Felix the cat PHOTO: Courtesy Pacific Asia Museum (Barbara Thompson)

All the art that's fit

Pasadena exhibits explore printmaking past and present

By Jana J. Monji 08/26/2010

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Though it’s been around for hundreds of years, printmaking — the art of creating original work intended to produce multiple reproductions on paper — is all the rage this fall in Pasadena, with several arts venues in town highlighting historic and contemporary efforts.  
But to get the full experience, you’ll have to hurry over to the Pacific Asia Museum, where local artist and CalArts teacher Barbara Thomason’s “One Hundred Not So Famous Views of LA” is on display through Sunday, Aug. 29.
Thomason was inspired by “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” a woodblock print series depicting 19th-century Tokyo by Japanese artist Hiroshige, and draws inspiration from Hiroshige’s aesthetic to immortalize familiar Los Angeles landscapes in unexpected ways. 
“Hiroshige chose the places that were very famous, but if you look at it you wouldn’t recognize it as a famous site unless you had some inside knowledge,” explained curator Yeonsoo Chee.
Pasadena residents should recognize the print “110 North at Figueroa,” and most Angelenos should be familiar with the setting of “Felix.” 
Chee said that in organizing her exhibit she was influenced by the Norton Simon Museum’s assemblage of a 175-print Hiroshige retrospective on display there through Jan. 17. 
In addition to “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” the Norton Simon is also displaying prints from the artist’s “Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido Road,” “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” and 20 other bird and flower prints.
Those wishing to evaluate the similarities and differences between Japanese and European printmaking aesthetics need look no further than the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.
“Picturesque to Pastoral: British Landscape Prints from The Huntington’s Art Collections” covers work by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) to Graham Sutherland (1903-1980) with a broad range of depictions from famous landmarks to more personal and even imagined scenes. When taken together, the prints show the variety of techniques and styles artists can use to craft works that reflect personal vision. 
Printmaking also comes into play for other fall exhibits. 
“China Modern: Designing Popular Culture 1910-1970” features 100 once-everyday objects that, when taken together, explore how political ideologies and cultural values were transmitted during periods of capitalist and communist control. Objects include woodblock prints, advertisements, consumer goods and propaganda posters. 
In a way, capitalism also comes into play in understanding Thomason’s interpretation of Hiroshige. While objects in the contemporary series are hardly meant to become souvenirs for travelers to Los Angeles, to a large extent Hiroshige’s prints were intended for commercial consumption, which is one of the reasons they were not always considered “art” in his native Japan.
Starting Oct. 2, the Huntington will take a closer look at how printmakers have developed their art over time with “Evolving Ideas: Midcentury Printmakers Explore Process.” 
According to curator Kevin Murphy, these 25 prints by six different artists don’t hold much by way of comparison to Hiroshige, being “less representational and very much interested in abstraction.”
Selected works were chosen because the Huntington, which last year explored commercial aspects of 19th-century American lithography in “The Color Explosion,” already possessed preliminary drawings and studies that showed how the artists struggled with and stretched their mediums — including woodblock, lithography and etching — to craft specific end results. 
From high art to common expression, Pasadena’s extensive effort to illustrate the ongoing relevance of printmaking carries all the more meaning in our increasingly digital world.

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