Today I talked with Louise Rouse who is having an exhibition at Sendagi Kukan. Louise and I collaborated on photos I wrote about in Yukatas in the Park. I was fascinated with her prints. Her prints remind me of modern-day version of one of my favorite printmakers, Aubrey Beardsley, with their hint of art nouveau scrolling, and the black and white styling. And like Beardsley, there is a clear Japanese influence. I had a chance to talk to her about her background, her work and her show, Solo at 30.
What brought you to Japan?
My mom was a translator so [Japan] was part of my upbringing. I came here as a child and then came back at seventeen as an exchange student for four months. I came back and did a master’s at Tamabidaigaku.
What was your idea behind the show Solo at 30?
The planning started last November but in March and April I really focused on it. The first idea just stuck in my mind but it didn’t make it [into the show]. It was just too raw. I had to leave it behind.
So you made more prints then you’re showing? How many prints did you make and how many are in the show?
I made eleven images and chose eight to exhibit. [plus there are some older digitally made prints in the back as well as an one of her woodblocks in the process of being carved.]
[After reading the notes from her show catalogue] So your work is about the inaccuracy of memory?
I kept having the same idea but doing different compositions, different versions. Each time we think of a memory we change it. You imbue it with what you feel at the time, your current personality in life, the degree of empathy you garner.
Conversation diverged into a discussion about how our memories of childhood events and parental actions change as we get older and understand the world better led to an interesting observation from Louise which relates back to her work:
Being so far away we mess with those memories [of family] because we don’t have daily contact.
How long does it take to make the prints? I know artists hate this question, sorry, but super curious.
I did black and white because I wanted to do a series. If they were colorful I could spend a whole year just doing one.
It took a months to do the line work for everything. Then a month doing the kogatana (fine edges around lines). Then it took another six weeks with a big chisel and small chisel to bash it out. Then you use a flat chisel to finish. Then about ten days to print for all of them.
Do you use Japanese paper?
The paper is western print-making paper (cotton rag) because I used a press.
You have a recurring female figure in many of the prints. Is there a story behind that? Is she like an avatar?
She said that there was no particular reason behind the recurring figure, it’s not an avatar, she just kept popping up in ideas. She likes that the woman’s nationality is ambiguous but adds that it wasn’t consciously designed that way.
It took me ages to remember the name Aubrey Beardsley, so I had to email Louise to ask if he was an inspiration for her. This is her reply:
For this series in particular I was looking at a lot of English Victorian illustrations and wood engravings for a sense of balance between black and white and of course Beardsley is the most famous. The village where I went to primary school was host to an artist’s commune around the turn of the century. Eric Gill is most known for his lettering but he was another among a number of artists who made somewhat art nouveau styled black and white work.
The borders on my prints are actually a traditional Japanese ukiyoe border but interesting that it looks seemless with the Western influence.
More than anything it was the black and white balance achieved by those artists that I liked
Sendagi Ku-kan is a 7 minute walk from Sendagi station on the Chiyoda Line. The gallery has chairs and a great atmosphere for hanging out. There are lots of cute small shops tucked away on the back streets on the way to the gallery. Note: navi will lead you to Kingyo Gallery. Sendagi KuKan is on the street on the behind Kingyo Gallery. The two buildings face back to back.
Hours are 10:00-7:00. Sunday August 16th is the last day of the show and the gallery closes at 6:00 on Sunday.