May 21, 2022
Ralph Kiggell (1960-2022) was an important part of the international mokuhanga community for many years. Ralph took the different elements of mokuhanga, the energy and exploration of an artist, to create some of the most dramatic and ambitious mokuhanga today. Ralph Kiggell passed away in 2022 a few months after this episode was published.
On this episode of The Unfinished Print I speak with mokuhanga printmaker Ralph Kiggell about his life in Thailand, using locally sourced materials for his mokuhanga from that country; we also speak on his artistic ambitions, his observations on the current state of the mokuhanga community, and what he would like to see as its future.
Notes: may contain a hyperlink. Simply click on the highlighted word or phrase.
Japan and the West - Japan as a country has had an uneasy relationship with the "West." In many cases this relationship has focused solely with the United States. For a fine early description of this particular relationship please read The Making of Modern Japan, by Marius B. Jansen, and Empreror of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912 by Donald Keene.
ukiyo-e - is a multi colour woodblock print generally associated with the Edo Period (1603-1867) of Japan. What began in the 17th Century as prints of only a few colours, evolved into an elaborate system of production and technique into the Meiji Period (1868-1912). With the advent of photography and other forms of printmaking, ukiyo-e as we know it today, ceased production by the late 19th Century.
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669) - was a Dutch painter, considered to be a part of the Dutch Golden Age of painting. He was notable for his self-portraits, landscape painting, and empathic painting.
Serigraphy - is another word for the art of silk screen printing. Silk screen printing can be in on various materials, silk, canvas, paper, etc.
Western Engagement with Mokuhanga - the connection with woodblock prints and the West, predominantly with the United States and Britain, began when the elite of both countries started collecting ukiyo-e. Collecting ukiyo-e was the fashion for wealthier patrons of the arts who saw the beautiful images from Japan and their “Oriental” aesthetic as worth collecting. By the start of the twentieth century ukiyo-e production had began to wane. It wasn’t until Watanabe Shōzaburō (1885-1962) who worked in the woodblock print business, and who exported prints to the West to a foreign market, saw the benefit of focusing his business for foreign buyers. He established his publishing house in Tōkyō for making woodblock prints with high end techniques (almost lost at that point) and used the traditional hanmoto system of print production to facilitate the demand. This began a fruitful business which created a new generation of woodblock production and Japanese aesthetic. The two important types of woodblock print styles from this period are shin-hanga (new prints), and sōsaku-hanga (creative prints).
shin-hanga - or, new prints, is a style of woodblock print production connected to the early twentieth century in Japan. Attributed to Watanabe Shōzaburō, and were created via the ukiyo-e, hanmoto system. Prints are produced through a hierarchy. This hierarchy is as follows: publisher commissions artist who designs the prints, professional woodblock carvers carve the prints, and professional printers print the prints. This collaboration system helped make shin-hanga into the collectable works we find today. They help to codify a romanticized Japanese aesthetic, for a Western audience.
sōsaku-hanga - or creative prints, is a style of printmaking which is predominantly, although not exclusively, prints made by one person. It started in the early twentieth century in Japan, in the same period as the shin-hanga movement. The artist designs, carves, and prints their own works. The designs, especially in the early days, may seem rudimentary but the creation of self made prints was a breakthrough for printmakers beginning to move away from where only a select group of carvers, printers and publishers created woodblock prints.
War prints & Japanese Imperialism - as Japan entered the Pacific Theatre of war (1941-1945) with the United States, the fascist military government had complete power in Japan at the time, and used woodblock prints, as well as other mediums such as lithography and photography, to propagandize their war effort. Printmakers such as Kawase Hasui (1883-1957) even got involved in producing prints that helped the war effort. He designed several war prints during this time period. Prints such as The Red Setting Sun, is a prime example of how the times and aesthetic show a relatively innocuous scene of figures (Japanese soldiers) riding on horses with a setting sun back drop. For more detailed information regarding war time prints I suggest, Conflicts of Interest: Art and War in Modern Japan, ed. Philip K. Hu w/ Rhiannon Paget, and The Politics of Painting by Asato Ikeda. My interview with Rhiannon Paget PhD can be found, here.
