The Prints of Hodaka Yoshida

From the Collection of Margaret and Eugene Skibbe

Hodaka Yoshida Prints

Gene and Margaret Skibbe

Welcome to a new web service. We want to help you learn more about the prints of Hodaka Yoshida (1926-1995).


INTRODUCTION

A leading Japanese modernist, Hodaka Yoshida created prints that he hoped would stir a primitive striving hidden in each of us, the spark that gives birth to all human culture.


Hodaka’s first love as an artist was the indigenous people of Mexico, and with them their pre-Columbian artifacts. Equally important, though, was that Hodaka traveled widely, to some 36 countries around the world. His insights into human beings and their artifacts in so many diverse cultures fed his artistic vision. It made of him an international as well as a Japanese artist. All of these factors shaped his unique contribution to contemporary art.

Each of his prints is an invitation for the viewer to connect again with that inner spark, and then to reflect on how it has molded and sometimes threatened life on this planet. Virtually every print offers to the viewer an aggregate of feelings associated with strength, energy, and fascination, as well as lively juxtapositions of color.

Hodaka did that by his mastery of the woodblock print medium, making exclusive use of this from 1950 to 1960. At that point he began to use lithograph, then screen printing, then copper plate etching, then zinc relief rendering of photographic images, these occasionally as the sole medium for a print, but more often joined with woodblock printing to give his work a contemporary thrust in method as well content.

But each print, created as a discrete aesthetic event, is at the same time an event in one of the nine stages which structured Hodaka’s 45 year career. Each stage has its own vocabulary, color palette, and style. So, in order to fully appreciate Hodaka’s work, the viewer should have some sense of those nine stages. They are the larger context for any particular piece, and as such they are part of what viewers consider in a broader appreciation of that piece, and of Hodaka’s career and underlying artistic vision as well.

Outline of the nine stages:

Early Prints 1950-53
Buddhist Prints 1953-54
Primitive Prints 1955-63
Folk Prints 1963-66
Mythology and Landscape Prints 1966-74
House-Nude Prints 1974-79
From My Collection House Prints 1979-1984
Recollection Prints 1984-91
Wall Prints 1991-95


Being aware of this larger context is important, but clearly the most important thing is the particular print. Hodaka's creative genius flowed into the individual print. That is what deserves our most careful attention.

On subsequent pages are images of over 150 prints by Hodaka, a good sample of his total body of work. The images are arranged according to the nine stages, although the sequence of prints within any particular year remains uncertain.

Please note three important things about this: First, the tabs for reaching the first four stages are found at the RIGHT on each page. The tabs for the remaining stages are found BELOW on each page. Second, the images here are provided for identification purposes only. Often computer images do not do justice to original works of art, and that is certainly true here. In some images the red, medium gray, and other colors are lighter than in the original prints. Hodaka's red is always strong, his black always deep black. Third, in the caption under each image, the number preceding the title refers to that print in the Working List of Hodaka Yoshida Prints, containing 638 entries, and available from the author of this site.

Following the print gallery is a section that contains the article: "Hodaka Yoshida in Historical Context."

What is it about Hodaka's prints that has led us to become avid collectors?

What Margaret and I like about Hodaka is that he is not only a very gifted artist, but his art is different, often “edgy.” He found primitive artifacts fascinating, rather than beautiful, and that influenced his own printmaking. In addition, his entire production of more than 600 prints over 45 years is amazingly complex. Put “edgy” and “complex” together and what you get is art that is, not beautiful in any ordinary sense, but fascinating. That is exactly what Hodaka hoped to achieve, and we like that a lot.

There are three characteristics in Hodaka’s work that might account for its appeal. First, his compositions often have a collage appearance, as though he had cut out pieces from colored paper or from a magazine and arranged them on a surface. Second, he likes to use deep black elements to move us inwardly, as well as guide our eyes through a particular piece. And third, in most of his pieces the viewer senses something that could be called: virtual life or virtual human presence. That is, a print might portray something not human, yet “almost human,” - or something human sensed as “present, but not visible,” - or it might feature a “symbol” for something human or alive. Virtual human presence is Hodaka's artistic entree into the illusive depths and dynamics of human nature and human culture.

Hodaka obviously is a modern artist in the fullest sense of the word. If we were to ask what that word “modern” means in a case like this, a good answer lies in Kirk Varnedoe’s book, A Fine Disregard: What Makes Modern Art Modern, 1990. Varnedoe was a leading art historian and curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In his book, he says that modern art has four main characteristics: (1) the flattened image instead of the illusion of space, (2) fragmentation and repetition in the composition, rather than the complete object, (3) primitivism, in the sense of an artifact revealing something latent deep within ourselves, and (4) the flight of the mind, the freedom to assume any point of departure, or to conceptualize as one wishes. It is clear that Hodaka’s art exemplifies all four characteristics quite well. His entire body of work demonstrates “flatness,” “fragmentation,” “primitivism,” and the continuing “flight of the mind.” And he did this without supressing his Japanese aesthetic sensibility.

