".. Mr. Yoshimi Okamoto is unique, a fact which I would like the world to know." (Toshi Yoshida about Ryusei Okamoto, formerly known as Yoshimi Okamoto).
Toshi Yoshida (1911-1995) made this statement in 1982. The young artist Ryusei Okamoto, then under his born name of Yoshimi Okamoto, was Toshi Yoshida's student. Having seen prints by this artist, you can only agree with these words.
Nevertheless, we want to add one more statement. We think that the art of Ryusei Okamoto is also very Japanese, non-conformist and masters the techniques of all aspects of woodblock printmaking to a degree of perfection that is hard to find anywhere else. Mr. Ryusei Okamoto, we are very glad we met. Thank you!
Mr. Ryusei Okamoto has always followed his own way - in printmaking as well as in the way how he sells his art. He has been swimming somewhat outside the art gallery establishment. But the number of contemporary artists that do not only carve their blocks and do the printing, but even publish their works and manage sales themselves is now growing.
And fortunately Mr. Ryusei Okamoto is one of the few Japanese artists who present themselves on the internet with an active web site, a fact that enabled artelino to "find" Mr. Okamoto and get into contact with.
We published this article at the occasion of our first presentation of woodblock prints by Mr. Ryusei Okamoto in a solo auction running from February 5 until February 9, 2006. The solo auction features 30 of the artist's major art works made between 1977 and 2005.
Dieter and Yorie in February 2006
A few years ago we produced this video about Ryusei Okamoto. Enjoy it.
Ryusei Okamoto was born in 1949 in Muroran in Hokkaido province. He has been interested in prints since the days of junior highschool. But he studied marine biology. After his graduation from Nihon University as a marine biologist, he decided to become a full time artist.
Ryusei Okamoto found a marvelous teacher - the famous printmaker Toshi Yoshida. He taught the young artist from 1974 until 1984. Toshi Yoshida soon discovered the outstanding talent of his student. In 1980 Ryusei Okamoto taught at Mendocino Art Center recommended by Toshi Yoshida who was not able at that time to fullfill his teaching commitments.
In 1982 Toshi Yoshida wrote a remarkable article. It is remarkable for two reasons. First, the grand old master - then 71 years old - outlines his view on the state of Western and Japanese printmaking in a rather poignant way.
Like his father, Toshi Yoshida had become a real cosmopolitan by travelling a lot all over the world. And Toshi Yoshida had learned the appreciation of the traditional Japanese woodblock outside Japan. It is an irony of Japanese art history that the Japanese society has continuously neglected the achievements of traditional Japanese woodblock printmaking since the Meiji period (1868-1912). The unreflected adoption of Western culture was dominant during the early Meiji period and again with the beginning of the economic upswing after world war II.
And secondly, Toshi Yoshida explains why he considers Mr. Ryusei Okamoto an outstanding artist and representative of the traditional values of Japanese woodblock printmaking. One must know that Toshi Yoshida maintained until the beginning of his uncurable disease an international printmaking art school with students from all over the world. Toshi Yoshida's art school had formed a complete generation of new woodblock artists - those who are today dominating the art scene in this genre and who are now in their fifties and sixties.
Here is the document, titled 'The Position of Yoshimi Okamoto' in full length:
"Two lines of pursuit are currently in progress in the field of woodblock printing: the imitation of the European and American woodblock, and the continued development of the woodblock indigenous to Japan. Many people - not only in the world of fine arts but in other fields of work - regard the former as progressive, much to the apparent detriment of things Japanese and more widely, things Oriental and spiritually linked to many Asian countries."
"The Japanese woodcut on the whole has not imitated or merely followed in the wake of western examples, and for this reason is far more highly appreciated in foreign countries than any other kind of print. Polychrome and more colorful than its monochrome counterpart originating in Europe or America, it exhibits a much higher level of expression and an advanced, complex technique generally unattainable by Western prints. While Japanese artists are quite oblivious to this fact, there is an increasing tendency among foreign artists of woodcut printing to produce works based entirely on the Japanese technique."
