This is not the first time I have written about an artist who lost a substantial amount of work as a result of damage caused by bombing during the second war. Paul Leschhorn's studio in Frankfurt was destroyed, as were many of the blocks of the linocutter, Claude Flight, in London. But the effect on the Japanese artist, Hideo Hagiwara, was so great, he virtually had to begin again at the age of thirty-seven.
Printmakers and print publishers are particularly susceptible to this kind of thing. A major earthquake in Tokyo in 1923 meant that many blocks stored in publishing houses were destroyed. It's perhaps not so surprising that so much of the work that Hagiwara made after the war looks is deliberately naïve, like someone who has gone back to basics.
But what we are left with is a rather distorted view of his career. He began printmaking as a student in Tokyo during the 1930s, but almost all the work available dates only from the sixties onwards. By that time, in a fashion that was uniquely his own, he used abstraction as pure as Mark Rothko or Ben Nicholson, alongside naïve figurative work that makes a mockery of the standard art history idea of development. What happened with Hagiwara is that everything eventually overlaps and interrupts.
The series was not a straight lift from Hokusai. In his work, Mount Fuji often provides a witty but trivial focus for the print, with the human activity surrounding it becoming the real subject. With Hagiwara, the mountain is always the subject, even when partially obscured. Also, unlike Hokusai, he uses shape in a fluid way to suggest incompleteness within the work itself that is remarkably similar to the way Allen Seaby made his woodcuts well before the first war.
Adapting western styles and techniques was nothing new in Japanese printmaking. From the earliest days of ukiyo-e, an artist like Hokusai was using a new European pigment such as Prussian blue with such frequency, it has become synonymous with his work. It was not just Western perspective that had to be learned, but also the realistic use of cloud and shadow. In learning foreign conventions like that, the artists were able to question their use and divert them simply because they were not bound by them.
By the time we come to an artist as sophisticated as Hagiwara, what with all the loans and counter-loans, we hardly know where we are. But he is one of the most simpatico and lyrical of abstract artists, more subtle and complex in his representations of sand gardens that Okiee Hashimoto (also featured on Modern Printmakers). In his hands they become stone-rubbings of themselves and everything floats lucidly as if he were representing consciousness itself. (The image immediately above shows the reverse of January.)