review is a bit of a stretch. The exhibition is far too complex to be broken down adequately in a newspaper-length piece, and I’m happy to leave the tough critical analysis to the historians and art academicians who know the territory far better than I do. What I tried to do was simply provide a cultural context for the artwork and a frame for viewing it.

In my piece for The Oregonian I concentrated on the prints’ role in fostering a sense of stability — perhaps even an illusion of stability — in the Japanese culture that the artists reflected in their works. As a generalization, that’s true.

But there are several intriguing side stories to this exhibit.

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