"Woodcut prints composed by Mr. Yoshimi Okamoto reflect qualities of skill and inclination that will surely be accepted throughout the world. Through exhibitions held in Japan to date, his unique existence has gradually won recognition. Last year he taught at Mendocino Art Center in Northern California and achieved a measure of distinction. I believe there is no doubt to believe that he has all the makings of a woodcut printer on the verge of achieving international recognition. He is about to reach, I believe, a period of rapid advance. Not one of the popular artists who try to swim with the current of the times, he is a man of quiet taste, and I think there should be more with the same interests to encourage the development of his art. It is essential for the development of arts that some people recognize promising artists and help their development with support, an idea in Japan that has won little acknowledgement."
"Mr. Okamoto never pretends to be something of a master of his works which usually show simple construction. quite a few people who though not much of artists themselves, try to convey the impression of greatness but Mr. Yoshimi Okamoto is unique, a fact which I would like the world to know. I do not intend to write clever words of recommendation about him, as is often the case; my only desire is to inform people that he is a rare existence in the field of woodcut printing in Japan and sincerely hope that this collection of his works will reflect all the good that makes this introduction so personally satisfying."
Toshi Yoshida in 1982
Ryusei Okamoto has been a long-time exhibitor at the annual print shows of the CWAJ (College Women of Japan). What sounds like a club of women of higher eduction who meet for a cup of Japanese tea and some small talk, is a non-profit organization that has started to hold annual print exhibitions at the Tokyo American Club some 50 years ago with contemporary printmakers. Mentor and co-founder of this initiative was the American Oliver Statler.
These print shows have developed over the years into the leading, major exhibition event in Japan for contemporary Japanese printmakers and a selected number of foreign artists who have been residents in Japan and who work in "Japanese style".
Images on this page show Mr. Ryusei Okamoto in 1980 with her Majesty the Empress Michiko at the Tokyo American Club attending the 25th CWAJ print show. The CWAJ made Her Majesty the Empress a present of one of the young artist's prints titled Shy Clown.
In 1992 Ryusei Okamoto experienced again an 'imperial honor'. The CWAJ organizers had asked him to guide Her Highness Akishino-no-miya through the print show and give first-hand explanations to Her Highness. In this show Okamoto was represented with his works Ancient Capital Festival and South Island Festival Girl.
We are sure that 99,99% of those who have found their way on this page, cannot understand or read Japanese. Neverthless we recommend that you take at least a short look at Yuki Furisomeru where the artist documented in detail how his art print Falling Snow, the number 24 from the series First Love was created. The images alone will give you a remote idea how much skill, effort and time it takes before you can hold the finished print in your hands. The description goes over two long pages. When you are on the bottom of the above link, please click on NEXT.
We received Mr. Ryusei Okamoto's shipment of 30 prints in January 2006. And while we were unpacking them, we began to realize that this artist must be entirely driven by a sense for perfection. And as the quality of his packaging and the accompanying material was, so are the artist's print works: perfect, elaborate, professional, outstanding ...
Mr. Ryusei Okamoto works mainly in woodblock technique. Occasionally he mixes the traditional woodblock with other techniques like silkscreen. His craftmanship is unique and can cope with the finest examples of ukiyo-e and shin hanga tradition. The lines of the designs are incredibly fine. See for instance the lines of the hair of print 18413 Ancient Capital Festival. And the use of gofun powder or pure gold leaf colors is in the best tradition of deluxe editions from the 19th or early 20th century.
All prints that we have seen by the artist are limited editions. One may imagine how much time it requires before Mr. Okamoto can finish one print. To keep the price nevertheless within reach of a "normal" art budget, the artist plans edition sizes of usually 200 to 500.
The series Children of Asia was started around 1985. The artist visited ca. 20 Asian countries where he made sketches and photographs that he later transformed into prints. The travels were enabled by a CWAJ grant.
The First Love series was started in 1999. It is an ongoing project that shows sensitive and romantic images of beautiful young girls.
About the series White Fox, the artist wrote:
"In Japanese mythology, foxes can take the form of beautiful girls that seduce and play tricks on young men."
The series shows young girls in strange, mythological environments and positions. These prints are wonderful compositions - and unique (how right Toshi Yoshida was!) and never seen before, something that seems to be from a different world - the world of Japanese mythology.
Many images of this series are made with lush techniques like gold-leaf backgrounds. Art friends with a sense for the beauty and mysteries of the Japanese culture will be fascinated by this series.
Prints by the artist are in the following museums:
Author: Dieter Wanczura