Fast Forward: Japan’s Still Calling

My work took an abrupt departure in the early 90s when my teaching stint at UC-Davis made travel to Europe possible. I was blown away by Italy and Greece, and the painting and sculpture I encountered in Rome, Florence, Naples, and  Athens. The David,Scena Dionisciaca, and other series and work followed, in paintings, drawings, and prints. Europe was a cornucopia of source imagery—from Pompeian mosaics in Naples and pools and fountains at Hadrian’s Villa to the splendors of the Uffizi.

Before this revelation, I’d been under the spell of Asian art, especially Japanese woodblock prints, although I’ve never been closer than art history class to China or Japan.  (Although getting to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia in 2008.) I’d been exposed daily to 20th century landscape prints by Yoshida and Hasui, collected by my husband’s father, and then had absorbed lessons from masters like Hiroshige, Hokusai, and Yoshitoshi. I did a series of paintings and prints based upon Yoshitoshi triptychs, but mixing them up with western dress and narratives. My depiction of weather such as snow, wind, and rain, the seasons, and nocturnes, all stemmed from looking at Asian art, in prints, scrolls, screens, ceramics, and manifested as gardens. 

Even as my references shifted to Renaissance, Baroque, and Mannerist artists, and the Greek and Roman sculpture they channeled, nevertheless I kept the lessons I’d already learned from Japanese art in particular about flattening and patterning, skewed perspectives and cropping, asymmetry, stylization and abstraction, the centrality of the natural world. And the Post-Impressionist artists I admired like Degas, Van Gogh, and Gauguin all had drunk from the same well of influences and themes. Monet with his wisteria, water lilies, and the Japanese bridge was also an obvious inspiration. 

I’ve now spent some time focussing upon landscape in my work—the Sierra Nevada mountains, Death Valley, Anza Borrego, and Mendocino.  

I’m hoping to finally make it to Japan, the literal place, but I also hope to make even more of synthesis of East and West in my work. It’s a two-way street: Japanese-American artists like Obata visited and depicted Yosemite and the High Sierra mountains, while based in Berkeley most of his adult life except for his time in the internment camps, and Yoshida, world traveller but Japan-based, made woodblocks of such iconic scenery as the Grand Canyon, El Capitan in Yosemite, and Mt. Rainier (all 1925).

I’m depicting the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains, but looking East and living in the San Francisco Bay Area, so we can meet in the middle. My work to come will double back, while moving forward.

November, 2019

I have long been interested in Japanese woodblock prints (the primary influence on my own woodblock prints, along with German Expressionism). They encouraged me to depict weather (rain, snow, and wind); times of day, especially night scenes; and the seasons. I was affected by the formidable design sense of Hiroshioge, Yoshitoshi (the Japanese Goya), Hokusai, and others, with human figures integral or subsumed into the landscape.

The Monet wisteria-covered bridge at Giverny was one influence for the bridge motif, as well as the famous Hiroshige print that Van Gogh copied.