When Elizabeth Keith arrived in Japan in 1915, the Scotswoman intended the trip to be a short visit to her sister, who had married a publisher working in Tokyo.
Instead, the 28-year-old remained in the country for nine years. Enamored with Japans culture, she was inspired to turn her budding artistic endeavors into a full-fledged career. Her portraits of Asian life earned her a followingone was even exhibited at the Royal Academy in Londonand she began a fruitful collaboration with prominent printmaker Watanabe Shōzaburō, creating traditional Japanese woodblock prints. Though she eventually returned to London, the East left an indelible impact on the artist.
Today, a Keith print is one of more than 100 works on paper on view in Ebb & Flow: Cross-Cultural Prints, a new Toledo Museum of Art
exhibition that explores the global influence of Japanese printmaking since 1900. It opened Oct. 11, 2013 and will be on view free to the public in the Works on Paper Gallery through Jan. 5, 2014.
Artists are continually participating in the unconscious and sometimes conscious exchange of ideas between East and West, said Thomas Loeffler, curator of the exhibition. Today, technology has made the speed of the exchange much greater and that will be reflected in the modern and contemporary work that will be in the show.
The works in Ebb & Flow, from the TMA collection and on loan from private collections, complement the Museums major fall exhibition Fresh Impressions: Early Modern Japanese Prints, which focuses on the rise of the shin hanga (new prints) movement among Japanese artists influenced by European Impressionism. Ebb & Flow also delves into shin hanga, but goes further in exhibiting works from the sōsaku hanga (creative prints) and kindai hanga (modern contemporary prints) movements.
Sōsaku hanga was the result of Japanese artists starting to travel to the West around the turn of the 20th century, Loeffler said. One thing they noticed was that the artists in Europe were creating their own prints, doing their own designs and cutting their own blocks. That freedom and ownership really impressed them. Up until that time, the Japanese worked in a publisher-dominated system where all of that work was divided between different artisans. The creative print movement stipulated that the artists create the art themselves from beginning to end.
While Ebb & Flow shows the impact of those early cultural exchanges, it also examines its influence on contemporary artists.
Those works include a powerful series of prints by Roger Shimomura, a Japanese- American artist who reflects on his time in an American internment camp during World War II, and prints by Scottish artist Paul Binnie, created using traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking techniques.