Thursday, July 30, 2015

Eliza Draper Gardiner: Japan Comes To Rhode Island

A post about Eliza Draper Gardiner  (1871-1955) on this particular blog might strike some people as strange.  Indeed, as far as I know, Gardiner, who was born in Providence, Rhode Island, never traveled to Japan or, indeed, anywhere in Asia.  She studied art at the Friends School in Providence, and enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Design, from which she graduated in 1897.  After further studies in Europe, she became a pupil of the painter Charles H. Woodbury, who likely introduced her to etching.  True, she was influenced  by the color woodblock prints of Arthur Wesley Dow, and at least one of her prints (“Landscape Study, Three Pines”) was based on an exercise from Dow’s Composition book.  She probably was influenced by Japanese woodblock prints just as Dow was, but I’m not aware of any hard evidence that she ever made a study of them beyond what she gleaned from Dow’s writings.   Peter Hastings Falk has also cited the prints of Sir William Nicholson as another influence and Nicholson, as it turns out, also was an influence on both Emil Orlik and my favorite Japanese print designer, Hashiguchi Goyo.

Eliza Draper Gardiner (1892)

Beginning in 1908, Gardiner joined the faculty at  the Rhode Island School of Design where, over the years, she taught woodcut, watercolor, and drawing.  Gardiner seldom, if ever, dated her prints, but her earliest prints seem to start appearing around 1914.  In 1916, she began her association with the Provincetown printmakers, although she never used their white-line method and instead used a technique following in the Japanese tradition.  Her work was shown in a landmark exhibition of color prints at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1919 and at a show at the Art Institute of Chicago that same year.  Between 1920 and 1938 she was a regular contributor to the Print Makers Society of California’s annual International Print Makers Exhibitions in Los Angeles.  She continued teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design until 1939.  Her favorite subject was children at play in beaches, parks, and meadows. 

 Boy with Crabnet
(woodblock print)

 Water Wings
(woodblock print)

One of Gardiner’s last woodblock prints (perhaps even her final print) is this monochromatic Buddha study featuring one of her trademark little girls seated to the left of the sculpture and issued in an edition of 50.  It was exhibited at the 18th Annual International Print Makers Exhibition in Los Angeles in March 1937, where it was included in the Society's "Best Fifty Prints of the Year."  It was also exhibited at the Newport Art Museum's 27th American Annual Exhibition in 1938.  Why, after a life spent mainly in Rhode Island depicting children at play at local venues, would Gardiner would choose to depict this particular exotic subject?

Buddha (1937) 
Personal Collection
(woodblock print)

It turns out that there is a rather simple explanation.  In 1936, the Rhode Island School of Design purchased a large wooden sculpture of the Buddha Mahavairocana (Dainichi Nyorai), the supreme Buddha of Mahayana Buddhism as taught by the Shingon sect, from the Japanese art dealer Yamanaka & Co., Inc. of New York City.  The largest wooden Japanese sculpture in the United States (294.6 H x 212.1 W x 165.1 D), it was constructed from eleven hollowed and carved pieces of cryptomeria wood at the end of the Heian Period in the 12th Century (c. 1150-1185).  It was the principal image of Rokuon-ji, a Shingon sub-temple in Hyogo Prefecture, along Japan’s Inland Sea.  Legend has it that the temple was destroyed by fire hundreds of years ago, but that it was stored in a nearby farmhouse until it was brought to the U.S. by Yamanaka in 1933.

Buddha Mahavairocana, 
Rhode Island School of Design

The Dainichi Nyorai represents the transcendent Buddha from whom all other buddhas and all aspects of the universe emanate.  The sculpture shows him as an Indian prince in a pose similar to traditional painted depictions, in which he sat at the center of a mandala (cosmic diagram) surrounded by other buddhas and attendants.  This meditating Dainichi would have been the focus of worship in the temple hall where visitors prayed, made offerings, lit incense sticks, chanted, and performed rituals particular to the Shingon sect. The symbolic dhyana mudra gesture of the Buddha’s hands, in which the tips of his thumbs touch, indicates pure meditation and the attainment of spiritual perfection.

