Saturday, August 1, 2015

Tsuchiya Koitsu, Long Spell of Rain

Tsuchiya Koitsu, Long Spell of Rain, 1930s

Tsuchiya Koitsu (1879-1949) was a well-known Japanese printmaker who specialized in woodblock (ukiyo-e).  He was a member of the shin hanga (new prints) movement that took place in the first half of the twentieth century.  Born in rural Japan, Koitsu went to Tokyo at age fifteen to apprentice with master printmaker Kiyochika Kobayashi.  Koitsu's first successful prints were depictions of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95.  Koitsu remained working in the studio of his master for nineteen years.  In 1931 he met the publisher Watanabe Shozaburo, and began to be published by him.  Watanabe published many prominent shin hanga artists and it through this distribution that Koitsu made a name for himself.  He drew on accepted shin hanga style, such as using intense lighting effects to convey the emotion of a scene.  Many of Koitsu's pieces are landscapes, and bear a very strong resemblance to centuries-old ukiyo-e.  However Koitsu is also frequently responding to modernity, such as in his cityscapes.  It is these two impulses that, to my eye, come together so strongly in Long Spell of Rain.  In many ways this resembles traditional Japanese woodblock, but its use of space and light also looks toward more modern art.  One of the most interesting elements is the flooded field that the two foremost figures (a mother and son?) are attempting to traverse; the floodwater shimmers in the warm, soft light in the exact same patterns as the blue water in the foreground, so that it almost looks like the water is being reflected in the air.  Meanwhile the foggy light in the sky recedes into dark inky blue.

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