How did he ever get to that point in modernism?

In 1955, when Hodaka was 29 years old and struggling to find his own artistic vision, he went on his first trip abroad - to New York City and to Mexico, including the Yucatan Peninsula. In New York City he visited the Heye Museum of the American Indian, and talked there with a young Native American about his people. In Mexico he saw countless pre-Columbian Mayan artifacts and architectural ruins. In the midst of all of this, he had what one might call a “discernment experience,” in which he caught sight of the life of the primitive people behind the artifacts - and he realized that the artifacts mediated a sense of that life to him. From that point on, Hodaka strove to express a sense of that energy in his prints.

That would be fascinating enough, but he also reinvented himself as an artist every two to eight years, each time changing his style, vocabulary, and palette, thus creating a different art for his viewer in each of those periods. So, the “flight of the mind” is evident in Hodaka’s work, not only in a particular piece, but also by these fundamental changes in his approach. The interesting question arises whether - through all of these stages and changes - Hodaka continued to express the same vision, i.e., a sense of primitive life, to the viewer. Throughout the nine stages in his career, Hodaka was particularly alert to the energy in the cultures that he encountered or was immersed in: the primitive mythologies, the contemporary mythologies, the clash between the traditional and the modern in a culture, the subtle power of the house as a preeminent human artifact found in cultures all around the world, then something similar for the wall, that longest enduring artifact. As an artist he was like a seer, capable of looking into these deep structures of human life and - in his own art - conveying to us what he sees.

In November 1995, Hodaka died suddenly, unexpectedly. Margaret and I lost a friend. But Japan lost one of its most important modern print artists. Hodaka had won prizes all around the world. He was also given the Purple Ribbon Decoration by the Emperor in 1990, and the Rising Sun Medal (Fourth Order) immediately after his death.

Margaret and I have enjoyed collecting, studying, publishing, and spending countless hours just talking together about certain aspects of Hodaka’s work.

In conclusion, Margaret and I want to thank people who have made possible our enjoyment of Hodaka prints and the creation of this web site. Our conversations with Hodaka provided key insights into his work. In recent years Chizuko Yoshida, Hodaka’s widow, and Ayomi Yoshida, their daughter - both also artists - have been absolutely indispensable for information. Matthew Welch, Curator of Japanese and Korean Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, has kindly guided us. Among the many art dealers who have helped us, Jeanne Davidson, of Jeanne Davidson Fine Prints, New York, has played a pivotal role. Gary Christenson, former president of the Japanese Print Club in the Twin Cities, and sponsor of the website www.miniaturejapaneseprints.com, has been the lead person in building our web site. There are many many more. As thankful as we are to al
l, however, we realize that we alone are responsible for what appears here.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Discussions in English about Hodaka’s work can be found in:

Allen, Brown, Skibbe, Welch, and Yasunaga, A Japanese Legacy: Four Generations of Yoshida Family Artists, Art Media Resources with The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2002.

Blakemore, Who’s Who in Modern Japanese Prints, Weatherhill, 1975.

Merritt, Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Early Years, University of Hawaii Press, 1990.

Petit, 44 Modern Japanese Print Artists, Vol. 2, Kodansha International, 1973.

Petit and Arboleda, Evolving Techniques in Japanese Woodblock Prints, Kodansha International, 1977.

Robertson, Contemporary Printmaking in Japan, Crown Publishers, 1965.

Skibbe, Yoshida Hodaka: The Magic of Art, Seascape Publications, 1997.

Skibbe, "The Artist as Seer: Yoshida Hodaka 1926-1995," in Andon, November 1996, pp. 3-16.

Statler, Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn, Charles E. Tuttle, 1959.

The Yoshidas: A Family Journey in Art, Mitaka City Gallery of Art, 2009.

The most complete list of writings by and about Hodaka Yoshida, up to about 1988, is found in the Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts catalogue, Yoshida Hodaka Hangatan, Vol. 3 of Shûzô sakka, 1988, pp. 53-56. Hodaka was the author of about 80 articles and the author or coauthor of several books.


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Gskib@aol.com

IntroductionEarly PrintsEarly Prints IIBuddhist PrintsPrimitive PrintsPrimitive Prints IIPrimitive Prints IIIPrimitive Prints IVPrimitive Prints VFolk PrintsMythology & Landscape PrintsMythol. & Landscape Prints IIHouse-Nude PrintsHouse-Nude Prints IIHouse PrintsHouse Prints IIRecollection PrintsWall PrintsWall Prints IIArticles/ Working List