Masami Teraoka

Kunisada Eclipsed


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Masami Teraoka born 1936
Woodcut, etching, aquatint and ink on paper
Image: 656 × 1156 mm
Presented by Tyler Graphics Ltd in honour of Pat Gilmour, Tate Print Department 1974-7, 2004


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. The Kunisada of the title is an ukiyo-e artist known as Toyokuni III, who appears in the centre of the picture. Teraoka depicts him visiting Hawaii in a dream. Teraoka explains the narrative:

‘While he is drawing fish at Hanama Bay, he is startled by an American woman who unexpectedly stands up in front of him. He forgets the fish he was drawing and, of course, the solar eclipse he can no longer see. He is enthralled by the view and tries to hide his emotions from the blushing assistant who is preparing ink for him.’ (Masami Teraoka, 1993, unpaginated.)

The text on the right edge of the image refers to the Kabuki theatre references within the print, approximately translating as: ‘A new play. A scene during the American tour. Suddenly the bright day is covered and the rain begins to fall.’ The characters on the scroll Kunisada is working on translate as ‘drawing a swimming fish in a summer’s sea.’ Text on the left of the image cheekily declares the sight of the woman’s scantily clad bottom as: ‘A super view: better than an eclipse.’ The woman is identified as ‘American woman: Marabeth Cohen’.

A cartouche in the top right corner represents Yamakaya/Masami, a reference both to the artist and his family’s kimono shop. Elsewhere, the date of the design for the print, 1991, and the artist’s age at that time, fifty-five, are revealed. Ken Tyler, the master printmaker who supervised the production of the print in his workshop, is acknowledged with an inscription on the fan at the centre of the image.

The portfolio was produced in an edition of thirty. Proofs for this print include ten AP, four TP, two CTP, two WP, 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.86 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

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