The American Occupation and Woodblock Prints - the occupation of Japan occurred after the end of the Pacific theatre (1941-1945) and World War 2 (1939-1945). The Occupation of Japan was from 1945-1952. During this period of nation rebuilding, the Japanese print market as a post-war souvenir was very popular. The rapid growth of the woodblock print in the immediate post-war is attributed to several factors.
Robert O. Muller (1911-2003) was an American collector who helped establish print connections with Japan and the United States. From owning the Shima Art Co. of New York City, to working with Shōzaburō in Tōkyō after the war, Robert O. Muller's contribution can be considered unprecedented in woodblock print history.
Kōshirō Onchi (1891-1955) was another factor in the rise of woodblock prints during the Allied Occupation. His First Thursday Society, and with the help of his daughter who worked directly with the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers (SCAP), Onchi was able to spread the word on the creative prints project (sōsaku hanga) by making connections with important collectors in the American military government, as well as recruiting American artists, such as Ernst Hacker (1917-1987).
For more information regarding the American Occupation of Japan and woodblock prints please read, Japanese Prints during the Allied Occupation 1945-1952, and Troubled Times and Beyond: Japanese Prints 1931-1960, published by Nihon no Hanga, Amsterdam. My interview with Maureen de Vries, curator of Nihon no Hanga, can be found, here.
Evolving Techniques in Japanese Woodblock Prints - is a book published by Kodansha International in 1977. It was written by Canadian woodblock printer Gaston Petit, and Amadio Arboleda, who currently apprentices as a violin maker in Tōkyō.
Tama Art University - is an arts university located in various campuses in Tōkyō. It has various departments such as Architecture, Product and Textile Design, and Art Studies.
入門 - "nyuumon" in the title of the book Ralph speaks about in our interview, where we discuss what the following kanji means. There are a few meanings for this particular kanji, but in regards to the book I believe it to mean, "beginning training."
水生 - "suisei" is a Japanese word meaning, "water based."
刷物 - "surimono" is a Japanese word which means, literally, "printed thing." These were also privately commissioned prints made by wealthier clients for special occasions. These prints usually were extremely extravagant, using high-end techniques and pigments. I could not in my research find whether or not "surimono" was used more colloquially, rather than "ukiyo-e."
kentō - is the registration system used by printmakers in order to line up the colour woodblocks with your key block, or outline block, carved first.
Wood Like Matsumura - is an online and brick and mortar store, for woodblock printmaking, located in Nerima City, Tōkyō. website.
shina - is a type of Japanese plywood used in mokuhanga.
jigsaw cutting - Ralph uses various methods when making his mokuhanga. One such method is jigsaw cutting, where the blocks are cut and those cuts are used to make prints. In this video, Ralph explains his process on making his prints.
Akira Kurosaki 黒崎彰 (1937-2019) - one of the most influential woodblock print artists of the modern era. His work, while seemingly abstract, moved people with its vibrant colour and powerful composition. He was a teacher and invented the “Disc Baren,” which is a great baren to begin your mokuhanga journey with. At the 2021 Mokuhanga Conference in Nara, Japan there was a tribute exhibit of his life works. Azusa Gallery has a nice selection of his work, here.
Munakata Shikō 志功棟方 (1903-1975) arguably one of the most famous modern printmakers, Shiko is famous for his prints of women, animals, the supernatural, and Buddhist deities. He made his prints with an esoteric fervour where his philosophies about mokuhanga were just as interesting as his print work.
flâneur - is a French word, meaning idler, walker of streets, a way to see a city, to understand it. The freedom to walk a city is a type of freedom that allows someone to truly understand where they are. While almost always written in French literature [(Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)], for men there has been a question about why women haven't been associated with the word. Lauren Elkin, an American writer in Paris, tries to understand why women aren't associated with the term. The CBC podcast, IDEAS, interviewed her and it was a great way to understand what makes a flâneur, or flâneuse. You can find it, here.
Alex Kerr and Lost Japan - Alex Kerr is an American Japanologist who lives and works in Japan. He has written many books on Japan, but is famous for Lost Japan, published in 1993. It describes the modernity of Japan, and what is destroyed when searching for that modernity.
Meiji-jingu (明治神宮) - is a large parkland area near the Harajuku neighbouhood of Tōkyō. It is dedicated to Emperor Meiji (Prince Mutsuhito - [1867-1912]). It is open 365 days of the year and is especially busy during the New Years celebrations.
