Prints by resins and encouragement by John Ruskin
- Funasaka Yoshisuke
Japan has the tradition of making woodcuts, Ukiyo-e prints, from [the] Edo period.
Japanese students of elementary school and junior high school often make New Year Greetings by woodcuts in December. These situations inspired me to get interested in woodcuts from youth. In the third grade of junior high school, I submitted my work to [a] prints competition which was held by Asahi shimbun for elementary school and junior high school students and I got a prize. [As a result, I came] to know Muto Rokuro (1907-1995) who was a woodcut artist and one of the judges of this competition. Since that time he was my woodcuts mentor officially and privately until he passed away. In those days, Munakata Shiko (1903-1975) attracted interest internationally. It made me think that woodcuts would be interesting. Woodcuts by water print, which I pursued, would lead me to the success in the future, I thought. The reason I thought so was that the technique of waterprinting [I think Funasaka is referring to water-based, rather than oil-based inks] by “baren” was unusual. The feel of wood engraving, the skin of wood and warmth…. The colour printed by “baren” enables unique expressions which cannot be seen in other printing style. I think it was lucky to be able decide which way to go at that early age.
When I came to Tokyo to take the examination for an art university, one of Mr. Muto’s acquaintances told me to go to Watanabe Woodcuts Workshop if I intended to make a living by woodcuts. Watanabe Woodcuts Workshop, as a publisher of Ukiyo-e prints, had craftsmen who made works of Ito Shinsui (1898-1972) or Kawase Hasui (1883-1957), and manufactured “Shin-Hanga”, which were different from Ukyo-e prints. Watanabe Woodcuts Workshop held the group exhibition and the meeting for the study of woodcuts once a month on the second floor. They had meetings to exchange ideas on their works to enlighten and educate young artists on prints. Mr. Watanabe, the storekeeper, sponsored these meetings and many famous artists participated in them. The meeting continued until 1969 when the building was rebuilt. Mr. Ueno Makoto, one of the members of the meeting, inspired me to submit my work to the exhibition by The Japan Print Association. It was my first public exhibition. I got linoleum from my part-time job place for my works. [Funasaka is referring to his carving on linoleum for many of his early prints.]
When I was working on my works, I found a very important book at a second hand bookstore in Kanda. The book, “A Political Economy of Art”, was written by John Ruskin (1819-1900), a British economist. The book introduced his lectures at Oxford University. It deals with the evaluation of William Turner (1775-1851), a British landscape painter, the universality of the works, the timelessness of the materials, the nature of the artist, and the sensitivity of craftsmen. It has been not only one of my favourite books, but also the important support for my view on artistic activity since then.
From 1960s to 1970s, the prints artists had great enthusiasm and were thinking what prints were, or what they could do in the category of prints. I was searching for a new method of prints: not using wood boards, but using glue. My works in early stage were made in this method. I drew pictures on the glass. In this method, it was hard to work glass into various shapes, so I chose to make the plates from synthetic resins. The liquid resins were easy to spread on the glass. The hardening agents were needed to harden the resins, and the time for making the plates could be kept by controlling the amount of the agents. When the resins were soft, I could engrave them with knives or leave my hand print or the marks of other materials. After that, I spread the oil-based paint on the plate with rollers. The extra paint on the glass was wiped by wet cloth. And then, I put a piece of paper on the glass and printed it. After printing, the plate can be scraped off by the flat knife easily.
You can see lemon shape in the works in those days. One hot day in summer, I found some lemons on the counter in a cafe. While I was gazing at those lemons, I began to think that I could use the shape of lemons in my works as my special feature. I exhibited my lemon works when I had the first exhibition of my own works at Okura gallery in Ginza. Mr. Horiuchi Yoshio, who was the advisor of the gallery and a prints artist, introduced me [to] Mr. Sherman Lee, who was a Japanese art scholar and worked at the cultural section of Japan Times. I gave him an invitation. He kindly wrote the articles on almost all of my exhibitions held in Tokyo. Unfortunately, Japanese newspapers rarely wrote about my exhibition. However, many foreigners who saw the articles by Mr. Lee visited my exhibition. He always wrote about the shape of the lemons and commented on my works. I have been called “Funasaka: Lemon”. Some English books which wrote about my works often paid attention to the works of the lemons or the works with holes. In this way, my works got acknowledged and I decided to keep making woodcuts. The articles by Mr. Lee led me to hold the exhibition in Los Angeles. After that, I kept publishing new works.
In 1970, I got a prize at the 7th International Biennial Exhibition of Prints in Tokyo, and it was the turning point of my life as a prints artist. One or two days after the judgement, the Head Judge, Mr. Peter Bird and his wife, Mrs. Birgit Skiold from the United Kingdom visited me suddenly. He was a director of an art museum in the U.K., and Mrs. Skiold ran a prints workshop in London and worked as a prints artist. In those days, she was working on the works by the etching, which were white, blind printing, uneven and wave-like. Since I was also making such kind of works at that time, they might have got interested in my works. It was great pleasure. They encouraged me to come to the U.K. and I didn’t hesitate in deciding to go there. The United Kingdom, the country of William Tuner, who was evaluated by John Ruskin. It led me to apply to the overseas training by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. In 1976, when I spent about 8 months in London, I visited [the] Tate Gallery for many times. The works by Turner were derisive [sic] and dynamic with light, air, and arising steam. During my stay in London, I had chances to hold exhibitions at 3 galleries. In addition, having workshop or demonstrations there made my training in London very meaningful. My second place for training was Western Michigan University in the United States. Mrs. Skiold introduced me Prof. Richard de Paux. At the university, I often had demonstrations and workshops. Mrs. Skiold gave me chances to hold exhibitions or get companionship with the artists in the world and widened my activity as an artist. Mr. Peter Bird and Mrs. Birgit Skiold passed away 7 or 8 years ago.
Mr. Suematsu Masaki (1908-1966) is also one of the most important people in my artistic activity. He was a teacher in charge when I was in the third grade of Tama Art University. After the Second World War, he came back from France and promptly introduced the contemporary art in France or the abstract paintings of Salon de Mai. He associated with Andre Breton (1896-1966), a French poet and a critic, and made some abstract paintings. I was affected by his works.
It is so hard to print on wide space by wood engraving that I had the wide blank space printed by silk screen. I print the one colour works or the many colours on one wood board works by myself. You can see the transparent objects which are circle or checkers in the works. I use mica in the solvent [to keep] the colours from fading. Mica reflects the light a little.