From Edo to manga               curated by: William Tyler alspaugh

A brief study of various Japanese artworks from the Edo period to the 20th century as they relate to early Manga and its progression through time.  An exploration of a few visual examples of line, pattern, perspective and color of various artists within four hundred years of cultural and social change.

In 1640, Japan was largely closed off to the outside world. Limited interaction with China and the West was allowed. Therefore, artistic influences, exploration, and techniques like linear perspective were homogeneously developed. Musashino presents a landscape with golden clouds kissing a mountain while below wild green lines sprout up representing an organic growth of grass. Use of negative space gives the feel of a large open field untouched by man. Light blue flowers accent the gold and greens suggesting a analogous color scheme. The abundance of gold on the top and green on the bottom bring a unity to the work that focuses the eye directly onto the mountain peak.
The figures represent the Mizukagami (a watery mirror scene) from a collection of Shikishi poems as square format paintings. The girl gazing at her reflection recites a poem about the heavy weight of her loneliness. A man overhears her and expresses a similar plight. The painting bares a striking resemblance to Byzantine and early Christian art with a similar two-dimensional style. The only hint of perspective is the structure behind the women. The emotional emphasis of the work is clearly represented in the faces of the subjects by organic lines that create a soft feel to the figures. There’s a rhythmic motion as the woman in grey holds her hands under the poured water.
Sijo Street is buzzing with activity. In the foreground, two women walk away from the theatre. The busy street behind them vanishes in the distance and is accentuated by a serene green hill. The sharp lines of the buildings contrast the organic forms of the people going about their daily life. The soft shadows from structures and the crowd aided by linear perspective gives a sense of depth.
Vertical lines within the white water rush past a green maple branch. Splashing against a black boulder the water rolls into the foreground, fading to a light blue. The placement of the rock and other foreground elements bring a heavy graphic weight to the composition, however, the negative space and the branch presents a harmonious balance to the piece.
In the 1850s, trade in Japan was forced open by American Naval Commodore Matthew C. Perry. There was a flood of Japanese visual culture into Europe and America which excited and influenced western artists. This is Tokaido highway running through various seacoast provinces. Here a linear perspective leads a group of peasants across a diagonal line from the right corner of the frame to the left side. This line seems to represent a cliff. It contrasts with the thin black lines representing a hard rainfall.
Flowing forward in the center of the painting, is the Nihonbashi Gawa river. The snow-capped Mt. Fuji rests far off in the distant horizon at Edo castle's back. The foreground shows, Tokaido road spanning the river and Nihonbashi bridge mimicking the mountain provides a path across the water. This bustling part of town shows a variety of people going about their daily lives. The mixture of horizontal and vertical lines provides a realistic sense of depth in this landscape. The rows of houses on either side of the river focus the eye to the center of the piece. The peppering of boats in the water and people in the foreground help balance the painting.
The first recorded use of the Japanese term "manga" was coined in 1798 to mean whimsical or impromptu pictures. This became a traditional descriptor for this style of storytelling. Cherry blossoms fall into a stream on a rainy day. A man appears to be writing on a tree as he holds a lantern for light. The rich blue stands out in contrast to the faded colors on his reed raincoat. The only colors seen are an overall light blue grey hue, the vibrant blue of the stream, and the flesh tones in the subjects face are in direct proximity to the lantern. It’s light is represented by a sharp angle trapping a saturated white.
Manga books from the late 18th century may have been among the first comic books. Sharing themes with modern manga of humorous, satirical, and romantic images shows an early willingness to mix words with pictures to tell a story. Manga is a major part of Japan’s publishing industry, accounting for over 25 percent of all printed materials in the country. It remains one of the country’s most economically and socially profitable exports. This particular manga is filled with action as people chase off a demon. Organic lines depict expressive faces on the subjects as they occupy an ambiguous space. There is a suggestion of asymmetrical balance and most of the graphic weight is on the right page. Wispy lines indicate the movement in the demon’s hair as he runs off the bottom right corner of the book.
This piece depicts a scene from the Russo-Japanese War. Japan and Russia fought over the land of Korea. Several soldiers are running in the surf following their commanding officer mounted on a white steed. Muted colors give the feeling of a smoky battlefield as the soldiers forge ahead. The eye is lead to the right of the scene where clouds of musket smoke from their comrades plume in front of them. This is a mix of western and eastern liner perspective.
This manga page shows Navy Commander Hirose Takeo in battle at Port Arthur. His ship is hit by Russian coastal artillery and explodes. Hirose is fatally wounded while searching for survivors. He went down with the ship. Due to his heroism, he was posthumously promoted to commander and deified as a "military god". The contrast of the black uniforms against the white smoke and the greenish boat deck separates the subjects from the background. The vertical lines of the ropes and Takeo’s sword sheath lead the eye directly to his face. An asymmetrical balance is achieved with the use of negative space in the bottom left corner.
Credits: All media
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