Hiroshi Yoshida (1876-1950), “Komagatake”

1920’s. Woodblock, 9-1/2″ x 15″. Framed in custom mortise-and-tenon frame, in walnut (Black wash).

I’ve always loved Hiroshi Yoshida‘s work, and his mountain scenes in particular. It was fun to draw on the cloud lift motif of Ming furniture, which was picked up and developed in California by the early 20th century architects Henry and Charles Greene, to play off the spectacular clouds depicted here. There’s a lot of work in a frame like this; it’s not just four black sticks. But it’s also simple and very sympathetic. And the result is not only interesting but demonstrates care, and acknowledgment of the meaning and significance of the picture. In other words, it’s alive to the work and inspiration of the printmaker, Hiroshi Yoshida.

Japanese prints generally want mats—but rarely the stark white mats they’re conventionally placed in. Mats should be dark enough so they don’t draw the eye away from the print, but Japanese prints usually don’t take a dark mat dark either. The refinement of color and value (or darkness and lightness) typical of these pieces has to be delicately treated when choosing a mat. Notice the low tonal contrasts in the print. (The frame color too was chosen to have a definite, but relatively low contrast.) The mat should be dark enough so it doesn’t draw the eye away from the print (the eye goes to light), but be within the range of contrast in the print. Generally it should be “shadowy”—a shade or two darker than the paper and also cooler (i.e., away from red/orange and toward blue/green; the eye also goes to warmer colors). The mat width is crucial too. How wide? Here’s a hard and fast rule: wide enough and not too wide. What’s too wide? Pointlessly and pretentiously wide, making the print feel disconnected and aloof from the world. What’s too narrow? When it approaches the width of the frame and the frame ceases to simply outline the piece. Why not a double mat, or an ink line drawn on the mat? The print has a line at its edge; another line or contrasting undermat would add nothing. It wouldn’t help, so leave it out.