 Buddha Mahavairocana, 
Rhode Island School of Design

This sculpture would, therefore, literally have been “big” news to anyone working at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1936, including Gardiner.  However, being carved out of Japanese wood rather than from stone, this sculpture might have had particular resonance to Gardiner, who had spent much of her own life carving wood for prints and teaching that technique to her students.  It’s almost as if, at the end of her woodblock printing career, Gardiner is paying symbolic homage to the Japanese for developing an art form that, either directly or indirectly, largely shaped her own artistic path.

 Buddha Mahavairocana, 
Rhode Island School of Design

Two preliminary charcoal studies for Gardiner’s print have survived which, along with the print itself, I was able to buy from The Old Print Shop in New York City.  Both are larger than the actual print.  In the first, the girl is standing in front of the sculpture.  In the second, two of the three composite sketches show the girl seated to the left of the sculpture, as in the final print, and therefore presumably were executed after the first drawing, even though the sculpture is more freely rendered.  In both drawings, the Buddha’s robe, as in the sculpture itself, drapes down from his left shoulder, yet Gardiner inexplicably shows the robe draping down from the Buddha’s right shoulder in the print.  At first I thought this might have been because she used some subsequent drawing to cut the block, so that the sculpture would necessarily appear in reverse in the final print.  But if that were the case, then shouldn’t the girl also appear on the other side of the sculpture in the print?  I can only surmise that, while the Buddha Mahavairocana sculpture was clearly the specific inspiration for her print, it was not intended to be a realistic, literal rendering of that particular sculpture.

Charcoal Study #1 for Buddha print (c. 1936-1937) 
Personal Collection

Charcoal Study #2 for Buddha print (c. 1936-1937)
Personal Collection

Gardiner was certainly not the first Western printmaker to depict a Buddha statue in prints.  For comparison, here are some earlier examples by some other noted etchers and printmakers:

 Kamakura (1916) by Charles W. Bartlett
(woodblock print)

The Daibusu, Kamakura (1919) by Elizabeth Keith
(woodblock print)

White Buddha, Korea (1925) by Elizabeth Keith
Personal Collection
(woodblock print)

Buddha - Amida (1923) by Bertha Jacques
Courtesy of Joyce Williams Antique Prints & Maps

Note:  The Jaques Buddha image comes from Joyce Williams’ website, where it is called “Budda-Serenity” and is apparently misdescribed as a 1924 woodblock print.  I'm not aware that Jaques made any commercial woodblock prints, and only a "Buddha - Amida" etching appears in Czestochowski's list of Jacques etchings at the back of his James Swann catalog raisonne.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Anna Hotchkis: A Scottish Painter-Printmaker in China

Gordon, who runs the Modern Printmakers blog, recently introduced me to the work of Anna Mary Hotchkis (1885-1984).  Hotchkis was born in Crookston, Renfrewshire and studied art initially at the Glasgow School of Art.  After a year, she and her sisters Isobel and Margaret, became part of a circle of female art students studying in Munich with Hans Lasker.  When her family moved to Edinburgh, Hotchkis transferred to the Edinburgh College of Art for the remainder of her training under Robert Burns.

Anna Hotchkis

Hotchkis’ first links with Kirkcudbright go back to 1915, when she stayed in a studio rented from Jessie M. King in Greengate Close, which many years later would become her home.   At that time, Kirkcudbright was an artist colony whose inhabitants included E.A. Hornel, Charles Oppenheimer, E.A. Taylor, and King.  Hotchkis visited Kirkcudbright frequently over the next seven years, but left to go to the Far East in 1922 to visit her sister Catherine who was a missionary in Mukden (now Shenyang) in Manchuria.  She had an exhibition of  her paintings in Shanghai, and spent a year teaching art at Yenching University in Peking before returning to Scotland in 1924.  She returned to China, however, in 1926 and stayed until the Japanese invasion in 1937.  She must have known the etcher Thomas Handforth, because she took his photograph at some point during the early to mid-1930s when Handforth was in China.

Autumn in Galloway 

The Tolbooth at Night

Tolbooth, Kirkcudbright
(woodblock print)

Hotchkis first met the American painter Mary Mullikin at Beidaihe, a Chinese seaside resort, in July 1924, and the two became close friends.  After she returned to China, the pair traveled together to Japan and Korea in 1927.  In September 1931, she and Mullikin made their first trip to the Yungang caves near the city of Datong in northern Shanxi province.  They returned there the following June, having conceived the idea of writing a book about the cave sculptures of Yungang illustrated with their own paintings and drawings.  It was published in 1935 as “Buddhist Sculptures at the Yun Kang Caves.”

