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Since Tadashi Nakayama discovered the traditional Japanese technique of color woodblock printing for himself as an ideal print medium, the development of his art took a distinctive turn. The gorgeous prints - finished in gold and silver - require great effort and are created in up to fifty individual print processes.
First Publication: July 2007
Tadashi Nakayama was born in 1927, when his hometown of Niigata was still a small, quiet and traditional town on the main Japanese island of Honshu, located where the Shinano river flows into the Japanese sea. Today, Niigata is a large city in a region rich in crude oil and natural gas. The devastating destruction of the earthquake of 1964 marks the beginning of a transformation of the area into one full of refineries, industry and modern architecture.
Despite the previous isolation and distance from Japanese artistic and intellectual life, Tadashi Nakayama felt drawn to art since he was a boy. At 14 years old he began to paint with oils and practicing sketching and drawing. He had to learn art entirely by himself, slowly coming up with his own art.
In 1945 Nakayama enrolled at the Tama College of Art to study oil painting. There he met his future wife, who enrolled the year after. Whereas she completed her studies, Nakayama, however, left the school after two years without finishing. He was accustomed to working alone and to experimenting and developing his own art.
In 1951 Tadashi Nakayama created his first color woodblock print and in 1953 he began creating lithographs. He gave up the latter in 1957 but nevertheless taught lithography at the Tama College of Art with great success. As an artist he was much more interested in woodblock printing. It remained his preferred medium and brought him worldwide fame.
Nakayama's curiosity drew the artist out into the world. In 1962 and 1963 he traveled to Greece and Turkey, where Byzantine art created a lasting impression on him. There he studied further the art of woodblock prints in museums, in order to recognize the outstanding qualities of Japanese Ukiyo-e.
In 1965 Tadashi Nakayama traveled to England and taught woodblock printing at Bath University in Bath, England. Abroad he found art that excited him, including Renaissance pieces from Paolo Uccello and paintings and prints by Pierre Bonnard. During his stay in Paris he again encountered Persian and Byzantine art, whose miniatures are said to have given momentum to his own prints.
Nakayama was never interested in constantly finding new motifs or using them according to nature, although his works often present an exact observation of nature. Since he is rather interested in new artistic ideas, his motifs are often reduced to more or less abstract forms. Many of his prints can be categorized into 4 stylistically different periods:
Nakayama's prints from 1956-1964 have an expressive flat simplicity. Birds, flowers, horses, butterflies, and occasional architectural elements are among his favorite subject matters from this early period. The bleak matte color in contrast to the rich tones establishes a mystical atmosphere that gives his work its uniqueness and distinctness.
The short middle period between 1965 and 1968 is a time of change that probably prompted Nakayama to travel. Next to gold and silver he only used powerful and bright colors with heavy earthy tones. The layering of motifs suggest a space that is difficult to understand. Horses are a common motif that give reason for pattern and ornamental details in the drawing.
This period is the high point of the development of Nakayama's style and also his most productive period. Movement, clarity of composition and spacial disposition are the central themes in this period with unsurpassable technical complexity.
The beauty of the pictures goes back to the Persian and Byzantine works with their stylized motifs and a rich and detailed surface design. The spacial composition, however, draws from the stage-like spacial structures found in works from the early Italian Renaissance.
In this mature phase it is less about development and more about the slow yield of the the fruits of his labor. In 1970 Nakayama moved from Tokyo to Ninaso, into the mountainous Nagano Prefecture near Karuizawa in a house built in the western style. In the middle of nature he created for himself an ideal work and living situation, where he dedicates himself to this day to the perfection of his artistic style.
Nakayama developed in this last period a yet more complex creation process. His compositions (almost exclusively scenes with horses) attain a clarity as well as colorful brightness and harmony. He carefully works on the appearance of the upper layers of his pieces, in order to give balance to life and quietude.
Tadashi Nakayama tinkers meticulously with his prints. His growing love for detail requires an extraordinary number of printing plates and print processes. Furthermore he applies the gold and silver leaves in a method he himself developed. To reach such a degree of perfection, Nakayama first completely designs his prints in water color that plot out the appearance of each woodcut exactly.
Nakayama goes yet even further. His upper layers have seldom an opaque consistency. The colors are often glazed in multiple layers, applied just on top, creating a vivid whole that has the clear colors contrasting with diffuse brilliance.
Tadashi Nakayama's participation in exhibitions is only moderately documented although his work has been shown in many famous exhibitions and although it has spread internationally. Nakayama is reluctant to participate in competitions and does so only when he is explicitly invited. Otherwise he avoids situations of self measurement and withdraws from the public.
5 sold object(s) by Tadashi Nakayama born 1927 in our Art Archive
2 signature(s) by Tadashi Nakayama in our Signature Database
Author: Dieter Wanczura
.. more about Dieter Wanczura
Tadashi Nakayama: His Life and Work, by Kappy and Marshall Hendricks, The Hendricks Art Collection, Ltd., Bethesda, Md.; New York, NY, 1983.
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