Spotlight: Japanese artist Katsutoshi Yuasa’s avant-garde woodcuts have revolutionized the age-old technique

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About the artist: Japanese artist Katsutoshi Yuasa (b. 1978) has uniquely reinvigorated the centuries-old tradition of Japanese woodblock prints as a medium for imagery extracted from the digitized world. Photographs, taken by Yuasa or extracted from the media, are the basis of these striking impressions. Through her painstaking process of sculpting and papermaking, the artist transforms snapshots of our flooded visual landscape into striking, isolated images that give the viewer time to reflect and process. Several series by the artist are currently on view in “Katsutoshi Yuasa: Seeing Through Light” at the Franz Gertsch Museum in Switzerland, which features color and black-and-white woodcuts ranging from small format to wall size and covering the last years of the artist’s output.

Katsutoshi Yuasa, CMYK 2 (2022). Courtesy of the artist and Micheko Galerie.

Why we love it: Over the years, Yuasa has reflected on the role art can play in an age of ongoing conflict and crisis, including the current war in Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Her series have carried interrogative tiles such as “Can beauty save the world?” and “That’s the question I asked myself.” Despite his interest in such important subjects, the artist balances them with an embrace of the beauty of the natural world, as well as an engagement with avant-garde techniques. For example, in the “CMYK” series, the artist experimentally applied the coloring process of modern printing to his woodblock print as well, cutting out four different plates for a single design that was inspired by the natural landscape, plus consistent with woodcut traditions. Another series of works from 2021, produced in black and white, is called “VR”, for “virtual reality”; these are based on videos of empty spaces, taken around the world – from London to Tokyo – during the pandemic, and posted on YouTube. In these works, the artist combines the traditional art form of woodblock printing with the realities of contemporary life. Through these series, the artist manages to infuse a holistic and organic sense of unity between material and subject.

K Yuasa, VR London Live Walk 2 (2020).  Courtesy of the artist and Micheko Galerie.

Katsutoshi Yuasa, VR London Live Walk 2 (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Micheko Galerie.

According to the Artist: “In modern and contemporary art, the focus is often on how to preserve and pass on objects to the next generation. Art galleries and museums place more emphasis on preservation and restoration. However, it is impossible for a work of art to exist forever, and it would be unnatural for it to remain unchanged forever, would it not? In particular, compared to more durable oil paintings, woodblock prints, which are printed with pigments on Japanese paper, are vulnerable to light and will lose color if not properly stored and handled. Is it extreme to think that works of art also have a limited duration of appreciation? I think these ideas relate to the descriptive language – fragile, weak and transitory – which are the attributes used to describe engraving as an image carrier. Change over time can be used in a positive sense, such as growth and evolution, or in a negative sense, such as deterioration and aging. Although the speed of change differs, change is inevitable when considering all materials and living things. The ideas of deterioration and aging are absurd. In a sense, we can say that works of art are also alive. Seeing the work as a living organism seems to me close to the idea that humans are also part of nature. I think it is important to perceive beauty on a daily basis in the limited time we have. I never intend to create beautiful works of art. On the contrary, the most important thing for me is to continue to create without losing the heart that I find beautiful.

K Yuasa, VR Tokaido 2 (2020).  Courtesy of the artist and Micheko Galerie.

Katsutoshi Yuasa, VR Tokaido 2 (2020). Courtesy of the artist and Micheko Galerie.

Katsutoshi Yuasa: Seeing Through Lightis on display at the Franz Gertsch Museum, Burgdorf, Switzerland, until September 4, 2022. Find out more about the artist on the Artnet gallery network with Micheko Gallery.

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