February 28, 2017
Hi from France! More about that later. As I traveled here over the weekend, I stopped for a night in Brussels to visit a friend, hear an opera (Fauré’s Pénélope–hear this score if you can, OMG), and see an exhibition of Japanese prints.
The exhibition was a last-minute decision. I had a morning free before re-starting my travel, and I thought I’d see how I felt–maybe I’d prefer to while away a couple hours over a coffee or two, read and people-watch. But I woke up with lots of energy and decided to go. And now I can’t imagine having not seen it. It was so enthralling that I nearly missed my bus because I lingered too long.
The exhibition spanned several centuries of fine-art printing, and each room was extraordinary in its own way. But the image above was one of the first things I saw, and it set the tone. It’s part of a long horizontal case–thirty feet long, maybe–displaying what looks like an accordion-folded book (the 19th-century artist is Kawase Hasui). Starting at the rightmost end of the case, you see at first a single-color engraving–the outlines of a scene pressed in a grayish ink. As you continue to move down the book, each fold showed an additional single-color print that was to be layered in, and on the left the cumulative effect each new print was having on the whole picture. So, after the grayish outline, some tiny blobs of brown were added, and later the yellow and then the red of the temple popped vibrantly. One entire print layer might be the tiniest pinprick of purple to darken the pattern on a kimono; another was a light wash of green to give the trees their first color, followed by a darker shade of green, distributed more irregularly, to create shadows. Many layers added just the subtlest dusting of gray to nuance the texture of snow or sky.