Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Katsue Inoue II

Of course it had been very time-consuming in production and was of necessity, expensive. It is an entirely timeless plate which has been much admired over the years.

Katsue has been for many years a familiar figure at the congresses of the Japan Ex Libris Association and is recognized as one of the classic artists of the present age. There is no formula for her bookplates, they range widely from abstract designs to portraits, landscapes, seascapes, flower fantasies and anything that takes her fancy or is requested by her clients. A small selection of her considerable output of bookplates is presented here but, of course, in the life of such a well known artist, ex libris art must be a minor aspect of her busy life.

Katsue’s work are widely exhibited in Japan. Although, it must here be admitted that bookplates do not look their best in a gallery setting; there, large framed works dominate the eye. Bookplates come into their own in a private setting where one can sit comfortably and examine them closely and at leisure to enjoy the artist's elegant conceptions, the jewel-like precision of her technique and all the fine qualities of a fine artist-craftsperson at the peak of her skill.

It should here be mentioned that Katsue is admired and respected by her fellow artists. As long ago as 1981 she was elected a Director of Japan Itagain - the professional association of Japanese woodblock artists (which however, has one American member (though long resident in Japan) in the person of Mr. Clifton Karhu). The term Itaga refers to the skill of employing the grain of the wood in the design of woodblock prints.

Through this Association, Katsue often shows her work in group exhibitions which are perhaps more common here in cooperative, friendly Japan than in countries where artists have to make a lone bid for personal recognition. Here in Japan the traditional, painstaking processes involved in cutting and printing a plate connect modern woodblock artists, however tenuously, with the great artists of the past such as Utamaro and Hiroshige, though they worked in entirely different circumstances. Katsue is of course, an exponent of the Sosaku-Hanga process introduced into Japan by Kanae Yamamoto in the early years of the past century though in her paintings in ancient temples she follows a far older tradition. Sometimes the two traditions are fused as in my Murasaki Shikibu plate, but this was
clearly a serendipitous work of art, as with her wide experience of Heian art she is a brilliant interpreter of that high level of culture in ancient Japan which contrasts so vividly with the crude, largely illiterate society of contemporary Europe.

When my wife and I met Katsue on November 30th at the Amelia Gallery in Tokyo, she was dressed entirely in black enlivened with the glittering silver bracelets and rings she loves. Even her short cropped hair was black though now with a hint of silver here and there. We were surprised to find that in the whole exhibition every work was executed in black and white only. She explained to us that she has for some time been experimenting with black pigments and recognizes as many as seven different varieties of black in her work.

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