On Wednesday the Atelier went to see an exhibition of eighteenth and nineteenth century Japanese prints at the Seattle Asian Art museum. The show tied in with our studies on the graphic power of flat shapes. We have been studying value composition- how tone leads our eye throughout a picture.
Arthur Westley Dow, an influential turn of the century artist and educator, calls the two dimensional spotting of tone as Notan- the Japanese word for dark and light. The Japanese wood block prints are decorative representations of life. It is an art form unconcerned with volume (making things look round), or correct perspective or a sense of realistic light and shadow. The artists thrive within the austere constraints imposed by the discipline of the art form. Yet within those limits the artists pushed the boundaries of expression. In fact those printmakers managed to communicate more effectively within their limits then most artists can with unlimited freedom.
The work we saw at the museum was an essay in contrast. The quiet intellectual nature of the medium almost hid the pervasive sensuality and emotion. The large shapes and tones contrast with the delicacy of a contour line. Ornate patterns opposed areas of blank space. Most of the images were pale yet had jet black darks punctuating the space. The curve was masterfully interwoven with the straight line. Studying the work was like having our eyes acclimate to low light, the more time spent in the exhibit the more we saw and the more we were enthralled.