October 15, 2015

Chapter One – The Print [The Technique of the Color Woodcut]


Artists are perennially implored to consider “the limitations of the medium.” Whoever invented this expression exaggerated the limitations of the English language. We are not concerned with what effects cannot be produced with our materials. As a matter of fact it is possible, if futile, to reproduce a water-color painting with fidelity. A great many color blocks would be needed, the hard edges of printing surfaces, the impressions of woodgrain, and other characteristics would have to be obscured: all of which we are rightly adjured to retain and to cherish. Mr. Platt very clearly calls this sentiment “the regard for material.”

Happily simplicity, a great virtue in art, is here a necessity, or at least the result of the limitation of the number of blocks used. The skill attained by the Japanese craftsmen in the early nineteenth century, led them into useless technical complexities. Now it is almost entirely a reproductive medium. The pages of the “Kokka” abound in fine examples. All who frequent picture shops are familiar with the Japanese reproductions of drawings by Charles Bartlett, Elizabeth Keith, and Bertha Lum, and have enjoyed the perfect collaboration of Frank Brangwyn and Yoshijiro Urushibara. There is no question of degeneration. Urushibara has never been surpassed from the point of view of technique, it is only that the Japanese masters of painting have ceased to regard the color wood-cut as a means of original expression, in which the materials contribute to the beauty of the design as well as to its fabrication. We must so regard it. Lest I should seem to do Urushibara an injustice, I must add that in addition to his reproductive work he is responsible for some of the most interesting original prints of recent years.

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