Monday, December 28, 2015

Sadao Watanabe: Japan's Pre-eminent Christian Printmaker

The work of Sadao Watanabe is unique in the annals of printmaking. His work is uplifting, informative, spiritual and has a look not unfamiliar to us westerners; but the story is the same, no matter what the cultural influences.
Watanabe's work has become popular in secular and religious print collecting circles. His career's subject matter is based upon Christianity and the stories of Christ's life, yet the manner in which the artist orchestrates his images is fluid and sinuous. In some of the work, there is a reference to some of the flattened perspectives found in orthodox icon paintings, where the figures' heads lean to the left or the right, and we sometimes see an angel or two swooping into the corners of his compositions. We also find elongated hands and feet, and dour-eyed, serious faces as one would find in eastern orthodox images.

His compositions, as often found in Japanese prints of the 19th c., do not contain any unnecessary information. We see the subject at hand, doing what the story suggests, and no more. Watanabe often fills his compositions with the figures, and then there are other irregularly-shaped compositions where he integrates the background color of the paper with the subject. His use of bold, simple color is effective and it enhances his subjects.

Watanabe also incorporates Asian elements into his work, such as the figures have almond-shaped eyes, and many figures wear kimonos. There are also influences of Buddhism, and Asian items like sake and sushi thrown into the mix. The effect of his clean lines, and simple message comes through and brings the viewer a feeling of joy, and peace.

Sadao Watanabe (1913 –1996), was a Japanese printmaker known for his biblical imagery, Watanabe was born and raised in Tokyo. He was famous for using the Japanese folk art style of mingei to create his work. His desire was to create art that could be enjoyed by common people and displayed in ordinary settings.

Watanabe dropped out of school at the age of ten when his father died. He became an apprentice of the master textile dye artist Serizawa Keisuke (1895–1984), where he learned to draw and dye fabrics. At seventeen, Watanabe became a Christian and devoted his entire career art to the gospel and biblical subjects, but often placed his subjects within a Japanese context.

In 1937, Watanabe saw an exhibition of Serizawa Keisuke’s (1895–1984) work at Japan’s Folk Art Museum. Watanabe later attended a workshop where Serizawa taught his katazome technique, which originated in Okinawa. The mingei and katazome methods use only natural organic materials and mineral pigments in a medium of soybean milk.

In 1958, Watanabe received first prize at the Modern Japanese Print Exhibition held in New York City Watanabe’s work was included with other featured sosaku hanga artists in James Michener’s The Modern Japanese Print (1962).

Selected Public Collections:
Benedictine University
British Museum
Museum of Modern Art
National Museum of Modern Art, in Tokyo
Valparaiso University
Vatican Museum
Watanabe’s prints have also shown in the White House, in Washington, DC.

1 comment:

  1. The images remind me very strongly of the Ethiopian scroll paintings