Book Report: Hiroshige: An exhibition of selected prints and illustrated books by Sebastian Izzard (1983)

Book coverThis book covers an exhibition of the works of Japanese artist Hiroshige, a printmaker from the early 19th century. As I have mentioned before in reviewing architecture and culture books from Korea and China, I prefer Western art to Oriental art, but I wanted to give a try to some more Oriental art to see if my judgment changes.

Well, not so much.

To be clear, this is a book of woodcut prints, which is different from pure painting and has a commercial purpose, which puts Hiroshige’s motivations more along the lines of Currier and Ives or Gil Evgren (Hiroshige even did some bijin-ga, beautiful women prints, when they were not illegal in Japan). Not that I’m dinging the commercial motivation for art; as the book reports linked suggest, I respect it and its productivity.

Hirohinge was very productive, with a number of series of prints over his decades-spanning career. Most of them are landscapes, but they’re landscapes with human figures. As I’ve said often when reviewing Monet’s work or other artists, I prefer landscapes with figures in them. So Hiroshige should fit right into my wheelhouse.

It’s interesting art, all right, and not bad to look at. I liked the snowy landscapes well enough. I imagine it’s on the more palatable (to me) end of Oriental art. The book, unfortunately, has most of the work in black and white with text describing the colors. Some of the items at the end are just listed without images at all, as this is something you’d probably have picked up at the exhibition and could follow along with as you went. (has the audio tour replaced this convention? You can’t take that with you.) Undoubtedly, it would have been better with the color images.

As I look at it, though, I wonder if I could turn any of these images into woodburning projects. As they’re woodcut block prints presented in black and white, I could perhaps stylize something. Perhaps if I get a table at a craft fair, woodburnings of Oriental themes would be popular.

So it’s worth a browse if you find one inexpensively and are curious about Oriental art. The book also served as a little bit of a wake-up call that, although I’ve looked into Chinese and Korean history, I’ve not read much up on Japan. Which I’ll have to do sometime. I don’t remember seeing any books about Japanese history at the library except where World War II is concerned. Maybe it’s off to ILL for me.

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