What can one express with wood? An address, a manifesto? As a certified master printer and artisan of the Shin-hanga and Sosaku-hanga schools of Japanese printmaking, Visiting Artist in Art and East Asian Studies Keiji Shinohara has spent much of his life answering this question. This week, the Davison Arts Center opens a new gallery in celebration of the past dozen years of Shinohara’s work, a retrospective that chronicles his tenure at the University. “Color Harmony” runs through December.
Much of Shinohara’s work features an abstract space as the background for concrete landscapes. A 1996 monoprint called “Surrounded” depicts a free-floating tree unchained by soil or forest, a tangled mess of branches sprouting from both ends. In the background, muddy smudges and fog align in a chilly semblance. Saul Carlin ’09 spotted a likeness to snow.
“It seemed to recall the solitude of winter,” he said.
Several prints from later years recycle this central figure. In the 1999 picture “Still”, a litter of leaves rustles beneath its roots, the tree still floating inches above the ether. A single curved leaf hovers near its branches, a gray shadow that darkens the chalk-white background. In both “Surrounded” and “Still,” the tree appears as an alien, though only in “Still” is the tree in an empty place.
Gabriel Fries ’09 identified a minimalist tendency.
“[Shinohara] captures the essence of a place by paring each element down to its simplest form,” he said.
A few portraits capture quieter moments. “Lago Notte,” a color woodcut that features a dusky marshland landscape in front of a shaded hill, instills a sense of peace through an array of gently blending hues. “Penland II,” a sibling print of “Lago Notte” that Shinohara cut from the same frame, imbues in the same landscape a sense of the surreal: red skies and a yellow hill now hover over the marshes, an alien universe with an earthly general outline. Examined side-by-side, the two exemplify the unique freedom of woodcutting.
Even those prints that tackle the urban are marked by salient abstractions. In “Kunimi-Yama,” the first piece of the series “Eight Views of Hirakata,” a city built almost entirely of white concrete illuminates the nighttime horizon; a white sky deepens to blue above its rooftops. In “Yodo-gawa,” the second piece of the series, a yellow circle substitutes for the sun, a bridge below it lit only by a border. Other pieces from “Views” render a host of placid havens, a tree-flanked walk and a Shinto temple among them.
At times Shinohara’s work dabbles in novel technique. Karl Grindal ’09 admired his use of strange materials.
“I was impressed with his use of experimentation, mainly his use of Krazy Glue,” Grindal said. “That kind of invention adds something modern to a very traditional art form.”
Shinohara uses Krazy Glue to modify the distribution of the pigment on many of his prints. In “Silver River,” a surrealist landscape that sets a white river beneath a cracked and blood-red sky, the use of this adhesive allows the colors to deepen. In “Taichi’s Garden III,” a brown landscape contrasts more sharply with the bright yellow of daisies and the rich magenta of roses due to this added depth. Joe Newman ’09 saw a mathematical symmetry in the shapes of these flowers.
“It uses geometry in a way that doesn’t clash with the organic,” he said.