Helen Swift of the Portland Art Museum

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Tue, 01/10/2023 - 11:30am to 12:00pm
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Helen Swift of the Portland Art Museum about “Human | Nature: 150 Years of Japanese Landscape Prints”

On Tuesday, January 10, 2023, at 11.30am Joseph Gallivan interviews Helen Swift of the Portland Art Museum about “Human | Nature: 150 Years of Japanese Landscape Prints” which is on now through May 7.

Swift, who is the Japan Foundation Assistant Curator of Japanese Art, places woodblock printers such has Hokusai of the Great Wave, and Hiroshige, about cheap prints for the new tourists, how humans fit into landscape art, and trips up the river to the pleasure zone of Edo.  


This interview was recorded on Jan. 4, 2023 on Zoom videoconferencing software and engineered and edited by KBOO volunteer Ray Bodwell. https://kboo.fm/blog/55224


From the press release:


Human | Nature

150 Years of Japanese Landscape Prints

Dec 3, 2022 – May 7, 2023

Selected from the Portland Art Museum’s permanent collection, this exhibition explores Japan’s journey with and through nature during the 19th century and into the modern age through the lens of landscape prints, revealing the at once reverential and playful spirit in which people held the trees, mountains, and rivers around them.

World-renowned print artists Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) mirrored and molded people’s relationship with nature, inviting them to roam remote mountain passes interspersed with vertiginous waterfalls, or reflect on the lyrical beauty of legendary meisho (famous places). These artists show us how nature can awe and inspire, as in Hokusai’s magisterial tribute to Japan’s most revered peak, the Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji. Hiroshige’s snapshots of urban flora and fauna in the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo also capture how nature charms and surprises as it insinuates itself into city life.    

Later woodblock prints reveal that landscape continued to play a pivotal role in the lives and identity of Japanese people into the 20th century. Nature wreaked havoc on human life in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, as dramatically visualized in prints by Nishizawa Tekiho (1889–1965) and his colleagues, but it also offered sites of enduring cultural memory and solace in a hectic modern age. This exhibition visualizes just some of the many ways in which the human-nature relationship has unfolded in Japan.

A selection of prints by American and Japanese artists working in the Pacific Northwest, including Gordon Gilkey (1912–2000) and Sekino Jun’ichirō (1914–1988), are also showcased in this exhibition, suggesting how the human affinity for nature transcends time and place and resonates with us here and now in Portland. 

Organized by the Portland Art Museum and curated by Helen Swift, The Japan Foundation Assistant Curator of Japanese Art. Support provided by the Japan Foundation.




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Joseph Gallivan has been a reporter since 1990. He has covered music for the London Independent, Technology for the New York Post, and arts and culture for the Portland Tribune, where he is currently a Feature Writer. He is the author of two novels, "Oi, Ref!" and "England All Over" which are available on Amazon.com



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