Throughout the ages, Japanese culture has been heavily geared towards the power of nature, and how to value not only what nature gives to us, but what we can return. And what better way to try and communicate this idea with the rest of the world, than through art? Art expresses what words cannot. As a student studying Art at A-level, I have always found this concept a fascinating one, hence why I decided to study this subject in the first place. Japanese art and Japanese artists seem to have a fixation with the natural world, probably a result of the intertwining of hundreds of years of the Buddhism and Shinto religions weaving their way into Japanese culture (both religions focusing the importance of nature). It is fascinating to witness these concepts expressed in a variety of different medias and forms, being created not only in Pre-modern art, but contemporary art as well.
Firstly, starting in Japan’s Edo Period (1603 – 1868), a figurative golden age of Japanese art. During the Edo period, Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, who is famous for directing the country away from war and violence and focusing on increasing the economical, educational and cultural prosperity of Japan. This is where the idea of traditional Japanese culture comes from, and hence the modern idea of nature in Japan. We turn to the artist that I’m sure many people have seen a few of his creations: Katsuhika Hokusai. This man was most famously the creator of “The Great Wave of Kanagawa” (1830-1832), constructed in his Iitsu Period. One of his favourite mediums to use, which also happened to be very popular at the time, was the technique of using polychrome wood block to create a print of an image. This is what gives his and many other artists the distinctively “Japanese” art style.
Another artist of a similar time, if not slightly later in the Edo Period, is Utagawa Hiroshige. Similarly to Hokusai, he is famous for the use of polychrome woodblock printing, mainly focusing on landscapes. Compared to Hokusai, Hiroshige used a lot more vibrant colours; deeper oranges, brighter reds, and more vivid blues. These infrequent bursts of colour among the vaguely melancholic pastel undertones he uses, helps certain aspects of the images stand out, like a sunset behind a mountain, or a crashing river.
Lastly, creeping into the more modern side of Japanese art, we have Riusuke Fukahori. This contemporary artist is known for his work on fish, specifically gold fish. Fukahori has stated that he was ‘attracted to his goldfish because he admired them and viewed their domestication as a metaphor for the stifling conditions of modern life’ (https://www.artsy.net/artwork/riusuke-fukahori-hanakage), possibly a commentary on the way that although nature still plays a vital role in Japanese society, it also seems to be fading into the background compared to previous generations, with more and more people migrating to cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Ōsaka, rather than staying in the countryside.
(Ella Clayton is studying A'Level art at John of Gaunts School and is currently doing some work experience at Gallery & Barrow)