Japanese Embossed Woodblock

Reika Iwami | Monochrome and Embossed Woodblock Print Entitled: Tune of Water T | Reika Iwami 岩見禮花 いわみれいか - 1927-2020


Age:Shōwa period 1971

Descriptive qualities& condition:

Dimensions: Image - 10-3/4”w x 16-0”h; Sheet - 13-1/2”w x 20”h

Offered is a monochrome woodblock print with embossing and gold foil, black pigment, mica, on medium thick, slightly textured cream-colored paper.  

Edition: 35/50, graphite, lower left

Inscriptions & Markings (English & Japanese): Tune of Water “T”, lower left, graphite & Chūn'obuu~ōtā T, graphite, center

Signature / Date: Reika Iwami ’71, graphite, lower right

Sited in: The Modern Japanese Print-An Appreciation by James Michener, and Catalogue of the Exhibition of the 49th CWAJ Print Show of Japanese Contemporary Print, the College of Women’s Association of Japan, 2004. It was not until 1962, when James Michener included her work in his seminal book The Modern Japanese Print-An Appreciation, which included, in its original limited edition form, a portfolio of ten original prints, that she gained worldwide notice. Iwami's distinctive artworks are in the collections of major museums in the world, such as the National Museum of Art in Osaka, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Library of Congress, Rockefeller Foundation. "Tune of Water T" has only been seen in the Japanese Modern Print Collection at The LA County Museum (LACMA) and listed in the Lavenberg Collection of Japanese Prints, Freistaat Bayern.

This rare print is one of a series with the same title but with an alphabetical identification after the title to further identify pieces in the series. We have yet to see this specific series on the market. It is an abstract creation, but reference natural elements and emphasize the natural quality of the wood grain in the woodblocks from which she prints. In addition to the wood grain, her print also suggests the sun, water, and clouds, and employs embossing and gold foil to give a textural quality. Although, not landscapes in the conventional sense, Iwami typically incorporates the elemental qualities of earth, fire, water, wind, and sky through texture.

Vintage Condition: Very good condition, commensurate with age with no fading, discoloration, or torn elements. “As is”, with slight surface soiling, and retains the original craft/workmanship. Any discoloration, surface, or structural damage noted.

NOTE: Iwami Reika | 岩見禮花  いわみれいか | 1927-2020

Iwami Reika, the pioneer in the post-WWII male-dominated world of Japanese print-making, is the first Japanese woman print artist “to achieve the same status and worldwide recognition as male artists.” While born in Tokyo, her early years were spent on the Island of Kyūshu.  Returning to Tokyo, but unable to afford regular art classes, she attended Sunday art courses, including printmaking, at Tokyo’s Bunka Gakuin College, graduating in 1955.  Before coming to printmaking she tried oil painting and studied doll-making under the “National Treasure” Hori Ryūjo 堀柳女 (1897–1984). By the mid-1950s, Iwami had “discovered a natural affinity for the paper, wood, and watercolor, and felt that she had found her artistic niche in the execution of woodblock prints.”

In 1953 she began exhibiting prints with the Nihon Hanga Kyōkai (Japanese Print Association), becoming a member in 1955 and remaining a member until today.   In 1957, with Yoshida Chizuko (b. 1924) and others, she co-founded the Joryū Hanga Kyōkai (Women’s Print Association), an association of nine professional women printmakers.  She exhibited every year since 1957 with the College Women’s Association of Japan print show in Tokyo and, starting in the late 1950s, her work has been included in numerous print biennales.  However, it was not until 1962, when James Michener included her work in his seminal book The Modern Japanese Print - An Appreciation, which included, in its original limited edition form, a portfolio of ten original prints, that she gained worldwide notice. 

Iwami's earlier works were geometrical abstractions, employing some color, but starting in about 1970 her work became less abstract, adopting a distinctive vocabulary representing the natural world, particularly of water.  Her pallet also moved to primarily black, white, and shades of gray enhanced with the application of gold and silver foils and the physically demanding technique of embossing.  All of these elements remain in her current work. 

Iwami's work is illustrative of J. Thomas Rimer's comments on sosaku hanga that even in their abstraction, creative prints still maintained a sense of "muted realism” and “a sense of craft rooted in instinctive apprehension of the power, the wholeness, of nature itself.”