Monday, 7 March 2011

Zen perspectives: Okiie Hashimoto

First of all I need to say this post isn't meant to be representative of the work of Japanese printmaker Okiie Hashimoto (1899 - 1993). These 7 prints of Zen gardens in Japan are chosen simply because I like this aspect of his work and am pleased to be able to say I own one - Sand Garden Scene, above.

The idea for the post came indirectly from Lily. She said there was an inkjet version of a Bresslern Roth she had made in her own kitchen and the Hashimoto is standing on a small table in mine, propped against the wall. I bought it in the 80s, for very little, probably seven or eight years before post-war modernism came back into fashion.

In those days its semi abstraction looked dated. Figurative prints had made a strong come-back from the late seventies and personally I was very glad to see the back of the many dreadful print abstractions made here between the mid fifties and the seventies. This says quite alot about Hashimoto's take on modernism: less may well have been more but there was alot more to his less.

He graduated from Tokyo School of Fine Art in 1924 with a training in Western oil painting. He did also study for a short while with the printmaker Haratsuka Un'ichi but it wasn't untill the 1930s that he began to make woodblocks in any great number and not untill he retired from school teaching in 1955 that the prints you see here were created.

They all date from between 1957 and 1966 so must represent a particular phase of his work, imbued with complex perspectives but drawing on aspects of Western abstraction. The kinds of artist he must have looked at (someone like Ben Shahn comes to mind) are not really on my radar because I have an aversion to that kind of post-war stylisation. So, the effect of Hashimoto is simple for me: he is redemptive.

He is redemptive because he has turned modernism round and used its abstract tendencies to present a very subtle view of reality. Probably many Westerners do not register the symbolism of oriental art like this because they don't expect to find it in post-war art. This is contemplative art. And contemplation requires if not an object than at least a symbol, to help us on our way.


  1. Very beautiful prints by an artist I didn't know before. I like them all but the first one best. Thank you for the rendezvous and your vision on the printed symbolism on our way through the universe. What better help can we use ?

  2. I was just trying to suggest that Japanese aesthetics are more different than people seem to think.

  3. I was just suggesting what better help than these printed symbols of symbolic universal gardens.

  4. Very interesting post, Charles. I love the first one, and also the one before last. There is a real sense of indoor/outdoor, visible/invisible duality in these prints. I hadn't come across this artist before, either.

  5. He doesn't figure in the books on modern Japanese printmakers which may explain why he is less well known in the west.

  6. I think these are quite sophisticated, and done in a rather appealing way, by observing the patterns and shapes rather than a visible translation of a scene into carved blocks. Very interesting.

  7. Returning to look at these pieces again and I like them much more. particularly the first and last. Interesting how in each work a choice has been made on the colour and tone of the paper - something for me to take note of there..
    I like the confidence of the last print very much, the way the stone is described in tone, colour and form is quite wonderful.

  8. This is only one aspect of his work though an important and appealing one. I just chose the ones I liked. They are understated and as you say well worth a second look.

    The perspective on the rock is quite tricksy. Certainly the effects on the top print are subtle. I've just been though to the kitchen to look at it again. It doesn't come across quite as sharply as it does here and the perspective warps towards the top more obviously. (I sold it once to a friend and then got it back by claiming I was going 1950s in my sitting room!)