BY CLAIRE EMIKO FANT
In the West, the art of Japan conjures up visions of the Japanese indigenous arts of calligraphy and “sumi” brush painting, “ukiyoe” and modern woodcut prints. The art of wood engraving does not readily pop into one’s mind. Overshadowed by the renaissance of woodcut art in post- World War II Japan, wood engraving made a comeback of its own in the late 1970s due to a group of six artists who dubbed themselves “Nomi no Kai” (Chisel group). They shared a passion for the art of wood engraving and its promotion in the Japanese art scene.
Shinsuke Minegishi, whose work is being exhibited for the first time in the United States here in Seattle, attributes the existence and inspiration for his wood engraving art to “Nomi no Kai” and its last surviving “member,” Hitoshi Karasawa.
“Without the accomplishments of ‘Nomi no Kai’ and Karasawa, I, as a wood engraver, would not exist,” Minegishi said. Karasawa is also Minegishi’s mentor.
Wood engravings differ from woodcuts in that the end grain of a wood block (usually a hardwood) is utilized for wood engraving, while the plank side, which runs along the grain of a wood block, is used for woodcut. Wood engravers use a metal engraver’s burin to cut a relief design. This allows for greater control producing more refined lines and detail not possible in a plank woodcut. Hence, what distinguishes a wood engraving from a woodcut is its realistic appearance, complete with tonal shading executed with fine line work.
The exhibit at Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers features Minegishi’s wood engravings for limited edition books; “mixed media” prints in which Minegishi employs a combination of printmaking techniques (such as etching, lithography, and Japanese woodcut) with wood engraving; as well as simple wood engravings.
The prolific and frank American artist, Leonard Baskin, is another major influence acknowledged by Minegishi. Thus, Minegishi’s work is sometimes an indecipherable blend of Japanese and Western expression.
Like Baskin, Minegishi has found the limited edition book—where wood engravings serve as illustrations to handset text printed by letterpress—to be a perfect vehicle for his work. His collaboration with Heavenly Monkey, a letterpress publishing company located in Vancouver, B.C., has produced four striking limited edition books. Each displays Minegishi’s adept skill at utilizing the potential of wood engraving for making his surreal artistic statements.
“The Innsmouth Look” (2003) showcases six engravings Minegishi created for Heavenly Monkey’s limited edition publication of H. P. Lovecraft’s novella, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” Minegishi based his haunting figures on sketches made by Hieronymus Bosch, the 15th century Dutch painter, whose symbolic and fantastic portrayals of the human condition are said to have been the inspiration for the Surrealist movement in the 20th century. Reproductions of Minegishi’s engravings were used also to illustrate three volumes of poetry by his mother, Ryoko Minegishi, published in Japan. A folio set of six engravings for one of her poems, “my god” (1997) is on display at the exhibition.
In “Ars Anatomica” (2004), Minegishi created 10 miniature engravings that combine studies of human anatomy with his “signature abstract mindscapes.” A merman with the head of a fish and legs of a human imprints its swimming image in the viewer’s mind.
In the works where Minegishi combines wood engraving with Japanese woodcut, interplay between the flatness of the woodcut forms with the tonal depth of the engraved forms lends a different dimension to the compositions. In his skyscape series, colorful engraved clouds twist and rise behind the simpler hovering shapes of white translucent woodcut clouds.
Like the limited edition book illustrations, Minegishi’s single wood engravings reveal his masterly use of the line to depict three and even four dimensions as in “interval of time” (2000). And in works such as “a mask II” (1999), and “portrait of a blind man” (1995), he shows that he is no stranger to exploring the realms of the mind where the mysterious and fantasy reside.
Minegishi was born in Tokyo in 1970, and currently lives in Vancouver, B. C. where he teaches at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design.
Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers will host a reception for Shinsuke Minegishi on Dec. 7, from 6 to 8 p.m. The exhibition will be on display until Dec. 30.