Two exhibitions featuring Japanese woodblock prints are now on display at the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts. Prints for the People: Japanese Ukiyo-e and Currier & Ives features Japanese and American prints from the 19th century, while Skin Deep: Tattooed Warriors and Fantastic Beasts includes images that have inspired tattoo artists for over 150 years. All of the images in the new exhibits are from the D’Amour Museum’s acclaimed print collections, and both feature works that in some cases have not been on display in recent years.
Prints for the People explores how Japanese and American artists created affordable and accessible prints that reflected city and country life during the same time in history. Each culture used a different print-making technique: Japanese artists favored woodblock prints while Currier and Ives produced images using lithography. Though dramatically different in their process, the two methods gave artists the opportunity to mass produce popular images that middle-class people were enamored with and could afford. The exhibit, which is on display through November 17, is a thought-provoking comparison of two cultures interpreting similar subject matter.
Skin Deep gives visitors a glimpse of Japanese tattoo art, which has been practiced in Japan since the 5th century for the purpose of beautifying the body, imbuing magical powers and even identifying criminals. The exquisite style of Japanese tattooing that is familiar today sprang from the mid 18th- century publication of Suikoden, a Japanese translation of the 14th-century Chinese novel about a band of Robin Hood-like outlaws. Extremely popular, the subversive tale was published in many versions and illustrated with woodblock prints. Through several artists interpreted the story, the images created by the celebrated artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi are the most famous. The Kuniyoshi images in the exhibit, many in pristine condition, depict ancient heroes adorned with tattoos featuring extraordinary beasts from Japanese folklore. These images have inspired Japanese body tattoos and continue to inform modern-day tattoo art. Skin Deep runs through December 15, 2013.