Q&A: Terry McKenna

Top: Richard Steiner Birds Ears, 2001, Mokuhanga water based pigments on torinoko paper, 46cm x 31cm

Above, clockwise from right:

Terry McKenna Evening Glow on Impossible Building, 2015, Mokuhanga water based pigments on kozo paper, 23cm x 35cm, Ed. 15; Konomi Honda Man’s Shirt, 2015, Mokuhanga water based pigments on washi, 40cm x 51cm, Ed 10; Tuula Moilanen Six Dreams of Ukiyo Beauty: Speed, 2009, Mokuhanga water based pigments on kozo paper, 28cm x 42cm, Ed. 36

 

Below: Richard Steiner Birds Ears, 2001, Mokuhanga water based pigments on torinoko paper, 46cm x 31cm

 

What: Kyoto Hanga – mokuhanga works by Masahiko Honjo, Konomi Honda, Tuula Moilanen, Richard Steiner and Terry McKenna

Where: East and West Gallery, High Street East Kew, Melbourne

When: 9 February-25 March

Q: What is mokuhanga and why is it rarely seen in Australia?

A: Mokuhanga is the traditional water based woodblock printing technique of Japan, most famously seen in Ukiyo-e prints such as Hokusai’s Great Wave. Outside of Japan it has generally been difficult to learn and to access tools and materials, while top practitioners have tended to exhibit mainly within Japan, often due to language barriers. These factors have made it relatively rare to see quality contemporary work here.

Q: There is a wide range of artists being exhibited – please tell us about Richard Steiner and your work with him?
A: Steiner is a senior practitioner, having lived and worked in Japan for more than 50 years. Only a few other Westerners have lived continuously immersed in traditional art forms for such an extended period. Spending an extended period working with him was a great entry into the world of mokuhanga. While training with Steiner I was able to broaden my technical skills, meet a range of other practitioners and craftspeople that would be otherwise impossible to meet as a visitor, hear lots of interesting stories about the mokuhanga world and its characters within Japan, and experience collaborative ways of working. Being immersed in Japanese life and culture was a great experience for me.
Q: How has your own work evolved since you met Steiner?

A: I see a definite development in complexity and skill over the years. This medium in particular requires practice to master and I see a gradual increase in the level of complexity, with colours, carving and print effects particular to the medium. Thematically my work has been wide ranging as Stiener encouraged me to experiment.

steiner-birds-ears-web

Q: What other influences are important to you?

A: A significant influence on my current body of work “Ballarat Hakkei” is the historical use of this theme in Chinese landscape painting and Ukiyo-e. The Eight beautiful views (Hakkei) are a set of eight themes that I have adapted to explore my responses to returning to live in Victoria after many years abroad. Originally stemming from the enforced solitude of exile, the themes have been given an ironic twist in my work.

Q: Do you see strong connections between the artists in this show?

A: Steiner and Moilanen have a long standing collegial relationship, while Honda worked for Steiner as a printer in his workshop. Honjo, for a time ran Marugo Gallery in Kyoto and has relationships with a broad range of printmakers there, so everyone knows each other, although their work remains somewhat separate. I selected them because of this – to showcase a variety of work, origins and approaches. Steiner’s work stems from the Sosaku Hanga (Creative Print) movement, through his teacher, Honjo is the product of a traditional workshop situation of professional carvers and printers producing a leading artist’s works, Moilanen and Honda are both products of Seika University although at different times and origins. In short, the common ground is the medium of mokuhanga. There are many other mokuhanga artists at work in Japan, in the future I hope to stage a more comprehensive exhibition that can showcase the amazing variety that is possible with this medium. – Andrew Stephens