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. Here Masami depicts his version of a scene from the movie ‘From Here to Eternity’, setting the action in the Hawaiian surf. A Japanese man admires the rear of a swimsuit-clad woman emerging from the waves. The text on the far right of the image translates approximately as ‘A superb scene at the blowhole; woman and samurai’, while the inset image in the top right corner relates a surreal dialogue between a catfish and the woman:
Catfish: Your head is big isn’t it?
Catfish: It’s fine with me.
Other text in the image declares the artist’s name and age (fifty-five), the production of the print under Ken Tyler’s supervision at Tyler Graphics, and the date when the drawing for the print was made, 1991 (the final print however was not published until 1993).
The portfolio was produced in an edition of thirty. Proofs for this print include ten AP, two TP, RTP, PP I, PP II, 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.
Masami Teraoka: From Tradition to Technology, the Floating World Comes of Age, exhibition catalogue, Chikumagawa Highway Museum, Obuse, Japan, 1997.
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