Buddha's Horse Kanthaka, Bids Farewell by Licking the Boot of Maitreya
(painting reproduced in The National Geographic Magazine, March 1938)

At the request of their publisher, the pair made a pilgrimage to the Nine Sacred Mountains of China in 1935 and 1936.  This resulted in another book illustrated by Hotchkis, although it was not published until thirty-seven years later.  China was under considerable turmoil  at the time, with revolutionary forces and brigands vying for control in some areas, so it was quite brave of them to travel to such remote parts under the circumstances.  Mullikin also wrote an article for the March 1938 issue of The National Geographic Magazine about “China’s Great Wall of Sculpture “ (Wu Tai Shan), which included reproductions of paintings and drawings by Mullikin and Hotchkis.

Anna Hotchkis (center) at Petra, Jordan (1938)

Upon hearing that the Japanese had entered Peking in 1937, Hotchkis decided to return to Scotland.  After spending six or seven months in India, she finally set up home in Kirkcudbright in 1938, where she would live and work for the rest of her life, although she continued to travel extensively in Europe and  North America and made two return trips to Hong Kong, at least one of which was in connection with the publication of her book “The Nine Sacred Mountains of China”  in 1973.

The Nine Sacred Mountains of China
(cover illustration)

Unfortunately, not much is known about Hotchkis’ woodblock and linocut career.  As shown above, she made at least three, relatively simplistic prints of scenes of Kirkcudbright that were probably done in the 1915-1922 time period.  In early 1926, she exhibited in Glasgow three woodblock prints of Chinese scenes: “The Street, Shanghai”; “The Needle Pagoda, China”; and “The Great Wall Of China.”  I haven’t been able to locate images of any of these prints.  However, she made at least two other Chinese woodblock prints: “Boats, Hong Kong,” and “Boats, Macao.”  Stylistically, her “Boats, Hong Kong” print is quite similar to elements of her oil painting “The Peak, Hong Kong by Night.” I’ve also found a lithograph she designed of the “Wei Dynasty Pagoda, Sung Shan.”

Boats, Hong Kong
Personal Collection
(woodblock print)

 The Peak, Hong Kong by Night (painting)

 Boats, Macao
Personal Collection
 (woodblock print)

Wei Dynasty Pagoda, Sung Shan
The examples of Hotchkis' Chinese wooodblock prints are very different.  "Boats, Honk Kong" clearly did not employ a outline keyblock.  It is printed (with considerable rubbing) on soft, absorbent paper with what appears to be watercolor-based pigments.  "Boats, Maco," on the other hand, looks like it might have used a partial keyblock and it is printed on very thin tissue paper.  It's a matter of taste, but I prefer the former to the latter. 

Having spent more than a dozen years in China, Hotchkis’ output includes a large number of oil paintings, pastels, watercolors, and drawings of her time in China.  Many of the ones I have seen would have translated well to the woodblock print medium.  If anyone has any additional information about Hotchkis’ other Chinese woodblock prints, please let me know.

Anna Hotchkis in her nineties (c. 1980)

My thanks to the High St. Gallery in Kirkcudbright for certain biographical information and for some of the photographs and artwork images used in this entry.

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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Paul Binnie’s New Tattoo Print

With rare exceptions, I usually don’t collect much post-WWII art.  While the shin hanga movement continued to exist after the war, few of the great print designers continued to be active and, of those that were, most of their best work was behind them.  A couple of decades later, the shin hanga movement was all but moribund, continuing to exist predominantly as a means to generate posthumous edition printings of old designs, or to reproduce ukiyo-e and shin hanga masterpieces on recarved blocks.  Moreover, as modern art principles took hold, the prints of sosaku hanga artists became less representational and more abstract, not to mention largely uninterested in depicting the types of subject matter that historically had been featured in ukiyo-e and shin hanga prints.  While contemporary non-representational art may have an appeal that spans cultures and borders, it largely leaves me cold.
Self-Portrait with Printer's Apron (1989)
Etching by Paul Binnie
Personal Collection

