Clay Image


Clay Image


Kiyoshi SAITŌ
Japanese, 1907–1997




When the jury of an international art fair in Sao Paolo, Brazil, awarded Kiyoshi Saitō first prize for Japanese art at in 1951, the honor recognized the accomplishment of the sōsaku hanga (creative prints) movement in changing perceptions of woodblock prints from the status of a traditional craft to that of a modern art. Unlike some sōsaku hanga artists, who clung to identification with folk craft, Saitō insisted on his place in the modern global art world, emphasizing his love of oil painting, in which he was trained, and the work of western artists. Asserting that he was “nauseated” by his first encounters with Japanese ukiyo-e prints, Saitō told Oliver Statler, “It was only through Gauguin that I began to appreciate the qualities of ukiyo-e, and I still feel closer to Gauguin than to ukiyo-e.

Approaching Japanese art through his knowledge of western modernism, Saitō isolated aspects of his native tradition that appealed to international audiences. The wood grain emphasized in many of his prints (such as the one reproduced on the cover of Holiday magazine) both draws attention to the woodblock technique and echoes the Surrealist technique of frottage. In the mid-1950s, Saitō began a series of prints based on the forms of ancient haniwa—clay figures found in the tomb-mounds of Japanese rulers from the 4th to 7th centuries—at the same time that he embarked on a lengthy tour of the United States under the auspices of the State Department and the Asia Foundation. Statler’s Modern Japanese Prints quotes Saitō explaining that the haniwa “have a beauty like nudes,” a quality emphasized in this composition reminiscent of Surrealist figure paintings. The international acclaim for Saitō’s art registers his ability to visualize the ideal of Japanese individualism integrated into a global ideal of modernism originating from the West.


Palmer Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University, Transfer from The Pennsylvania State University Libraries Print Collection




This image is posted publicly for non-profit educational uses, excluding printed publication. Other uses are not permitted.


Woodblock print