Spotlight: Japanese Artist Katsutoshi Yuasa’s Edgy Woodcuts Have Revolutionized the Age-Old Technique

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About the Artist: Japanese artist Katsutoshi Yuasa (b. 1978) has uniquely reinvigorated the centuries-old tradition of Japanese woodblock prints by making them a medium for imagery culled from the digitized world. Photographs, taken by Yuasa or culled from the media, are the basis for these striking prints. Through his labor-intensive process of carving and making paper, the artist transforms snapshots from our flooded visual landscape into striking, isolated images that give the viewer time to consider and process. Several series by the artist are currently on view in “Katsutoshi Yuasa: Seeing Through The Light” at the Museum Franz Gertsch in Switzerland, which presents includes both colored and black-and-white woodcuts that range from small format to wall size and span the last several years of the artist’s production. 

K Yuasa, CMYK 2 (2022). Courtesy of the artist and Micheko Galerie.

Katsutoshi Yuasa, (2022). Courtesy of the artist and Micheko Galerie.

Why We Like It: Over the years, Yuasa has considered what role art can play during the age of ongoing conflict and crisis, including the current war in Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Fukushima nuclear crisis. His series have borne such questioning tiles as “Can Beauty Save the World?” and “That’s the Question I Asked Myself.” Despite his interest in such weighty subjects, the artist balances these with an embrace of the beauty of the natural world, as well as an engagement with avant-garde techniques. For instance, in the series “CMYK,” the artist experimentally applied the coloration process of modern printing to his woodblock print as well, cutting four different plates for a single motif that  drew from the natural landscape, more in keeping with woodcut traditions. Another series of works from 2021, done in black and white, are titled “VR,” for “virtual reality”; these are based on videos of empty spaces, taken around the world—from London to Tokyo—during the pandemic, and posted to YouTube. In these works, the artist combines the traditional art form of woodblock printing with the realities of contemporary life. Across these series, the artist manages to infuse a holistic, organic sense of unity between material and subject.

K Yuasa, VR London Live Walk 2 (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Micheko Galerie.

Katsutoshi Yuasa, (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Micheko Galerie.

According to the Artist: “In modern and contemporary art, the emphasis is often on how to preserve and hand down objects to the next generation. Art galleries and museums are placing more emphasis on preservation and restoration. However, it is impossible for a work of art to exist forever, and it would be unnatural for it to remain unchanged forever, wouldn’t it? In particular, compared to more enduring oil paintings, woodblock prints, which are printed with pigments on Japanese paper, are vulnerable to light and will lose their colors if not properly stored and managed. Is it extreme to think that works of art also have a limited appreciation period? I think these ideas are connected to descriptive language—fragile, weak, and transitory—which are the attributes used to describe printmaking as an image medium. Change over time can be used in a positive sense, such as growth and evolution, or in a negative sense, such as deterioration and aging. Although the speed of change differs, change is inevitable if we consider all materials and living things. Ideas of deterioration and aging are nonsense. In a sense, it can be said that works of art are also alive. To see the work as a living organism seems to me to be similar to the idea that humans are also part of nature. I think it is important to perceive beauty in everyday life in the limited time we have. I never intend to create beautiful works of art. Rather, the most important thing for me is to continue to create without losing the heart that I find beautiful.”  

K Yuasa, VR Tokaido 2 (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Micheko Galerie.

Katsutoshi Yuasa, (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Micheko Galerie.

Katsutoshi Yuasa: Seeing Through The Light” is on view at Museum Franz Gertsch, Burgdorf, Switzerland, through September 4, 2022. Discover more about the artist on the Artnet Gallery Network with Micheko Galerie.  

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