Showing the 34th or Wakana (Young Greens) Chapter of the Tale of Genji with the Actors Juro Sukenari and Kobayashi Asahira. Woodcut on paper, 14 x 10 inches (oban size). The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu is one of the classics of court literature and was often the subject of hand-scrolls (Yamato-e). An example of such a Yamato-e hand-scroll appears in the upper part of the print. The cover of the hand-scroll is folded over, so that its back faces us. A vertical title bar normally decorates the back of a hand-scroll. In this case, the title reads Tale of Genji Matched to Pictures of the Floating world (Genji kumo ukiyo-e awase.) The text that follows the title starts with the word 'wakana', identifying the section of the Tale of Genji in question as Chapters 35 and 36, that is New Herbs, Parts 1 and 2. Below the hand-scroll, there is a diagonal wall covered by branches. Beneath it, a censor's seal appears and then the signature of the artist Ichiyusai Kuniyoshi with his seal. Another long inscription follows to the right, and then the figures of two actors, identified by vertical cartouches as Kobayashi Asahira to the left and Juro Sukenari to the right. To the bottom left is the publisher's seal: hangen Ise-ichi. Prints such as this one are excellent evidence of how ukiyo-e relates to Yamato-e. They also show how ukiyo-e used the 'double-edged' line. For instance, consider the vertical contours of the two folds in the part of the blue belt on the left that hangs down beneath the tie. Note that the lines begin thick and quickly grow thinner. Focus on the thicker areas at the tops of the line. The right and left sides of these lines differ slightly. The right side creates a flat, square area at the top that shows how the cloth changes direction as it bends downward, whereas the left side is curved to reveal the way in which the material is continuous across the fold.
Woodcut on paper, 9 x 7 inches, slightly larger than koban size (koban size is usually given as 9x6 inches). This print is signed "Utamaro" and bears the seal of Kinkodo or Yamaguchi-ya Tobei, a publisher active in the 1780s-1860s. Although Utamaro is best known for his close-up portraits (okubi-e) of beautiful women, he also made prints of birds and flowers and of religious subjects, such as this one of Daikokuten, the God of Wealth. Daikokuten is sometimes called Mahakara, from the Sanskrit Mahakala, the name of the Indian god from which he derives. Introduced into Japan supposedly by the Buddhist priest Saicho (767-822), Daikokuten was identified with the native Japanese Shinto deity Okuninushi no mikoto. With Ebisu, Daikokuten became one of the most important of the Seven Gods of Good Luck. He is usually shown wearing a black hat and holding a wish-granting mallet in his right hand. In the left hand, Daikoku holds the end of a bag slung over his shoulder. Daikoku appears in this pose in this print where he stands on two bales of rice. During the Tokugawa period, wealth among warriors was measured in koku, the amount of land required to produce a bale of rice. Thus the bales of rice themselves became symbols of wealth. When Utamaro made this print, the process of printing multiple colors had been fully mastered. However, this work is in black and white because it imitates ink-paintings. Only two blocks were used, one for the gray and the other for the black. The rubber used the grain of the wood to give the gray areas a dotted texture, much like that produced by the 'flying white' brushstroke in ink painting. In this brushstroke, a nearly dry brush is used to leave spots of unpainted paper in the line, softening it. The dry grey lines in Utamaro's print contrast with the black ones, which appear very wet. Thus, this print of Daikoku by Utamaro is not only like ink-painting in being monochrome, but also looks painted, not printed.
