GOTO Hidehiko (b. 1953) - woodblock
Browsing through a selection of contemporary prints, I’m often surprised by the sheer physical dimensions that are possible. In bygone days artists were confined to producing smaller images simply because the blocks of wood they carved were available only in small sizes. With the advent of large-scale pieces of plywood, today’s artists can work on huge designs. Younger artists, in particular, love to indulge in a turbulent dynamic style on a large scale, conveying the chaos, randomness, or confusion of their modern aesthetic.
GOTO Hidehiko, age 67, presents a refreshing counterpoint to the trend of “bigger is better.” In fact, his woodblocks are usually not much larger than the oban tate-e size (10" x 15") of classic ukiyo-e prints. They are serene abstract musings on the world with subtle poetic imagery, executed in a soft color palette with a delicacy that belies the power of the medium of woodblock.
Goto didn’t set out to be a printmaker. As a young man he enlisted in Japan’s Self Defense Forces. He was stationed at Okinoshima in Shimane Prefecture and worked as a signal communications engineer. One day, intent on whiling away a boring weekend afternoon, he checked out a book on woodblocks from the post’s library, which determined his future career after he left the service.
He is best known to Japanese as a maker of baren, the flat, bamboo-covered disk used to apply pressure during the transfer of the ink on the block to the paper in the hand-printing of Japanese woodblock prints. His baren can take up to six months to make. Some cost more than $10,000, and there is often a waiting list to order one. The more time he spent creating the tool used to print woodblocks, the more interested he became in wanting to create his own artwork. Of course, with first-hand knowledge of the possibilities of the baren, he is adept at wresting the most from it. This is especially evident in his use of bokashi, or gradation, a trademark of such prominent masters of ukiyo-e like Hiroshige and Hokusai.
It is a pleasure to look at new woodblocks reflecting the precision, technical ability, and sense of composition that we revere in the prints of long-ago.
Art Institute of Chicago, USA
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Newark Public Library
To get a better sense of Goto’s baren making process, you may find the following YouTube video of interest.