Japan meets Canada

By Ali Abel

Ukiyo-e: (noun) 1. Traditional Japanese prints that are images of the floating world. 2. Art of and for the people.

Impact is a display of Japanese and Canadian woodblock prints, whose main goal is to demonstrate the great influence of Japanese woodblock prints on Canadian printmakers. The display is full of bright colours, smooth lines and very intricate details. As you walk through the display, tucked away in the back corner of the Nickle Arts Museum, the sound of running water from a Japanese fountain sets the reflective mood.

The main depictions in Ukiyo-e prints are landscapes, Kabuki and Noh actors, geishas, fashion, and other joys of secular life. Although many of the prints are over 100 years old, the vibrant colors are still dominant in the artwork. The woodblock carvings seem effortless, but it is evident these prints took great amounts of time to create.

As you enter the display, the first prints you see are of Japanese men and women involved in every day tasks. There are prints of Bijin-ga (beautiful women), Noh prints which combine elements of dance, drama, music, and poetry, Okubi-e prints which are large head close-ups, and Uki-e prints which are perspective landscape prints. The detail in faces, clothing and background are breathtaking, and awe-inspiring as you attempt to imagine the effort put into making these prints. Even with careful inspection of the woodblocks on display, it is impossible to fathom how one person could create such wonderful works of art.

The transition from Japanese artists to Canadian artists is seamless, and it is virtually impossible to tell the difference between the two types of prints which come from opposite ends of the world. The main elements in the Canadian prints are still bridges and water, as in the Japanese prints, but it seems as if the Canadian prints are lacking an unidentifiable element present in the Japanese art. Perhaps because the Canadian artists are depicting Canadian culture and traditions using a non-Canadian technique, something is lost in the meaning of the woodblock prints.

The second display, which is associated with Impact, is Lines of Sight. This display is an exchange between the Musashimo Art University of Tokyo, and the University of Alberta. This display contains more abstract work done by artists associated with the Musashimo Art University. You have to look closely at these prints to pick out elements from them, and these prints are much darker than the art in the Impact display. They are simple, but do not flow as well as the prints in the other display. Lines of Sight contains different techniques used in the making of the prints, and it shows the influence of Canada and the abstractness that is so much a part of Canadian art and media today.

Impact is on display until Feb. 5, 2000, and Lines of Sight is on display until Jan. 15, 2000. Both are at the Nickel Arts Museum.

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