Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Artists' Books in the Archives: Ōyōki by Jun'ichirō Sekino


Ōyōki by Jun'ichirō Sekino
Check out this artist’s book from our collection! Ōyōki by Jun'ichirō Sekino is a miniature book that was published in 1956 and contains woodblock prints of houses, animals, flowers, and people. When you first look at this book you realize it is small, but picking it up reveals that it is still surprisingly lightweight: the exact opposite experience of handling Ship Wreck!

Inside, you can see that the woodblock images are printed on thin handmade paper. From what I have been able to gather, the style of binding is called fukuro-toji, which is “bound pocket” or “pouch binding.” I found a blog post from the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Center that discusses 20 small books of Japanese fairy tales in their collection that have this binding too. This style of binding speeds up production and allows printers to use much thinner paper because they are only printing on one side.   


Fukuro-toji style binding


The prints in this book are incredibly detailed for their minute size; the image below of a house has tiny detailed bricks that beg you to look closer. The sequence of the images strongly suggest a narrative and I can’t help but wonder: what is the story? The book seems to be roughly divided by subject matter starting with houses and then moving into birds, flowers, and butterflies. Images of people appear within these thematic divisions and punctuate the narrative.



House with detailed bricks


All the prints are technically beautiful, but the most captivating moments of the book occur when the sequence is in transition. For example, the image below of what appears to be a figure using an umbrella as a boat is between images of houses and birds. The last three prints tie together images a young child and frogs using graphic shapes.

 
Figure in an umbrella


The last three images of Ōyōki


Portrait of Sekino



I was curious about the artist Jun'ichirō Sekino and after some research I found out he was involved in the sosaku-hanga “creative print” art movement in early 20th century Japan. This movement emphasized the artist as the creator of a print, which meant that they had control over its design, carving, printing, and publishing. In comparison, the shin-hanga “new print” movement that occurred around the same time was a publishers game. Shin-hanga borrowed from the ukiyo-e print tradition and operated under the collaborative hanmoto system. Artists, carvers, printers, and publishers took part in the division of labor, a network that favored the publisher and granted less importance to the vision of the artist. In contrast with this structure, the sosaku-hanga movement was concerned with the “self”- “self drawn”, “self carved”, “self printed”- in order to foster self-expression. The sosaku-hanga movement encouraged artists to pursue more abstract works, which you can see influencing the images of the girl and frogs above. Ōyōki was most likely designed, carved, and printed by Junichiro himself; the description at the beginning of the book reads that this is a limited-edition print run of 20 copies.

Meaghan Sullivan ‘17 is a student Archives Assistant in the Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections. To learn more about our artists’ books collection come visit the Archives in the Basement of Dwight!

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