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New! Soak up the Seaside Serenity of This Japanese Ukiyo-e Scene

Kojima zu, a 20x200 Vintage Edition
8"x10" ($24) | 11"x14" ($60) | 16"x20" ($240) | 20"x24" ($600)

Kojima zu keeps us guessing. Made by a mystery artist, this enigmatic new Vintage Edition of Japanese origin charms from the start. At first blush, it lures the viewer into its laid-back, breezy, brackish world. Undulating waves crash on a craggy rock, the serene sea view stretching into the horizon. If it weren’t for the clouds and the presence of two drifting seabirds in the distance, the sky and sea would almost blend together, a continuum of light blue. It’s a positively paradisiac take on a familiar natural landscape. The setting seems so exquisite, in fact, you might wonder if this artwork is anchored in an actual place... 

Another layer of mystery: we couldn't say exactly which island is depicted in this print. Mainland Japan is encircled by a speckling of small islands, many of which are uninhabited. ”Ko” translates to “small”, “jima” to “island”. This edition’s namesake doesn’t do much to narrow the scope. So the artist is unknown and the location indistinct—that ambiguity makes Kojima zu all the more enchanting, and a smack of art history provides some compelling context.

Take our starring subject to start. Waves have a long history in Japanese art, going as far back as the beginning of the Edo period in the 1600s. They were a particularly popular subject in woodblock prints, like today’s edition. You can spot them in the final throes of ukiyo-e, the style that would go on to influence the early Impressionist movement in the West. While early ukiyo-e art centered around city life, courtesans, kabuki, and the like, later developments led artists to landscape work and nature scenes.

Interestingly, this shift in artistic subject matter seems to have sprung from some socio-economic adjustments—policy changes in the 1840s that took a hard stance on gratuitous displays of luxury. Adapting to the culture at play, as art is wont to do, ukiyo-e turned to the stunning natural surroundings Japan had to offer. Mountains, oceans, flora and fauna took the place of young beauties and dramatically-posed actors. It’s actually this later phase of ukiyo-e woodblock printing that is best known in the Western world.

Turning now to the streaked waves and seaside tranquility of Kojima zu, you can see why scholars have good reason to suspect it was a late-era ukiyo-e image. As with our Uehara Konen editions, the spotlight is on a specific natural element: ocean waves, that storied subject. And like ukiyo-e masters Ando Hiroshige and Utagawa Hiroshige, the artist behind today’s edition does not center realism in their rendering. Ukiyo-e artists took a more poetic, atmospheric, interpretive angle when portraying Japan’s plentiful natural beauty.

Defined fine lines convey a sense of movement—another ukiyo-e quality. Yes, the scene is serene, but the water swells with life force. The asymmetrical composition (common in ukiyo-e) also activates the eye. Kojima zu is an island image with a distinctively ukiyo-e energy. Art history aside, we’re pretty sure that energy is the antidote to the everyday dumps. We'll be giving our walls a dose.

With art for everyone,
Team 20x200