Matt Brown has made woodblock prints in Japanese hanga tradition since 1993 using Japanese tools and materials. The artist lives in the countryside of New Hampshire, one of the New England states on the East coast of the United States - the heartland of the American dream where the first immigrants from Europe landed with ideas of freedom, independence and the dream of a better life.
Hanga is the Japanese word for print and moku stands for wood. But moku hanga is more than the sheer translation of wood block. Today it stands for an art direction: making woodblock prints using Japanese tools, methods and materials (color, paper).
And moku hanga is not only a Japanese art movement. Over the last decades it has attracted an increasing number of Western artists. In the beginning the "gaijin" artists underwent a practical art training in Japan as students of famous Japanese woodblock masters.
Toshi Yoshida in Tokyo and Tomikichiro Tokuriki in Kyoto were two old masters with a strong influence on the training of foreign students. And many Japanese artists went to the United States of America for a limited period to demonstrate and to teach the art of Japanese woodblock printing.
Most of the Japanese artists returned to Japan after one or more years in the U.S.A. like Fumio Kitaoka. Others remained for ever and some - like Unichi Hiratsuka (he returned to Japan at age 99 and died 102 years old) - came back to Japan when they felt that their time had come to close the eyes in this world forever.
Today it is no longer necessary for a non-Japanese artist to go to Japan to learn moku hanga. There are many other ways. Self-study by books and by using sources on the internet is one of them. The Barenforum is the place to learn and to meet other moku hanga artists from all over the world.
Matt Brown is typical for this new generation of moku hanga artists. He has never been in Japan. But he considers the Japanese method as the most convenient one to express himself as an artist.
The Japanese moku hanga techniques are basically like the artist's images - natural, sincere, straightforward and without any modern, technical gadgets - let alone any kind of "computer-aided ...." tools.
For Matt Brown the process of making prints with real pigments using real tools and carved blocks is a welcome relief to all of the giclee prints produced by the help of a computer and a PC printer.
Matt Brown's woodblock prints are a documentation of the simple, natural, unsophisticated beauty of the New England states - Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine and Connecticut. They are also documents of family life - Matt's own family.
Many of his prints show his two sons Asher and Nathaniel - now (2006) 8 and 13 years old. And some of the artist's prints show a cute dog - Emma, a border collie. She died in autumn of 2005. The whole family is missing her much as a great dog that she was but also as a shepherd dog for the sheep that Matt Brown and his wife Elizabeth keep on their farm.
Matt Brown shows images taken from his own life and experiences. His oeuvre includes also print subjects from New York City. A contrast to the artist's landscape images? At first look - yes. At second look - no.
In my personal view these city scapes are just landscape prints of a different kind. These New York prints are quiet, contemplating, complaisant. They are kept in green, brown and yellow colors - the colors of the New England countryside. Seagulls are hovering over 7th avenue.
I have never seen the New England states. But I have seen photographs and video clips made by friends of mine. I have dreamed of hills, mountains, blue lakes, creeks and golden-colored woods in autumn. When I saw Matt Brown's moku hanga images I felt taken back to my dreams. I hope one day I will be able to see the old Indian trails or Mount Smarts in real. By now, Matt Brown's images have taken me at least a little closer - virtually.
Author: Dieter Wanczura