The other artists and I have all come to Tokyo for one night to attend an exhibition of past students of Mokuhanga at Mi-Lab, which took place last night - it's so wonderful to be back in Tokyo again!!
The exhibition was also a memorial to celebrate the life of Keiko Kadota who founded the organisation. Keiko, who passed away in January this year, was an artist and teacher and clearly a force of nature. She has done a huge amount for keeping alive the craft of Japanese woodblock printing in setting up Mi-Lab and also a conference in Mokuhanga which takes place every three years in different countries around the world, the last one taking place in Hawaii. Through the residency programme she has enabled artists from around the world to come and experience Japan and learn this traditional technique, taking this back to their own country and spreading the knowledge. The exhibition / memorial took place in an art gallery within a large building for the arts. The building looked really interesting and full of galleries and studios. There were a lot of emotional speeches in Japanese about Keiko. I was interesting to see so many artists who have been involved in Mi-Lab over the years.
To my absolute delight I got the opportunity to meet the artist Tetsuya Noda who was involved in helping Keiko set up Mi-Lab back in 1997. He gave an opening speech about her (which I wish I could have understood!) Noda is an artist I first discovered after returning from my first trip to Japan in 2014 when he had a major retrospective at the British Museum. His work has had an enormous influence on me. I find it fascinating that he uses photographic imagery in his work, mixing this with painterly forms of mark making created through mokuhanga. It's this very unique process of working along with his subject matter that inspired me to chop up my old family snaps, editing the image and jigsawing them together with painterly, colourful carborundum plates.
Here is a quote from the British Museum's website about Tetsuya Noda:
The unusual technique of the prints combines colour woodblock with photo silkscreen. Noda cuts woodblocks to print areas of colour and subtle shades of white background onto handmade Japanese paper. Photographic images which have been deliberately altered by the artist to express his personal sensibility are then printed over the colours using silkscreen. This adds the darker outlines and areas of shading. Noda describes the camera as his sketchbook, using it to fix the compositions that are most significant to him. Noda’s everyday subjects and colour and outline style sometimes recall traditional Japanese ukiyo-e prints, with their observation of everyday-life, frankness and absence of ostentation.
I love that he describes using his camera as a sketchbook, saying it's faster and more accurate than drawing. I can completely relate to this in my own work. When I was in Tokyo last month, I went around a few book shops to try and purchase a beautiful book recently published detailing his life's works but everywhere had sold out. I ended up buying two books on Noda published in 1992, from a second hand book shop but these books were all in black and white. How can you possibly study an artwork if it's been re-printed in black and white? Even if the original artwork was created in monochrome, it's still a totally inaccurate representation of the original. Eventually I managed to order and collect the newer, larger book, 'Tetsuya Noda: The Works 1964-2016' and took it to the party for Noda to sign. It was a wonderful moment to be introduced to this artist by my friend Toshihiko who knows Tetsuya very well as they used to work together teaching in the art university in Tokyo. Although I was totally star struck, I just about held it together to ask him to sign my copy of his book. He gave me his card and asked me to send him photos that Toshi snapped of us together.
The following day our course leader Sato San took us around Tokyo to visit specialist art material suppliers. The first stop was a Japanese paper shop. Being in there was so tantalising - I was like a kid in a sweet shop and ended up buying the most beautiful, but most expensive sheet of paper that I have ever bought. Admittedly it does measure 2 x 1 meters! I don't want to tell you how much it cost me! I also bought, to try out, a few other papers of different textures, weights and shades of white. I just thought... 'What's the point of holding back now, when I'm in the homeland of paper, and being taken to possibly the best paper manufacturer in the world?'
We visited another paper shop that looked like something out of the film, The Matrix, in that the shop looked like an empty box. On closer inspection we realised the walls from floor to ceiling were divided into hundreds of tiny drawers with codes on the front of each, detailing the type of paper contained within the drawer. I plan to go back to this shop, when I can spend more time.
We then visited a shop that sold only brushes, but not just brushes for artists; he had a brush of every kind for every occupation, be it sailor, engineer or artist. The shop was tiny and like a cave with hundreds of brushes hanging from the ceiling. In another shop I decided to buy a block of cherry wood for carving and printing. Cherry wood is what was traditionally used in Japanese woodblock printing but now it's very expensive and widely replaced with veneer. I bought a small block just for my own curiosity to see if it affects my print in any way. We all headed back to Mi-Lab weighed down with shopping bags and our wallets a lot lighter!
Working in the studio this week has been wonderful as we've been totally left to get on with our own practice. Last week was full of intense lessons each day, then at the end of the week, we waved good bye to our teacher. We all joked that it felt like waving off our mother at boarding school - how would we manage without her! But the leap I've made in my work from last week to this week is amazing! Thank goodness...!
I'm starting to make this technique my own, learning to layer colour to produce depth, whilst maintaining luminosity, which is exactly what I aim to do with my monoprints. I've managed to create form through very simple carving, so I'm mainly printing large expanses of flat untouched wood to create veils of light and colour. It's really like painting, and the colour, applied using brushes and printing, is very fast. The thing I'm really struggling with is achieving rich colour whist also showing the patterned grain of the wood in my prints. At the moment my prints are coming out very grainy and speckled. This is why I bought a block of cherry wood to see if there is a difference to printing off the veneer. Next week we have a new teacher and I'm looking forward to showing him what I have produced. I am hoping he will be able to instruct me about what I can do differently to get the results I want.
Being surrounded by beautiful mountains and lakes has quickly fed its way into my work. Yesterday I climbed a mountain and made a sketch of the view from the top - I'm looking forward to making my next print from this drawing. Having thrown myself into such a new and different environment, it's amazing how quickly I have managed to adapt the way I work.