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Mokuhanga Prints exhibit on display at SLU’s Brush Art Gallery

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CANTON - An exhibition called “Mokuhanga Prints: Riding the Great Wave,” will be in St. Lawrence University’s Richard F. Brush Art Gallery through April 16. It is open to the public, free of charge.

Yoonmi Nam, associate professor of visual art at the University of Kansas, will give a lecture in conjunction with the exhibition at 7 p.m. March 25 in Room 123 of the Griffiths Arts Center.

St. Lawrence Associate Professor of Art and Art History Melissa Schulenberg and Assistant Director of the Brush Art Gallery Carole Mathey traveled in 2011 to Kyoto, Japan, to attend the first International Mokuhanga Conference, where they met numerous artists, 12 of whom were invited to participate in an exhibition at St. Lawrence. The exhibition’s title, “Riding the Great Wave,” refers to “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” or simply “The Great Wave” (circa 1830), the iconic ukiyo-e print by the Japanese artist Hokusai.

Schulenberg also initiated an exchange portfolio, “20 Artists/20 Views,” which includes work by international artists from the mokuhanga conference. There was no predetermined theme, and artists responded to the call with images of waterscapes, studies of color and light, and abstract forms from nature.

Unlike western woodblock printing that employs oil-based inks, Japanese mokuhanga is a chemical- and solvent-free process that uses water-based inks, such as watercolors, gouaches, and vegetable dyes. Dating back to the 8th century, mokuhanga techniques were first used to print Buddhist texts and images. Later, ukiyo-e prints from the 1800s incorporated mokuhanga to depict vivid battle scenes, actors and courtesans in richly designed silk kimonos, transparent landscapes, and birds and animals from the zodiac.

The exhibition highlights the strength and diversity of mokuhanga prints as a contemporary art form. Unexpected themes range from urban life and human rights to robots and sumo wrestlers. Some prints present playful interpretations of images found in traditional mokuhanga, including birds, flowers and views of Mt. Fuji, while others depict colorful biomorphic abstractions. The exhibition also includes a selection of traditional Japanese woodcuts from the permanent collection, with accompanying curatorial text panels by St. Lawrence students in a special topics seminar on museums.

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