If you are a lover of Japanese woodblock prints and you haven’t yet made it to the exhibition Through the Darkness: The Nightscapes of Saitō Kiyoshi and Kawase Hasui, then we say to you “急げ “(or “isoge”). That means “hurry up,” because the show closes a week early, on Jan. 11.
Even if you are not a connoisseur of Japanese art, you are sure to gain something from this display of 20th-century masters. At the entrance to the Japanese gallery, you can find several large displays detailing the multi-step traditional process for printing with woodblocks. Equipped with that knowledge, one can’t help but be impressed by the craftsmanship evident in the detailed prints by Hasui (1883-1957) and Kiyoshi (1907-1997).
Curated around a common nocturnal theme, the prints in Into the Darkness share a transporting quality, taking viewers into the moonlit side of the Land of the Rising Sun—and a bit back in time, too. Hasui’s prints from the 1920s intentionally harken back to a classic period (the Edo period, 1603-1868, to be exact) in art and architecture. In contrast, Kiyoshi’s works, many of which were donated to the museum from the artist, present a bold modernist quality in larger-than-life lines and abstract shapes in place of trees and village features. Where Hasui seems to explore the mysterious blue light of the nightscape—through experiments with “Prussian blue” pigments—Kiyoshi tends to print the shadows using darkened earth tones and ashy grays.
Breaking the tension between the alternating prints are complimentary ceramic works by Japanese mingei potter Shimaoka Tatsuzo (1919-2007), who attained the distinguished rank of Living National Treasure in Japan.