Floating Worlds

January 12 - March 23, 2011

Selected from RAM’s Permanent Collection, Floating Worlds traces and re-examines the evolution of Asian prints and paintings from the 19th century to the present day. Moving backwards from modern, abstract works through contemporary takes on the Asian landscape, and concluding with traditional works of the 19th century, Floating Worlds examines the influences and relationships of Japanese, Japanese-American, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, and European artists working within the realms of Asian and Asian-inspired art.

The works featured range from traditional 19th century ukiyo-e “pictures of the floating or transitory world” woodblock prints and sumi-e “ink-wash paintings” by Hiroshige and unknown artists, to the 20th century modern and contemporary works of Sugai, whose work draws from and comments on its traditional ukiyo-e roots.

Ukiyo-e was considered “low or pop” art during its heyday in the 17th-19th centuries. It was of and for the common people, readily accessible, and affordable, depicting the simple beauty of the fleeting joys to be had during everyday life. However, the caliber of artistic and technical talent that went into ukiyo-e prints was far from low.

In Western culture, we think of prints as reproductions of art originally created as paintings, watercolors, or drawings. Ukiyo-e prints were different in that they were original works of art created with the potential of the woodblock itself in mind. It took the collaborative efforts of three skilled artisans, i.e., the artist/designer of the image, the woodblock carver, and the printer who applied pigment to the woodblocks and pressed it onto handmade paper, to create each print.

Sôsaku hanga or “creative prints” was a 20th century movement which branched off of the ukiyo-e tradition and followed a more Western concept of art: that of an artist’s individual artistic expression and skill over the collaborative assembly-line artisanship of the earlier ukiyo-e tradition. Sôsaku hanga artists were involved in the entire printmaking process and designed, cut, colored, and printed their own works either personally or by direct supervision. The sôsaku hanga-style works often retained the traditional landscape as their subject matter, while stylistically adopting a more expressive and even critical eye - which very likely evolved into and greatly informed many of the artists now working in pure abstraction.