One major exception for me, however, is the work of the Scottish woodblock print artist Paul Binnie (1967- ), who currently lives in London, England.  I initially discovered Paul’s prints about 10 years ago and was blown away by several things.  First, there was the quality of the draftsmanship of Paul’s original preparatory drawings.  The woodblock print artists I’ve most admired have almost always been particularly talented in that area.   Second, I was impressed with how detailed and labor-intensive his prints were, usually requiring several dozen blocks and impressions, often lavishly printed with mica, metallic pigments, embossing, or other luxury printing effects, a result made all the more impressive by the fact that Paul does his own carving and printing.   His resulting prints of a quality that largely haven’t been seen since the Taisho and early Showa “golden age” of shin hanga prints issued by publishers such as Watanabe Shozaburo.  Finally, perhaps because Paul is himself a collector of ukiyo-e and shin hanga prints, he has great fondness for the types of subject matter of the prints produced under the traditional hanmoto system (as well as those produced by independent artists like Hiroshi Yoshida and Hashiguchi Goyo who hired their own carvers and printers to print their designs).  His work frequently pays homage to the great Japanese print artists of the past while nonetheless imbuing his own designs with a decidedly modern sensibility.  (It should be noted that Paul does, on occasion, carve freestyle on the woodblock and use a more limited color palette to produce prints more emblematic of the sosaku hanga movement.  He has even cut his blocks into segments with a jigsaw in order to produce prints in a manner somewhat analogous to the prints made by the Provincetown printmakers.)
Red Fuji - Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi (2002)

In 1993, Binnie traveled to Japan to learn how to make woodblock prints.  Through a friend he learned of the woodblock print studio operated by Toshi Yoshida, Hiroshi Yoshida’s son, in Tokyo.  Toshi Yoshida was too ill to take on new students and one of his recommendations was for Binnie to apprentice himself with Seki Kenji, the head printer for the publisher Doi and someone who maintained his own carving and printing workshop in Western Tokyo.  Binnie studied for a year and half with Seki Kenji and remained in Japan until late 1998 producing prints and oil paintings of Kabuki and Noh actors.

 Bandō Tamasaburō as the Spirit of the Heron
in the play "The Heron Maiden" (1997)

Today, Binnie’s woodblock print output exceeds 150 designs.  His subjects include bijin (beautiful women), male nudes, landscapes (including North American and European locales), clouds, flowers, animals, and Japanese mythological scenes.  In my opinion, some of his most outstanding prints involve sensitive portraits of contemporary kabuki actors.  Indeed he is virtually only the active woodblock print artist keeping that particular genre alive today.  Another area in which he excels are his tattoo prints, another classic ukiyo-e subject but one largely ignored by artists of the shin hanga movement.  I never really liked or appreciated tattoo prints until I discovered Paul’s work, which brings us to the subject of this post.
New York Night (2008)
Courtesy of Scholten Japanese Art

In 2004, Binnie began work on an intermittent series of prints called Edozumi Hyaku Shoku (A Hundred Shades of Ink of Edo).  Binnie had made tattoo prints prior to 2004 but, with the exception of color variants, the designs were independent of each other and generally involved stylized tattoos.   In this new series, the unifying theme would be tattoo designs (or composite tattoo designs) drawn from the print imagery of famous ukiyo-e artists.   Thus, one print featured a man with a tattoo made up entirely of cats in homage to the noted cat fancier Utagawa Kuniyoshi, who frequently depicted cats in his prints.  Another print in the series cleverly incorporated scenes from various Hokusai prints of famous Japanese waterfalls into a tattoo on a man in a shower.   Other tattoo designs in the series featured motifs from the prints of Yoshitoshi, Kunisada, Sharaku, Utamaro, Eizan, Haranobu, and Kiyonaga, with half of the models being female.  For collectors who may not be interested in a tattoo print, Binnie also produces at least one non-tattoo version in an entirely different color scheme.

 Kuniyoshi's Cats (2004)

White Cat (2004)

Paul Binnie has just released the tenth and final design in the series, a print called Hiroshige no Edo (Hiroshige’s Edo).  Like all the tattoo prints in the series, it is issued in an edition of 100 and with a background printed with baren sujizuri (circular baren printing).  This particular print design employs 46 colors and required 43 separate block impressions to make.  The majority of the imagery in this print comes from various designs in Ando Hiroshige’s famous print series Edo Meishō Hyakei (One Hundred Famous Views of Edo) (1856-1858).

