Japanese-born Masami Teraoka combines the influences of traditional Japanese art forms and American Pop art, exploiting the cultural and temporal disparities between the traditional style and the contemporary issues and ideas which form his subject matter. After training with traditional Japanese masters, Teraoka moved to Los Angeles to study Western art in 1961. From the 1970s, he began painting watercolours, and later prints, which mimicked the appearance of ukiyo-e, Japanese woodblock prints of the Edo Period (1615-1868). In these works, he creates scenes using characters from Kabuki theatre, geisha and samurai, recreating the characteristic dramatic landscapes of the prints, and incorporating cartouches and calligraphy. Teraoka draws on an affinity between these ‘floating world’ prints, which were mass-produced for an emerging bourgeois market, and the work of the Pop artists, who celebrated mass-production and low forms of culture.
With these works, Teraoka aims for what he terms a ‘metaphorical’ rather than physical representation of reality. He says:
‘Mere depiction of social and cultural issues is not enough. My work has to create something that goes beyond simple perception. To make a strong statement, art needs timeless aesthetic qualities. These can take any subject matter to a higher level of experience. That is the essence of what I am pursuing.’ (Paintings by Masami Teraoka, 1996, p.55.)
This is one of four large prints that make up the portfolio Hawaii Snorkel Series, produced under the supervision of Kenneth E. Tyler over a period of two years from May 1991 to May 1993. Teraoka combined woodblock techniques with etching and aquatint. While the distinct black lines in traditional ukiyo-e are achieved through overprinting with a second wooden block, at Tyler’s suggestion Teraoka used etching and aquatint on a copper plate to achieve a similar effect and a further range of tonal areas.
Like all Teraoka’s prints, Longing Samurai combines the characteristic stylised landscape and composition of ukiyo-e prints with Teraoka’s personal iconography and contemporary references. At the front left of the picture, an elegant young woman in a strapless swimsuit embraces an enormous catfish. The fish, centrally placed in the composition, which appears to beam ecstatically out of the picture. Behind her in the surf, an older Samurai spits into the ocean in apparent disapproval as he watches her. His traditional hairstyle, the back and sides of his hair gathered into a queue above his shaved crown, suggest his inurement in the past.
‘The middle-aged Samurai of Catfish Envy could represent traditional Japanese male chauvinistic thinking. He is astounded by the Western woman who is cuddling a catfish in front of him. The way she caresses the big head of the catfish could imply how much the American people love animals but also could show how openly they can express their affections in public, something not culturally acceptable in Japan.’ (Masami Teraoka, 1993, unpaginated.)
The text on the lower left edge of the image translates as ‘woman snuggling with catfish’, while the text at the top right corner declares the work as ‘a scene from the snorkelling series’. Other text identifies the artist and the date, 1991, when the design for the print was made. A cartouche in the top right corner represents Yamaka/Masami (Yamaka is the name of Teraoka’s family’s kimono shop), and another in the top left identifies the master printmaker, Ken Tyler, who supervised production of the print.
The portfolio was produced in an edition of thirty. Proofs for this print include eight AP, three TP, WP, RTP, PP I, PP II, PP III, TGL Imp., and Archive.
Masami Teraoka and Kenneth E. Tyler, Masami Teraoka: Hawaii Snorkel Series, 1993, reproduced in colour, unpaginated.
Paintings by Masami Teraoka, exhibition catalogue, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C., 1996, reproduced p.88 in colour.
Sean Rainbird, ed., Print Matters: The Kenneth E. Tyler Gift, exhibition catalogue, Tate, 2004, reproduced p.114 in colour.