Japan: Modern exhibition

Today I reflect on a few aspects of a catalogue that accompanied the exhibition Japan: Modern. Japanese prints from the Elise Wessels Collection.

Even though I didn’t have the time to see the original prints at the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam last year, I did manage to buy the catalogue from the museum store. (Museum stores are great places to find all manner of superb books).

I have been a fan of Japanese aesthetic and culture for quite some time and I was delighted to read (and see) during my research that Jon McNaught, an illustrator of whose work I became fond of and have outlined in a different post, talks about his early fascination with Japanese printmaking. But of course, it goes without saying that Japan has been an important source of inspiration for many people.

The show introduces Japanese printmaking from the first half of the twentieth century, with the emphasis on the first three decades. The experienced rapid growth of industrialization and modernization, caused great changes in landscapes and social relations. Artistic expression of the emotional responses is represented by two movements: sosaku hanga (creative prints) and shin hanga (new prints; contrary to the name they are basically a continuation of the classical tradition of ukiyo-e printmaking)


Some examples from the collection:


Onshi Koshiro, ‘Diving’, 1932


Kawanishi Hide, ‘Towa road’


Henmi Takashi. From the series ‘One Hundred Views of New Tokyo’


Uehara Konen, DŌTONBORI


Both movements used the same medium but had very different ideas about application, artistic practice and choice of theme. The more conservative shin hanga artists would work under a publisher’s supervision, rendering highly refined products and depicting traditional themes such as the female portrait and atmospheric landscapes. Sosuka hanga artists promoted the idea of an artist as being in charge of the print’s production steps, which often resulted in a more crude outcome with less details. They focused on their immediate surroundings and daily life as motifs.

In reality the distinction between both movements was not as strict. Often artists would create templates for a publisher and would then also be responsible for the printing process.

My reading up about this part of art history and about artists’ sources of inspiration is like tracing back a dynamic chain reaction being in constant movement. It is fascinating to actually see the influences of Japanese “art”, seen as it wasn’t even considered as art in Japan when these prints became hugely popular in the Western world. One of the most famous and obvious examples on how influential these Japanese visual techniques were, is some of Vincent van Gogh’s work.

The van Gogh museum’s website renders this aspect beautifully: Meet Vincent. Inspiration from Japan

Van Gogh Museum (2017) Meet Vincent. Inspiration from Japan. [Online] Available at: https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/stories/inspiration-from-japan [Accessed: 11 December 2017]


Jansen, M. (2016) Japan: Modern. Elise Wessels Collection published on the occasion of the exhibition at the Rijks Museum, Amsterdam: June 24 – September 11, 2016. Amsterdam: Rijks Museum

Rijksmuseum (2017) Japan: Modern. Elise Wessels Collection [Online] September 2016. Available at: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/japan-modern [Accessed: 11 December 2017]


“Souvenir”– Martin Parr

From ‘Common Sense’. Munich. GERMANY 1997 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos

The other day I went to a photography exhibition: “Martin Parr. Souvenir – A Photographic Journey”. Though I had seen some of Parr’s photographs a few years back I did not expect it to be so entertaining and yet so thought provoking at the same time.

Though “the motifs he chooses are strange, the colours are garish and the perspectives are unusual” (curator Thomas Weski) they made me think about the respective situation at hand in the photographs because they offered a strong statement of current society. Thus they don’t just look interesting, funny or sometimes even depressing but they become meaningful.

My take-away for my own work: Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, especially in regard of my chosen keyword ‘daily’. Reflecting on what is at hand in terms of drawing motifs and injecting them with meaning.


From ‘Autoportrait’. CUBA 2001 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos und Kunstfoyer


From ‘Think of England’. GB 1996 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos und Kunstfoyer


From ‘Small World’. ITALY 2005 © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos und Kunstfoyer


Generally speaking I love going to photography exhibitions because they are not only a great resource for inspiration but a great practice to analyse composition, structure and underlying aesthetic principles. If a specific picture really draws my attention I try to capture why that is and then later, if for example I work on a cover design I try to translate this knowledge into my own work.

About Martin Parr from the Magnum Photos website:

“Martin Parr is a chronicler of our age. In the face of the constantly growing flood of images released by the media, his photographs offer us the opportunity to see the world from his unique perspective. At first glance, his photographs seem exaggerated or even grotesque. The motifs he chooses are strange, the colours are garish and the perspectives are unusual. Parr’s term for the overwhelming power of published images is ‘propaganda’. He counters this propaganda with his own chosen weapons: criticism, seduction and humour. As a result, his photographs are original and entertaining, accessible and understandable. But at the same time they show us in a penetrating way how we live, how we present ourselves to others, and what we value.” – Thomas Weski, curator.



Versicherungskammer Kulturstiftung (2017) MARTIN PARR. Souvenir – a photographic journey [Online] Available from: https://www.versicherungskammer-kulturstiftung.de/en/kunstfoyer/martin-parr-souvenir-a-photographic-journey/ [Accessed: 22 November 2017]

Magnum Photos (2017) Souvenir – a photographic journey [Online] Available from: https://www.magnumphotos.com/events/event/souvenir-a-photographic-journey/ [Accessed: 22 November 2017]