|The extraordinary woodblock exhibit Human/Nature 150 Years of Japanese Landscape Prints at the Portland Art Museum highlights our interaction with nature. On my last visit, I was struck by the images depicting how fragile existence can be.|
In Katsushika Hokusai’s 1831 print Under the Wave off Kanazawa (also known as The Great Wave), menacing finger-like projections extend from an enormous wave that threatens small ships. Stand close, and you’ll also see what I had never before noticed: tiny sailors on those vessels. Mt. Fuji stands in the background, peaceful and constant, suggesting calm in the face of imminent disaster.
Travelers with umbrellas scurry for shelter from a monsoon in Utagawa Hiroshige’s 1833/1834 print Shōno, Driving Rain. The torrential rain is portrayed in soft, diagonal gray lines, yet the travelers twist and contort to force their way through the storm, a subtle and powerful artistic technique.
Oda Kancho, in his Near the Katase River in Kugenuma from 1924, shows the devastation of a magnitude 7.9 earthquake on industrialized twentieth century Kantō. Train tracks undulate, power lines topple, and trees and grasses bend. A truly modern piece, and yet the technique, color, and themes are similar to prints from a century earlier. Beauty and fragility, a universal theme that stays true through time.
(P.S. I’m fascinated by the emotional impact of Japanese woodblock prints. Last winter, I wrote about another show at the Portland Japanese Garden.)