I have always been a fan of Japanese woodcut pictures. There is something about the simplicity of design and the vibrant use of color that attracts my eye. The art of woodcut prints involves reducing a scene to its most essential elements, and it takes a discerning eye to see something for simply what it is.
Vincent Van Gogh is famously known for being inspired by Japanese prints. His painted scenes and colors reflect his inspirations, and it’s safe to say that his art would have looked much different had he not been inspired by the art of Japan. I absolutely adore Van Gogh, and I learned more about Japanese prints vicariously through him.
I spent my young 20’s in Northern California, and the scenery there has a certain “look” about it that is hard to describe. The Bay Area exudes an element of windswept forlornness that makes survival there somewhat tenuous. The trees that grow near San Francisco are sculpted by wind, and thus the nature there has an element of art about it. It’s the kind of nature that is hard to capture in a painting unless one strips the scene to its most essential core. I have come across very few artists that possess the talent to capture the Bay Area for what it actually is, but one Depression Era artist by the name of William S. Rice succeeded in doing so through the art of woodcut prints.
I love going to second-hand bookstores and browsing through the art section. I have made many happy discoveries this way, but stumbling upon William S. Rice there will forever rank as my favorite find. I have literally looked at his art every day since I found him because I plastered my refrigerator with copies of his pictures.
This is the Bay Area that I remember, and William S. Rice immortalized it forever. I am convinced that woodblock prints were the best way to capture my specific memories. I don’t know how he did it, but he captured the wind, rain, sunshine, heat, cold, clouds, sky, air, and essence in every picture. This was a man with talent and an artist with a vision. He is a California artist that more people need to know about.
The story goes that he went to the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, and there saw his first Japanese woodblock prints. He must have seen something of himself in those pictures because he resolved right then and there to become a woodblock artist. He decided to buck the traditional Japanese team method (where an artist did an original painting and then turned it over to a team of woodcarvers and printers) and chose to take control of the entire creative process himself. Every print that he created was his, and every picture that he captured something that he saw. (here is a Pinterest link of some images.)
Monet is famous for painting his Rouen Cathedral series, which captured that building in all kinds of weather. William S. Rice didn’t do exactly that with his California prints, but he did manage to capture some specific feelings. His colorful prints ooze with character, and his strong lines make the images impactful. He captured a California that was strong, hopeful, vulnerable, and idealistic. The California that he captured had a future as well as a past. His was a California that was always going to be there in some way, shape, or form. The California that he immortalized was the California that people see, yet somehow overlook. His was the California that I always want to recall.
thanx for reading!