Claire Cuccio Commentary

The mainstreaming of the Japanese term for woodblock prints, mokuhanga, stands as testament enough that its uncompromising techniques are gaining ground outside Japan, beyond cultural tradition and indigenous practice. To be sure, it is only in recent decades that studios, workshops, universities and other sites of production from San Francisco to Singapore, Helsinki to Toronto, have promoted the particular attributes of mokuhanga to attract broader interest. Along with the increasing appeal of its non-toxic methods, mokuhanga’s complex techniques born by demonstrated competence in hand skills, elaborate finessing of color, sheer physical stamina in the printing process, conscious manipulation of washi or other refined handmade papers, and overall flexibility for both individual and collaborative production offers new possibilities to the versatile 21st-century creator.

While coalescing a mass of cross-cultural, on-site technical know-how and vast swaths of creative inspiration from traditionally trained artisans to dynamic contemporary artists, April Vollmer’s Japanese Woodblock Workshop elucidates anew the multilayered world of mokuhanga. The effect is to not only to demystify, but also to broaden access to an art and craft that, when stripped down to its fundamentals, may be challenging yet pleasing in its materiality, portability and affordability, with the steady prospect for rich and unerringly handmade results. Moreover, Vollmer widens the path for mokuhanga today to accumulate new value abroad like ukiyo-e, mokuhanga’s earliest images to attract a committed following beyond East Asia, even as it has already begun to reshape the conceptualization of what it means to practice, produce—and appreciate—mokuhanga. Vollmer’s indefatigable efforts and enthusiasm to foster links east and west across the mokuhanga world as well as among the diverse makers, from the image itself to the multitude of materials that support it, identify a unique social environment that this art and craft fosters above all, revealing it as a welcome alternative in our remote, digitalizing and virtual world(s).

Claire Cuccio
Independent Scholar
Beijing