Hiroshige no Edo (2015)

The tattoo on the woman’s back derives from two separate Hiroshige prints, Ōhashi Atake no Yūdachi (Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi Bridge and Atake) and Fukagawa Susaki Jūmantsubo.  An admixture of the red-pink of the woman’s cloth has been added to the background printing in a manner so as to suggest heavy rain like the Ōhashi print.  The design on the woman’s sheer cloth comes from a third print in the series, Kameido Umeyashiki (The Plum Garden at Kameido).  The carp seal under Binnie’s signature printed in 23 carat gold leaf is an allusion to the Boy’s Day banner prominently featured in Hiroshige’s Koinobori Suidobashi Surugadai print, while the Fuji scene at the bottom of the cartouche is from an undated tanzaku print of snow on Nihonbashi.   Hiroshige would later feature some of the same compositional elements in a similar print in the Edo Meishō Hyakei series called Nihonbashiyukibara (Nihonbashi, Clearing After Snow). (Click on the links above to see the corresponding Hiroshige print.)  Note how the woman's head and left elbow intentionally break the margin of the print.

Binnie’s print is part of a long tradition of Western artists appropriating Japanese print motifs into their art, a practice that has been going from almost the moment that Japan was opened up to the West.  Van Gogh, for example, painted two famous copies of Hiroshige’s  Sudden Shower over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake and The Plum Garden at Kameido.

Bridge In The Rain (1887) by Vincent van Gogh

  Flowering Plum Orchard (1887) by Vincent van Gogh

In addition to Hiroshige no Edo, Paul has released two non-tattoo variants of that design.   The first, also in an edition of 100, is called Adesugata (Alluring Figure), part of another series called Azuma Nishiki Bijin Awase (A Collection of Eastern Brocade Beauties).  It is printed against a shaded lilac and mauve-pink ground.  The woman’s sheer cloth is the green of Japanese tea, embellished with flower buds in silver metallic pigment and 23 carat gold leaf.  In addition, there is an extra black lacquer-printed block in the hair, and blind embossing in the signature in the lower margin.  It employs 55 colors and required 51 separate block impressions. 

Adesugata (2015)

The second, Hantōmei (Translucent), is a smaller edition of 30, and is available exclusively from the Saru Gallery in Uden, The Netherlands.  It features a sensual burgundy red background  and also features Binnie’s signature printed in 23 carat gold leaf.  It employs 43 colors and  required 41 separate block impressions, including three for the red background alone.   (Several other designs in Binnie’s tattoo series also were produced without tattoos in a small edition utilizing a similar red ground background.  These designs tend to sell out rather quickly, after which the prices for Binnie’s sold-out prints tend to skyrocket on the secondary market.)

 Hantōmei (2014)
Courtesy of Saru Gallery

For a print such as Hiroshige no Edo, Paul would typically draw from life a series of drawings of the model (sans the imagined tattoo), eventually resulting in a final conte drawing in the size of the intended print.  Based on this drawing, an ink drawing (hanshita-e) would be prepared for purposes of cutting the block.  Traditionally, such a drawing would be destroyed in the course of carving, but Paul uses a photocopy of the drawing so that the original ink drawing can be preserved.  The tattoo is itself the subject of a separate ink drawing overlay.

Conte Drawing #1
Personal Collection

Conte Drawing #2
Courtesy of Scholten Japanese Art

Conte Drawing #3
Personal Collection

Hanshita-e (ink drawing)
Personal Collection

Hirogshige no Edo tattoo overlay
Personal Collection

A number of dealers around the world handle Paul Binnie’s prints, but two of the best are Eric van den Ingat the Saru Gallery in Uden, The Netherlands and Katherine Martin at the Scholten Gallery in New York City.  Each carries Hiroshige no Edo and their websites feature a large number of other Binnie designs in inventory, which I recommend you check out to get a sense of the variety in Paul’s work.  For further reading, I suggest Paul Binnie: A Dialogue with the Past - The First 100 Japanese Prints (Eric van den Ing, ed., Art Media Resources 2007), which features full page images of all of Paul’s commercially produced woodblock and stencil prints as of its publication date.  It is available at and other venues.

Cover depicts "Butterfly Bow" (2005)

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