Saturday, May 30, 2015


As the title of this blog suggests, it is devoted to the topic of Western printmakers and the Orient.  The focus will be primarily on woodblock print designers and etchers who traveled to Japan, China, India and other parts of the Orient circa 1880-1940.  From time to time, however, I might also discuss the work of what I call "arrmchair Orientalists": Western printmakers who, although they never traveled to Asia, were nonetheless heavily influenced by Asian art (especially by Japanese woodblock prints) and/or employed Asian imagery in their work.  In the process, I hope to highlight the work of a number of lesser known or all-but-forgotten printmakers, and to generate on an ad hoc basis working checklists of their "eastern impressions."

The banner for this blog shows a woodblock print triptych designed by the Austrian artist Emil Orlik (1870-1932) during his first trip to Japan in 1900 that  illustrates the traditional Japanese hanmoto system of ukiyo-e woodblock print production.  This was a collaborative approach involving a division of labor between the artist (print designer), the carver, and the printer, all under the aegis of a publisher who would fund the operation and market the resulting prints.  Orlik traveled to Japan to learn firsthand the Japanese techniques of woodblock carving and printing.  It is nonetheless believed today that Orlik employed Japanese craftsmen in whole or in part to carve and print his designs while he was in Japan.  Orlik's triptych was also later published in Vienna in 1902 in lithographic form.

In the 20th Century, the so-called "shin hanga" (new print) movement continued to produce Japanese woodblock prints in the traditional manner while embracing realism and incorporating Western art conventions to depict subject matter with a modern sensibility.  At the same time, the traditional approach was being supplanted by artists of the "sōsaku hanga" (creative print) movement, who took on the responsibility of carving and printing (and usually selling)  their own prints (which tended to favor expressionistic or abstract subject matter).

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