June 28, 2015

In the mid-19th century in the city of Edo, now called Tokyo, a Japanese artist called Hiroshige was one of the country’s foremost painters and print designers. He had already become famous for depicting the Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido (Tokaido Gojusantsugi), a series of landscape prints that tell us as much about the cultural landscape of 19th-century Japan as its geography. In the late 1850s, Hiroshige chose to depict views of his beloved city Edo in a series called One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (Edo Meisho Hyakkei).

In these prints, which were vertical and measured roughly 16×20 inches, he lovingly portrayed major sites of the city, often cleverly framed by structures, animals, birds and plants in the foreground to add cultural flavor, wit and whimsy. He also added a sense of season, time and atmosphere, both climatic and emotional, through the use dramatic slashes of rain cutting across the scene and a color grading technique called bokashi. Although he used a certain amount of artistic license in many of his compositions, he was able to capture the essence of this great city, just before it was transformed forever after contact with the West.

About 150 years later, an artist from Los Angeles became enchanted by his prints and decided to create a series of paintings called One Hundred Not-So-Famous Views of Los Angeles. Using a similar format, compositional devices, color gradation techniques and wit, she spent four years painting a remarkable series of images of the city I have come to call home. I had seen Barbara’s work at Pacific Asia Museum several years ago when she was still working on the series. A couple of years ago, she had completed it, and I interviewed her for an article for KCET Artbound. I was deeply impressed by her skill as a painter, print maker and draughtsman and her intelligent and untiring approach to her work. We became friends and have managed to get together several times since, most recently when she published her book of this series with a local publisher, Prospect Park Books.

This afternoon, Barbara came to give a talk about her work at the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden in Pasadena, where I am helping with programming. With humor and the comfortable manner of an artist who truly knows her craft and herself, she seemed to channel the spirit of Hiroshige as she entertained an enthralled audience with her work, her knowledge of Japanese prints, her technical process, and her genuine affection for the City of Los Angeles. Afterwards, as a thank you gift, I gave her a book I have had for years, Richard Lane’s 1962 volume, Masters of the Japanese Print, so she can enjoy the works of many of Japan’s other great printmakers. Perhaps it will give her an idea for her next series…

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