ARAKI Shinko / 荒木 新子 (b. 1960) - aquatint
When one looks at Araki Shinko’s prints, a surreal landscape emerges from the paper. Mysterious vines and leaves are positioned inside shapes of different sizes. The colors are earthy: rusts and ochers or greens and yellows -- the hues of nature. At the very bottom of the image is a final small box curiously resembling a hanko or a Japanese seal -- an ordered geometric shape that marks a separation with nature’s random arrangements.
Araki lived in Hawaii for eight years with her husband, Stephen Vajda. They settled in Maui and Araki became fascinated by the native flora, especially the poke vine. She began using the poke vine and its leaves in numerous series of aquatints. The artist says: “The poke vines were growing in the backyard all year round, covering the ground, rising against and hanging down from the eucalyptus trees, calmly, silently and fascinatingly. I wanted to evoke this atmosphere in my work. Another reason for using the poke vines was that I could change their shapes freely by cutting them and reshaping them in order to create my own compositions.”
They eventually moved to New Jersey and I have enjoyed visiting her studio many times. She brought many poke vines from Maui. Pressed between sheets of Hawaiian newspaper, flattened by heavy boards, the vines lie waiting to be incorporated into the next image Araki chooses to print. While we stand talking in her studio, Araki moves from the table laden with different inks and copper plates to the printing press. She adjusts the press prior to laying down a dampened sheet of paper, on top of which she will lay the copper plate that has been inked with the colors selected . One needs a certain amount of strength to be a printmaker. Araki, with effort, turns the wheel of the press and the image is transferred from the copper plate onto the sheet of paper. The artist says that she seldom uses just one square plate per image. She enjoys the appearance of the plate’s shape which rises to the paper’s surface after going through heavy pressure from the press. In her most recent work, she has been using a collage of ganpi, a type of handmade Japanese paper, feeling that the delicate paper softens the hard edges of the copper plate.
Throughout her artistic career Araki has always been particularly interested in the etching process. In school she studied oil painting but eventually turned towards printmaking, curious to explore the versatility of etching and desirous to discover how to produce the different results that are achieved on a copper plate. She has exhibited in both solo and group venues all over Japan and looks forward to having her work seen by Americans on the East Coast now that she and her husband have settled in New Jersey. When asked to comment on how her work has changed since her move to the United States, the artist replies by noting the differences between American and Japanese printmakers. Araki is impressed by Westerners’ study of color. She finds that most Western artists are knowledgeable about the chemical composition of different pigments to a degree far superior to Japanese artists whom she knows. Westerners tend to express themselves freely through whatever medium they have chosen whereas Araki finds that Japanese artists are more skilled craftspeople but more constrained in their artistic expression.
In as much as her own work can be said to explore the tension between nature (vines and leaves) and our man-made environment (the geometric shapes that contain the elements of her work), viewers of Ms. Araki’s aquatints will find themselves caught under her spell, engaged in the process of exploring these two separate worlds which co-exist harmoniously in her work.
Her newest series, the Silver Mine Trail, is based on observations of nature that happened during her visits to Harriman State Park. One of her hikes took place on a foggy day, and the artist wanted to evoke a misty landscape. In late summer 2016 she created a suite of originals that have a kind of lacy quality. The Pine Meadow series is another exploration of nature.
Newark Public Library, NJ
Tikotin Museum Haifa, Israel
Hawaiian Foundation for Art and Culture, HI