Last month I attended Ruth Ozeki’s artist talk on the occasion of her 20 year retrospective at the Froelick Gallery. It was a rare opportunity to listen to a Japanese printmaker share insights into her prints and her methods. Yoshihiro Kitai served as interpreter for Ms Ozeki and I scribbled down some quick notes. Most of the photos were taken with my phone and do not fully represent the quality of Ozeki’s prints. (I have noted one photo from the Froelick Gallery site.) I have tried to stay true to the translation of Ms Ozeki’s words about her life and her work.
Ozeki describes herself as a quick printmaker. She studied calligraphy and it is an influence in her work. She makes her marks quickly and fluidly like a calligrapher. All of her prints are made with black ink. When asked why she doesn’t use color, Ozeki responded that the techniques to print in color are too complicated; they remove her from the way she like to make her marks. When she wants to work in color she paints.
Ozeki sketches constantly. She always carries her sketchbook (which she calls her journal) with her. Drawing is her life diary from which she later chooses images of interest to transfer onto copper plates. She does not draw in order to print, she draws as a way of recording her life.
Generally speaking, Ozeki described the theme throughout her work as being of life and death. It is never figurative in content, allowing the viewer to import their own images and history onto the prints. She draws her content from every day life – stairs, vessels – into which she infuses her personal experience. (It is interesting to note that Ozeki embraces what she describes as the “accidental scratches” on the plate.)
Ozeki started with an exploration of lace, then vessels including chine collé on newspaper. Lace and woven materials appear and re-appear. Her choice to use non archival materials is a considered one. She views the shift in color of newsprint as an indicator of daily life.
The most significant evolution of Ozeki’s prints began after her mother’s passing away. Initially, Ozeki described her work as being more poetic; after her mother’s death the prints became more about feelings and magic.
Ozeki found a collection of stockings in her mother’s possessions after her death. The resulting “Slough” series is about the female’s life from baby clothing to the stockings. Vessels evolve from two hands joining to make a bowl to bring food, liquid to the mouth. Upon death, ashes are contained in an urn – another kind of vessel. The last vessel.
Not only has Ozeki experienced loss, she is also a survivor of the 2011 earthquake in Japan. Ozeki began to explore architectural forms, always mindful of the large loss of life. Stairs were often the only thing left standing. Not only do they represent structural stability but the transition from one place to another.
Ozeki has also experienced houses being tossed upside down and a chaos of structure. She developed house forms which she printed in every direction.
The exploration of architectural forms continues into the period of restoration. This print (below) was the most current of the exhibit and the largest at 39″ x 39″.
This print exhibit is one of the few that I have attended where none of the prints were framed. Being able to stand close to the work and follow the mark making was an intimate experience. The paper was allowed to buckle on the wall and cast shadows. As particular as I am about framing, I appreciated this more raw and trusting presentation of the work.
The talk was well attended by a mix of printmakers, artists in other media and collectors. Ms Ozeki was generous with her time and responses. When asked why she simply doesn’t draw what she wants to share, she responded that when she works on copper and pulls the paper back on the press, she feels the hand of God in her images. Most in attendance recognized that feeling. I learned some things about process but mostly this talk reinforced lessons I am already working on. I need to draw more = I can’t draw enough. I need to stay close to the subjects that touch my emotions deeply – being timid is not an option. Regardless of the difference in language and culture, the bones of creativity and sharing your work are universal. I spoke with Ms Ozeki after the talk – even without a lot of common words, I felt a strong sense of recognition.