Summary

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. Two characters dominate the picture, creating a potential narrative to be read across the image. A blond woman in a backless black swimsuit stares at the viewer over her left shoulder, oblivious to the Japanese man with his snorkel gear crouching in the surf behind her. Teraoka suggests an autobiographical interpretation of the image:

‘In Longing Samurai, the punk-haired boy could easily have been me at the age of twenty-five when I arrived in America. Everything was fascinating and exciting, but I became frustrated at not being able to understand what people were saying. It is not easy for this punk-boy to become friends with the American woman in front of him. It seems he might be having a sexual fantasy but the reality is definitely beyond his grasp.’ (Masami Teraoka, 1993, unpaginated.)

Each print in the portfolio was produced in an edition of thirty. Proofs for this print include eight AP, six TP, RTP, PP I, PP II, TGL Imp., and Archive.

Further reading:

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.87 in colour.

Masami Teraoka: From Tradition to Technology, the Floating World Comes of Age, exhibition catalogue, Chikumagawa Highway Museum, Obuse, Japan, 1997.

Maria Bilske
April 2006