Ukiyo-e and the influence of Japan.

One of the many influences that I had mentioned in my application for this MA was of the art of Japanese printmaking artists such as Katsushika Hokusai and Andō Hiroshige – of the ukiyo-e style of Japanese woodblock printmaking.

These Japanese artists had a strong influence on western art in general, and more specifically in what became the Anglo-Japanese style of the 19th century, after Japan began to open up to the rest of the world.

Japanese traditional art’s sense of minimalism in depictions of nature and village life, and the  subtle use of light and colour would go on to influence more modern movements in the late 19th Century and into the 20th Century like Art Nouveau.

Seeing these works in books and museums also had a subconscious influence on my own photography – which I’ve mentioned on this blog before – it also influences the style of graphic design I want to produce – a style echoing an atmospheric approach to  depictions of the natural world and of daily life in the city.

The defined lines and vivid shades of colour of these styles of printmaking also appealed to me, as they reminded me of favourite comic book artists like Hergé. Later on I also became aware of the Japanese influence on artists based in Europe and America such as James Whistler whose minimal nocturne paintings have also been a favourite of my own for some time.

Whistler - Nocturne in Blue and Gold Old Battersea Bridge

Whistler – Nocturne in Blue and Gold Old Battersea Bridge

The use of light in Whistlers paintings especially appeals to me, with its subtle tones and shades, and this is echoed in the sensitivity to the subtleties of the landscape and simplicity of form shown in early 19th Century Japanese art.

There were many artists of this time who were influenced by these prints including Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Charles Rennie MacIntosh and Frances and Margaret MacDonald (who I have mentioned earlier in this blog).

This wabi-sabi style approach to minimalism and simplicity of form can be seen in many Japanese practitioners in contemporary art disciplines. Designers like Ikko Tanaka and Yusaku Kamekura, and photographers Yamamoto Masao and Shomei Tomatsu are continuing to develop and reflect an aesthetic style going back hundreds of years.

Having had a long fascination with Japan and its history, these are styles of design and image making I find highly appealing and I hope to incorporate all these disciplined and evocative influences into my own visual design projects in the near future.