Ida Shôichi (井田照一 1941-2006), born in Kyoto, received a postgraduate degree in 1965 from the Oil Painting Department of Kyoto Municipal University of Art (Kyoto shiritsu geijutsu daigaku: 京都市立芸術大学). In 1968 the French government provided a grant for Ida to live and work in Paris. He also resided briefly in New York and San Francisco. He once said that he was inspired to make prints in the early 1960s after a stone left an impression on a piece of paper in his studio (see Ida and Lewallen 1989 ref.). During the course of his career, he worked in woodblock (mokuhanga, 木版画), lithography, silkscreen, monotypes, sculpture, and collage/mixed media. His oeuvre ranged from prints and paintings to ceramic, metal, stone, and cloth works to environmental and installation art. His printmaking techniques included printing both the front and back of papers and embedding small stones in paper pulp (see discussion below).
Among Ida's earliest prints is his lithograph titled "Letter with Beard" from 1962, shown below left. Notably, the use of a circle prefigures many of Ida's later works where circles take on many different guises. Working with (modified) spherical shapes, Ida created a lithograph titled "SBBVH-Egg" in 1965 (the abbreviation stands for "Surface Between — Between Vertical and Horizon"). The simplicity and directness of these two lithographs from Ida's early years would in later works often give way to far more complex compositions, although he never entirely abandoned spareness or limpidity (note the monotype and sculptural assemblage shown later on this page).
Ida claimed that he worked with illusion, saying the impulse could be traced to his parents, who were actors. Although their home life was normal, their theater life was one of illusion. Ida feels his work was not about particular subjects, but about effects. He said that "When I use a leaf or stone, it's an illusion.... You can't see wind but you can see the effects of wind. It's the same with my prints. You can't see the process but you can see the effects." (See Ida/Brody ref. below.)
Two examples of prints from the early 1970s with direct associations to Ida's concept of "wind" are shown below. On the left, the large lithograph "Wind, can you see yourself?" depicts a hanging fabric that partly obscures yellow leaves. The thin material seems fragile and easily disturbed by a breeze. The image below right is titled Wind and Gray Scale. It is a large, mixed-media work using lithograph, string, paper strips, and a balloon. In the background is a ghostly form quite similar to the hanging fabric in the previous work. The deflated balloon suggests that the once lighter-than-air plaything is now devoid of breadth (wind), becoming heavier and tilting the scale.
Since the mid-1960s, Ida often focused on a concept he called "The Surface Is the Between," which he first began to develop in printmaking and extended throughout his life to works in handmade paper, clay, bronze, steel, iron, and paintings on paper and canvas. He explained his unifying concept in an interview published in the Hara Museum Review in 1987 (Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo): "The surface can be the paper or canvas or whatever; it is the point of contact between me and the ideas I am working on. Through my work I try to make invisible phenomena visible by showing the point of contact." (see Bennett ref. below.)
A further explanation of Ida's concept of "Between" can be found in an interview from December 1983 (see Ida/Brody ref.), when he said, "The reason prints fascinate me is that each of the printing processes has this element: there's always a vertical force and a horizontal force, and between them the print is made. There's the force of the press, coming down on a horizontal thing, and at that instant of contact. With screen-prints, for example, you come down with a squeegee on the horizontal screen, and the ink comes down through the holes. That interaction of forces creates something, which is the work, and the work is the document of the process. With woodblocks, you bring the baren down on the block, and in between you have the paper. The result is the document of the impact." For Ida, the idea of "Between" was both spatial and temporal, and the vertical and horizontal lines were graphic representations of the printing process.
A powerfully expressive example of the contextualizing idea that Ida calls "Between" is shown above—a very large copper-plate work titled Between Vertical and Horizon—Descended Triangle—Circle from 1987 printed in an edition of 40 at Crown Point Press, which was then located in a loft space in downtown Oakland (it moved to Hawthorne Street in San Francisco in 1989). Here Ida has developed a complex variant of his beloved circle, with an arch-like form spanning the top half of the composition and two distinctively different quarters occupying the lower part. On the left, there are string-like lines and pale-yellow splashes, and on the lower right, a wet-ink application suggests that the circle is flowing or dissolving. The red "descending triangle" at the very bottom of the work is nearly overwhelmed by the intensity of colors, lines, and forms otherwise dominating the pictorial space.
Over the course of five non-contiguous years, Ida produced 50 different designs for Crown Point Press (1984, 1986, 1987, 1989, and 1992) in edition sizes ranging from 10 to 100. As he anticipated working with Crown Point for the first time (February 1984), he was unsure of the sort of art he might produce, but he was excited about working with different printers. These works, many of them among his finest, numbered 11 designs for the series "Between Vertical and Horizon—Descended Triangle ... " with seven different versions of print designs bearing the title suffix "Triangle," and one each for Circle, Square, Still Life, and Well. In addition, 13 designs were made for the series "Well from Karma—Trap in Echo" and 12 for the series "Between Air and Water." All these works were produced in a variety of formats and sizes, some as small as 230 x 230 mm, or 255 x 127, mm to as large as 1,145 x 915 mm. Ida also assisted Crown Point Press in their ten-year project (begun in 1982) to send American artists to Japan to work in the woodblock medium with Japanese printers, most notably with the third-generation ukiyo-e-style master printer Tadashi Toda (1936–2000) at the Shi-un-do Print Shop in Kyoto.
