Norwegian version of this page

Okamoto Ryûsei

Okamoto Ryûsei (originally Okamoto Yoshimi) was born in Muroran, Hokkaidô in 1949. Although he had worked in fisheries and having earned a degree in marine biology, he changed direction to become a woodblock artist under the tutorship of the printmaker Yoshida Tôshi.

His print series include the following themes

  • Ukiyo-e Today
  • Children of Asia
  • First Love
  • White Fox
  • Clown Series
  • Fossils

About Okamoto Ryûsei

Okamoto Ryûsei has been teaching at the Mendecino Art Center in the United States. A few highlights among his exhibition activity would include Scandinavian prizes and prizes won in Denmark, Greece, Italy, and Turkey. Artwork by Okamoto has been on display at cultural exchange exhibitions of Japan and Taiwan and Japan and Mexico. In Japan he has been included in the Japan Print Exhibition. The national museums of Australia and New Zealand own works by Okamoto Ryûsei.

Okamoto can be called a “traditionalist”: he uses materials and tools that were developed in the pre-modern era, such as woodblocks made of wild cherry wood and hand-made paper made from mulberry-bark fibre; he seeks technical perfection in drawing, carving and printing; his production is the result of collaboration between himself and a professional printing craftsman. These factors indicate that Okamoto is in constant dialog with the past. The dialogical aspect is important – the artist refers to the past but at the same time brings in new elements and modifies the tradition. In this respect, his prints reveal his interests in art trends that intersect both the ukiyo-e past and contemporary graphic arts.

Okamoto is first and foremost a contemporary artist who uses a chisel with as much skill as he uses new art technologies. Like a traditional craftsman, he enjoys carving the wooden blocks himself, calling this the time for “meditation”, but he also takes advantage of modern reproduction techniques and, instead of woodblock, uses zinc or photopolymer resin plates. Images are printed with traditional mineral and organic pigments as well as oil and acrylic paint, and his modes of expression are without doubt those of a contemporary artist.

The overall prevalence of linear description is typical for Okamoto and calls to mind a major characteristic of traditional Japanese art. Some images rely exclusively on contours and their flatness is further emphasized by a neutral background, the empty spaces of which actively help construct the composition. On the other hand, some images employ chiaroscuro modelling and three-dimensionality to build pictorial space – elements which descry the influence of Western realism and link the pictures more closely to modern art.

By calling one of his series “Ukiyo-e Today”, Okamoto links the works in the series to the shunga (“spring image”) tradition of erotic art, yet the images employ different modes of expression and focus on different issues. Okamoto’s sole interest is the portrayal of women. Even in the images depicting sexual intercourse, the male figure is only suggested, he is only a phantom, not a real partner. Some images link sex and violence.

The portrayal of female subjects can be considered a driving force in Okamoto’s artistic practice. Young women and girls in a variety of antithetical interpretations appear in a great majority of his works. Okamoto’s approach to the theme is complex insofar as he employs opposing topoi: the female as pure and innocent or evil and vile; virgin or whore, simple or incomprehensible, object of worship or subject to abuse.

Okamoto’s women do not have many attributes telling about their lives and personalities. In his effort to capture the “essence of femininity”, Okamoto rejects “the story”. Thus it is possible to assume that one and the same objective underlies both the portraits and the landscapes. Okamoto seeks to capture the “essence”.

The nature Okamoto depicts is rarely inhabited. Instead, the minutely detailed scenes function by themselves, undisturbed by human beings. Okamoto draws on classical motifs from traditional Japanese landscape paintings, e.g. Mt. Fuji, but approaches them in a different manner. For instance, in a picture of village houses, a human presence is suggested, but people are not physically present.

Prints in the exhibition

Okamoto Ryûsei
Published Jan. 22, 2021 12:03 PM - Last modified Jan. 22, 2021 1:09 PM