The demand by the public in and outside of Japan for woodblock prints by Kyoto artist Katsuyuki Nishijima seems to be unlimited. The secret of the artist's success is in our view as obvious as simple. Katsuyuki Nishijima creates woodblock prints that are in the best tradition of the spirit of the old ukiyo-e printmakers, publishers, carvers and printers - good, inexpensive prints with beautiful, appealing subjects.
First Publication: February 2006
Latest Update: April 2013
The art of Katsuyuki Nishijima has one thing in common with the shin hanga movement of artists like Hasui Kawase, Tsuchiya Koitsu or Ito Shinsui. His prints show a romantic image of Japan that has little to do with reality. Views of old shop entrances in Kyoto, farmhouses with thatched roofs, old rural store houses, colorful umbrellas, old store signs, wooden bridges and stone walls. That is the world depicted by Katsuyuki Nishijima.
We have never seen one design of a street scene that showed a car or any other modern achievements. Nor have we seen any woodblock prints by Katsuyuki Nishijima showing people. His views of narrow lanes in Kyoto or a snowy village road are always empty. Not even a strolling dog is to be seen. One feels automatically reminded of the woodblock prints by Hasui Kawase. The speciality of this artist was to depict one or two lonely people on his images, but without showing their faces. That created a rather eerie atmosphere.
Katsuyuki Nishijima goes one step further and shows deserted streets and landscapes. Nasty and sarcastic people could now come up with the idea that the artist shows no humans on his images because his skills were not good enough to draw them well. Such straightforward thoughts are by no means blasphemous. Often they hit the nail on the head and explain things better than endless pages of academic high-brow lectures.
However for Katsuyuki Nishijima this simple explanation is wrong. The artist knows his trade. He even wrote a book about the art of printmaking. His technical craftsmanship is beyond any doubt.
We do not have the answer either. Nishijima might be able to tell us more. But we have not yet had the pleasure to get into contact with him directly so that we could ask him. But we think it is an interesting aspect, and we wanted to have it mentioned as something to reflect about.
Nishijima's art is popular, very popular. And popular is frequently associated with large numbers - mass art, art for the masses?! And art produced and sold in large numbers is often and too easily associated with kitsch. Are the woodblock prints by Katsuyuki Nishijima kitsch?
I want to answer by referring to the medium of movies. There are many excellent films that appeal only to a very small number of people. And there are poor films that attract a large number of theater visitors. However the best films are in my view those that are excellent and attract the masses. "Lord of the Rings" or "Star Wars" for instance.
There are contemporary Japanese printmakers that I in my personal taste would rank higher - for their intricate and elaborate works that often require several months before a new print design is finished. However these prints cost a multiple of what you have to pay for a print by Katsuyuki Nishijima. Therefore I keep a collection of Paul Binnie prints well-protected in a safe place, but decorated our dining room with prints by Katsuyuki Nishijima. and we have never become tired of seeing them every day and enjoying them!
The great achievement of this artist is in my view that he makes excellent prints for the people. You get a great value for your buck! And yes, I think that Katsuyuki Nishijima creates excellent art - yes, yes and yes again!
We have never seen anything else than woodblock prints by this artist. The prints come in different standard sizes - from small to medium to large. But we have never seen any of these modern XXXXL size prints that we call the "carpet prints" and that are such great "fun" when you have to pack and ship them safely.
The artist knows both limited and unlimited editions and both signed and unsigned prints. If signed, they are signed by hand. We have never seen nor heard of stamped signatures by Nishijima.
The editions are large - for the smaller and medium sizes usually 500. The paper used for the smaller and medium-sized prints is of good but not of top quality. Sometimes the paper is a bit wavy, which will flatten out over time if framed of if kept in a collector album.
Katsuyumi Nishijima woodblock prints are an art commodity. To our knowledge there are no different versions with different features like for instance a standard version plus a better deluxe version for a same design. Therefore huge differences of prices for the same design should not have a real reason, we think.
It is now easy to compare prices on the Internet with Google & Co. Or use the art archive of artelino with currently ca. 200 sold Nishijima prints.
We know little more about the artist than what is written in Helen Merritt's standard reference book Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975:
The book ends with the year 1975 and thus our knowledge about the artist's resumé. Therefore we prefer to end this little article by showing you a small gallery selection of a few of the artist's works. The selections on this page show prints that we had offered for sale in our auction # 259 from February 12 until February 16, 2006.
A few yers ago we produced this video about Katsuyuki Nishijima.
Author: Dieter Wanczura
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