The art of Japanese gardening dates back centuries, and its many forms have been developed and refined until virtually all its elements contain
both physical and metaphysical significance. The Japanese garden is a subject that many artists have depicted in paintings and prints, but several have specialized
in such views. A few sôsaku hanga artists were especially attracted to the patterns and textures of gardens.
Okiie Hashimoto (橋本興家 1899-1993) was trained in Western-style oil painting, graduating from the Tokyo School of Fine Arts in 1924. In the
1930s he studied briefly with Hiratsuka Un'ichi (1895-1997), one of the most
influential of the sôsaku hanga artists. Although Hashimoto made a few prints while still in art school, he began producing woodblocks
seriously around 1936.
After more than thirty years of teaching at a middle school in Tokyo, Hashimoto retired in 1955 to devote his time to printmaking. The
example above was completed a few years after his retirement. The title, in Japanese and written in pencil, reads Zentei ("Front Garden") and Sekitei ("Rock Garden"). It is numbered
45/50, signed "Okiie Hashimoto," and dated 1958. The block-printed script in the lower right margin reads Hashimoto Okiie saku ("Work of Hashimoto Okiie").
The view of the raked sand is effectively represented by parallel verticals that lead into the
wave-like circles surrounding the garden rocks. The lower part of the image was printed with plywood to create a bold grain pattern
suggesting a balcony or veranda, which is punctuated by the artist's red seal near the right edge. There are multiple perspectives in
many of Hashimoto's prints, as here where the flattened frontal view of the plywood contrasts with the more three-dimensional aspect
of the sand and rocks. Hashimoto's cropped image of a much wider garden emphasizes movement, form, and texture with subdued tonality, all executed in a refined manner befitting the peaceful setting.
Rikio Takahashi (高橋力雄 1917-1999) also specialized in depicting the forms of the Japanese garden, especially the classic gardens of Kyoto. He
was the son of a Nihonga ("Japanese-style painting") artist, and from 1949-1955 became an important pupil of the seminal figure in modern Japanese printmaking, Onchi Kôshirô (1891-1955), whose late non-representational
style had a significant influence on Takahashi.
Takahashi was one of the last true sôsaku hanga artists. He successfully explored, in an abstract manner, various forms, textures, and colors found in gardens and nature.
He was especially adept at the subtle overlay of one or more colors to create varied opacities and textures and complexity of shapes.
Many of his prints evoke an atmosphere of stillness and balance or a feeling of timelessness. Takahashi's prints vary in size, with some reaching roughly
three feet in height. The example on the right is a large-format print (on paper measuring 91.5 x 60.9 cm), titled in pencil "Nunnery" (other impressions
have a more complete title, "Nunnery's Garden"). It is no. 49 in the artist's "Kyoto Series," this design numbering 5/35 from 1975, with an English signature, Rikio Takahashi.
The view presents the forms and colors of a garden in one of the Buddhist convents (called 'Amadera') in Kyoto,
and the warm greens, browns, and yellows suggest spring or early summer. The natural forms of the layered rocks below contrast with the superimposed shapes above,
including rectilinear forms that announce human intervention within the natural world. ©2000-2001 by John Fiorillo
This page is dedicated to the memory of Barbara V. Morse, who loved Asian art and owned the impression of Hashimoto's Zentei illustrated above. Barbara was blessed with sophisticated and unpretentious taste in things Japanese.
- Jenkins, Donald: Images of a Changing World: Japanese Prints of the Twentieth Century. Portland, 1983, pp. 102 and 126.
- Smith, Lawrence: The Japanese Print Since 1900: Old Dreams and New Visions. London, 1983, pp. 119 and 129.
- Smith, Lawrence: Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989. London, 1994, p. 46.
- Statler, Oliver: Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn. Rutland, VT: 1956, pp. 133-136.