Author(s): Barry Till
The art of Kiyoshi Saito takes us into a modest Japanese village, rows of traditional woodframe houses separated by persimmon trees and flower gardens. People come and go on foot, and for long stretches of the year snow piles heavily on roadsides and rooftops. Saito (Japanese, 1907–1997) was born in Aizu, where little had changed as the rest of the nation underwent rapid modernization. A craving for this sort of tradition, wedded to a powerful creative impulse, led the young artist to leave his sign-making business and devote his life to art. He learned oil painting, but before long he gave it up in favor of printmaking. Working with unconventional tools, determined to master all steps of a craft commonly divided among drafting, carving, and printing specialists, and unfamiliar with the practice of color separation, Saito began making his one-of-a-kind prints.
Masterful Images: The Art of Kiyoshi Saito presents the story of this idiosyncratic artist’s ascent to international success, as the American officers returning from postwar Japan brought with them prints and praise for an artist whose rustic work possessed an immediacy far from the refinement of a Hiroshige or Hokusai. A string of prizes in international art competitions attracted more interest, and soon Saito’s shadowy images of temples, gardens, and winter streets appeared in museums and homes around the world. Travel and recognition brought new subjects as the artist lingered in France, Tahiti, Mexico, and India to capture scenes that appealed to his sensibility.
Encompassing the full range of Saito’s oeuvre, the 90 prints reproduced here are drawn from the collection of Canada’s Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. They are complemented by an interpretive essay from Barry Till, curator of the museum’s Asian art collection.