Monday, June 29, 2020

Kawase Hasui

Kawase Hasui (1883 - 1957) was a Japanese painter and printmaker born in Tokyo. According to wikipedia, 
From youth Hasui dreamed of an art career, but his parents had him take on the family rope and thread wholesaling business. Its bankruptcy when he was 26 freed him to pursue art.
(One of Hasui's paintings, Coastal Landscape, 1927)

Which makes me wonder; did the business fail due to circumstances beyond Hasui's control, or maybe because he wasn't paying attention? Or did he actively sabotage it so he could get back to being an artist? And maybe you shouldn't entrust the family business to a son who desperately wants to be doing something else?

And here is an insight into Japan's artistic community in the 1910s: Hasui approached Kiyokata Kaburagi (a maker of prints in the traditional style) to teach him, but 
Kaburagi instead encouraged him to study Western-style painting, which he did with Okada Saburōsuke for two years. Two years later he again applied as a student to Kaburagi, who this time accepted him.
So even those Japanese artists determined to keep the Japanese tradition alive thought it was important to learn something of western-style art. I think a print like the one above, Hasui Kayagafuchi Rapids in Chōmonkyō Gorge, shows a strong western influence.

Hasui did his share of famous Japanese scenes like temples and bridges, I suppose because they sold well, but what really interested him was ordinary scenes of Japanese cities and rural places. He traveled widely around Japan with a sketch book, drawing scenes that he would later carve into wood blocks. Above is a street scene in Nagasaki, from Selected Views of Japan.

I find the mixture of realism and nostalgia in some of these compelling; this is a scene from Twelve Months of Tokyo.

Detail from Snowy Kiyomizudo, Ueno. From this gallery site, which has many of these for sale.

Here's an image I was startled to see in a Japanese woodblock of the 1920s: Abandoned Rice Warehouse at Karatsu,

Hama-cho River Bank,
detail, 1925

Tochinoki Hot Springs in Higo Province

Winter Moon over Toyama Plain
, 1931. If you would like to see more, wikimedia has dozens.

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