Print 19 of 33, woodcut on paper, 18 x 12 inches. Mayumi Oda is a Tokyo-born Japanese-American woman print-maker, who is a graduate of Tokyo University of Fine Arts and the Pratt Graphic Center, NY and who now lives on a farm in Kealakekua, Hawaii. Oda is as well known as an activist for environmental and women's causes as an artist. She is one of the founders of Plutonium Free Future, which seeks safe energy, and she works with the World Court Project that hopes to make nuclear weapons illegal. She is the author of "I Opened the Gate, Laughing: An Inner Journey and has written on her love of farming in "Sun, Seeds and Soil" in Resurgence 229, 2005. She has also translated the writings of Hiratsuka Raicho (1887-1971), a Japanese feminist important in the development of the Creative Print Movement. Oda titled this print Maiden and Ox, but the image is clearly based on the theme of the Ten (or Six) Zen Oxen or Bulls, there being no distinction in Japanese between the male and female animal or between oxen and cattle. The theme of the Ten Zen Bulls was often illustrated as a series of circular pictures. The theme compares the process of reaching enlightenment in Zen Buddhism to taming a bull. Pictures of the Ten Zen Bulls generally begin by showing a bull-herd wandering aimlessly until he spies out the animal. He chases it, ropes it, and struggles with it until the animal meekly follows him. The bull-herd can now ride the bull with such confidence that he is able to play his flute while doing so. Next, the bull-herd is shown praying. A blank circle follows, then a scene in nature, and finally, an image of the bull-herd standing next to some great Buddhist figure, such as Hotei. The meaning of the parable of the Ten Zen Bulls may come from the fact that oxen and cattle, as the largest animals known in Japan, are symbols of flesh. Interpreted this way, the point of the parable would be that the flesh (bull) must first be perceived and then tamed, in order to enter a religious path. Not until the flesh (bull) follows the mind (bull-herd), and indeed, not until flesh and mind are completely comfortable with each other (the bull-herd riding the bull and playing his flute) is it possible to reach enlightenment, or the understanding of nothingness (the blank scene). Finally, the good Buddhist, having achieved salvation, returns to the world (the scene in nature) to help others as the great saints did. Oda transformed the usually male ox-herd of the Ten Zen Bulls into one of her goddesses, but otherwise reproduces the figure's relaxed pose, seated on the bull and playing his flute. The goddess is drawn in outline, with her white skin the color of the unprinted paper. Black lines render the goddess' arms, neck, eyes, and other anatomical details. The bull, by contrast, is composed of large black masses that have been shaped carefully to leave long open strips of unprinted white paper. The white strips serve as the contours of the horns, folds in the neck, and upper parts of the right fore and back legs. Oda's Maiden and Ox, consequently, is not just an image commenting upon gender issues in Buddhism or the need for the spiritually enlightened to work in the world -- Oda has said that she began making her goddess series in response to the Vietnam War. Maiden and Ox is also a statement on the nature of line in art and its relationship to the planes that it creates.
This print is signed in pencil Kawano Kaoru and numbered 94/100. According to Dr. Ross F. Walker's Omni website, Kawano's limited-edition lifetime-strikes in the double oban size (18 x 24") generally have the signature and edition number in pencil, whereas posthumous takes have a black circular seal on the verso, stencil text in the bottom margin, and sometimes a signature impressed into the image. The print in the Brauer Museum of Art is an example of the composition called Quiet Rain A. Walker states that the edition was 100 prints and done around the 1950s. Kawano, who died in 1965, also made a second version of Quiet Rain, which is usually called Quiet Rain B to distinguish it from the earlier work. In Quiet Rain B, the dead, dried out, downward-facing lotus pods of Quiet Rain A are replaced by the white flower of the plant, upright and blossoming fully. The lotus pod to the right in Quiet Rain A is nearly face-on but the stem to which it is attached, appears to be seen from the side. The disjuncture between the point of view from which we see the pod and the stem makes it impossible to mistake the image in the print for the real plant. This is especially so because Kawano reduced the dead lotus to its most essential elements - the woody stem, the pod's face full of holes, and the tuft that attaches the two. Each of the elements of the lotus is also reduced to its basic shape. Thus, the stems are lines, the pods are ovals and the tufts are triangles. These flat shapes are then carefully balanced against one another on the two-dimensional surface of the print. Quiet Rain is as good a design of two-dimensional abstract shapes as a readable illusion of a three-dimensional plant. That is to say, the work straddles abstraction and representation. In straddling abstraction and representation, Kawano belongs to what Donald Jenkins identifies as one of the two great directions of development in the Creative Print Movement -- the attempt to revive representational art and so reverse the decline that Hutton-Turner spoke of it suffering when photography appeared.