The triptych shown above, one of the 13 "Well" versions, was produced in 1987 in 10 impressions (plus proofs), Ida's smallest edition size for Crown Point Press. In the center of each panel is a linear shape that resembles the Japanese character for "well" (i, 井). Each sheet has a circular arrangement of forms at the top, and small "descended triangles" near the bottom edges. Essentially, the three sheets differ only in color, although the panel at the far right omits two circular forms near the top edge of the design.
The stone that left an impression on a piece of paper in Ida's studio not only motivated him to explore printmaking in general, but it also became a recurring theme. Ida incorporated images of stones in lithographs and actual stones in some monotypes and assemblages (see below). The image at the top of this page is one with a stone drawn in offset lithograph. Titled "Surface is the Between, Stone on Paper No. 5," it was printed on square paper (400 x 400 mm) in an edition of 40 in 1977. The design was included in a portfolio of five works, with the others (Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4) each having one, two, three, or four stones, respectively, in the corners of papers of the same size. In No. 5, the stone and its shadow are isolated in an otherwise plain background, carefully positioned slightly below and right of center. The simplicity and directness of the image evokes a contemplative mood. It is this sort of quiet, soothing, and sophisticated design that some claim as Ida's finest work.
In discussing Ida's molded-paper works, his friend and fellow artist Robert Kushner stated: "Paper pulp was also an ideal medium for his experiments. Wetness to perfection. Pulp is strong and durable and yet it is able to take on three dimensional form and hold foreign objects in its grasp, even bond with antique fabrics. In his most complex pieces all of these processes were combined tour de force bravado. When these diverse materials dried, a frozen record of the convergence remained, the haunting effects of nature and the passage of time." (see Kushner ref.)
The image shown above left is a mixed-media assemblage from 1987 composed of molded mud-dyed paper pulp, stones, gauze, and antique kimono fabric. Titled "Descended Level 2 Stones—Between Vertical and Horizon," the two stones are embedded in thick, dried paper pulp. The texture of the molded paper is an expressive element in the arrangement, providing a richly detailed surface for the eye to behold. The earth color is, of course, most appropriate as a complement to the stones, whereas the strip of kimono dropping below the right lower edge and the white gauze adhered to the lower left edge present unexpected shifts in the nature of the materials. Above on the right is another work incorporating actual stones, but this time the support medium is iron, not paper, and the smooth, less variegated surface is covered in a warm-orange wax. The simplicity and directness of this configuration is starkly different from the slightly earlier molded-paper work.
Among Ida's monotypes is the following drawing on molded paper, titled "Descended Level—Between Vertical and Horizon—Descended Circle—White No. 2." Here, the shape, texture, and rough deckle edges of the paper are essential elements in the composition, surrounding a circle that is both a void and a contrasting smooth, tranquil surface.
Included among Ida's sculptures are assemblages of mixed media. In the work shown below, Ida used stones, a stainless steel globe, rusted iron, and enameled iron. It bears one of his longest titles: "Surface is the Between—Between Vertical and Horizon—Garden Project—"Meaning of Stone Garden—Sinking Garden and Ascending Stones No.41." Measuring 220 × 540 × 300 mm, the small assemblage contrasts smooth and rough textures, stasis and movement. Is the larger stone sinking or ascending?
In addition to many gallery shows over the course of his career, Ida's works also won juried prizes at Japanese and international exhibitions and competitions. His lithograph and silkscreen titled "Tissue Paper—Paper and Paper" won the Grand Prize at the Third French Government International Student Selection Mainichi Art Competition in 1968. He won third prize at the International Print Biennale, Krakow in 1978, and second prize at the Biennial of Graphic Art, Ljubljana in 1981. Ida also won an honorary prize at the Asian Art Biennale, Bangladesh in 1986. That same year, he was presented (along with his friend, the American artist Robert Rauschenberg, 1925-2008) with an Award for Excellence in International Cultural Exchange from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1989 he was awarded the prestigious Suntory Prize in Japan, and the following year, five of his prints were shown at the Cincinnati Art Museum. In 2003, Ida collaborated with artist Robert Kushner on "East and West, Points of Contact," at the Sheehan Gallery in Walla Walla, Washington. In 2005, the year before his death, he was given a retrospective at the Toyota City Museum.
The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (MOMAK; 京都国立近代美術館) accepted a gift of 261 prints from Ida’s family in 2011, making it the most comprehensive repository of the artist's prints in the world. Other donations came from Kazuko Suzu of the Ida Shôichi Studio from 2010 to 2012. The museum also purchased additional Ida's works, with 2018 being an especially active year for such acquisitions. Other Japanese museums, including the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (東京国立近代美術館) and National Museum of Art, Osaka (国立国際美術館), received donations from the Ida Studio or made purchases, both during and after the artist's lifetime.
Prints by Ida Shôichi can be found in many private collections as well as in important public institutions, including the British Museum, London; Cincinnati Art Museum; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Honolulu Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Museum of Art, Osaka; National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian, Washington, DC; National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; and Portland Art Museum, Oregon. © 2020 by John Fiorillo