Black Ships - are associated with the American naval commodore, Matthew C. Perry (1794-1858). The United States wanted to open trading with Japan, who had been in self-imposed isolation with the West since 1635. Matthew C. Perry essentially bullied his way into the conversation of trade with Japan and these "Black Ships" he arrived on, became a symbol of this moment.
Frank Lloyd Wright and the Imperial Hotel - (1867-1959) FLW was an American architect who designed many different buildings in Japan since his first visit in 1905. The Imperial Hotel was located in Tōkyō in the Hibiya district. It was moved to, and reconstructed in 1968 at the Meiji-mura Museum Village in Aichi Prefecture. It was built in the Mayan Revival style. I got a chance to visit it in Aichi and it's pretty spectacular, and smaller than I thought it would be. The Imperial Hotel still exists today.
Kozo paper - is a long fibered mulberry paper used for mokuhanga and cloth making. It is produced in Japan, Thailand, and South America.
Lampang, Thailand - located in Northern Thailand and is a trading city with tourism, and farming.
Yoshida Family of Artists - The Yoshida’s are one of the most famous family of artists from Japan. Begun with painter Yoshida Kasaburō (1861-1894), made famous by Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950) and his work with woodblock printing. The Yoshida family has helped shape many artists around the world. More info from the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, here.
Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950) - a watercolorist, oil painter, and woodblock printmaker. Is associated with the resurgence of the woodblock print in Japan, and in the West. It was his early relationship with Watanabe Shōzaburō, having his first seven prints printed by the Shōzaburō atelier, that made Hiroshi believe that he could hire his own carvers and printers and produce woodblock prints, which he did in 1925.
Yoshida Tōshi (1911-1995) - eldest son of Hiroshi Yoshida. Having been affected by polio, and the pressure of continuing his fathers legacy, Tōshi Yoshida made prints and paintings which gradually became expressive, avant garde and abstract. Later in life he focused on birds and mammals.
Yoshida Hodaka (1926-1995) - the second son of Hiroshi Yoshida, Hodaka Yoshida seemed to be a bit of the black sheep of the Yoshida family. His desire to become an artist was against his fathers wishes, and his work was an extreme departure from what his father had produced as well as his older brother. Inspired by western artists such as Henri Matisse (1869-1954), and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Hodaka began to move away from painting to woodblock prints in the 1950’s. Hodaka travelled (the Yoshida family were constant travellers) and was constantly inspired by the world. This was reflected in his woodblock prints and woodblock/photo etching prints.
Yoshida Tsukasa (b.1949) - is the son of Tōshi Yoshida. He is a woodblock printmaker focusing on themes of nature and especially the moon.
Bangkok Art Biennale - is an art biennale located in Bangkok, Thailand. It was founded in 2018, and was created for visitors to immerse themselves in Thai culture through various arts installations and shows. The 2022/23 biennale will be from October 22, 2022 - February 23, 2023. (IG)
Province of Manitoba, Canada - joined Confederation in 1870, and is known for its natural beauty and vast landscapes. The capital is Winnipeg.
Province of Saskatchewan, Canada - joined Confederation in 1905, and is known for its vast fields and flat land. Its capital is Regina.
April Vollmer - is an established artist who works predominantly in mokuhanga. Her book Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop is one of the authoritative books on the subject and has influenced many up and coming mokuhanga artists.
MDF - Medium-density fibreboard is a board made of discarded wood fibres and bonded together by wax and resin, which makes it bad for you if you carve it.
opening and closing credit music - Spadina Sounds as told by the walkway which had a moving sidewalk.
Here are some of the sources used for the above notes:
LIPSHULTZ, SANDRA LAWALL. A Japanese Legacy Four Generations of Yoshida Family Artists. Laura W. Allen, Kendall H. Brown, Eugene M. Skibbe, Matthew Welch, Yasunaga Koichi. Held at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts from FEBR. 2 to April 14, 2002. Chicago, Ill: Art Media Resources, 2002.
MARTIN, KATHERINE. Highlights of Japanese Printmaking: Part Two - Shin Hanga. Scholten Japanese Art, 2006.
DE VRIES, MAUREEN, Chris Uhlenbeck, and Elise Wessels. Troubled Times and Beyond: Japanese Prints 1931-1960. Nihon no Hanga, 2013.
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