Ones for the books.
If the name Katsunori Hamanishi sounds familiar, it might be because some of his luscious mezzotint prints were on display at the White Lotus Gallery late last year as part of a show featuring the work of several contemporary Japanese artists.
Now his work is back at White Lotus in another show with an entirely different dimension.
The new one is called "Ex Libris: The Bookplate Prints of Katsunori Hamanishi." It features what gallery spokeswoman Claudia Ponton calls "these beautiful, gemlike prints (that) measure about 4 inches by 4 inches and are stunning in technique and detail and charming in their themes and compositions."
They really are bookplates, of the kind that are pasted into much-loved volumes by their owners. Hamanishi has designed about 300 of them, many on commission for people who want his artwork to grace the inside covers of their treasured tomes.
"He really enjoys the challenge, because sometimes someone asks for a theme that he hasn't thought of, and he works with them to help visualize their idea," Ponton said. "Usually, people commission either 50 or 80 of the images for their libraries.
"Sometimes after he creates their bookplate prints, he will use the idea to create one of his large art pieces."
On a recent page of the American Society of Bookplate Collectors & Designers website, a Hamanishi admirer posted the following message:
"I deeply respect Hamanishi and mezzotint and would be honored if he would accept a commission for a personal ex libris, perhaps with fish swimming like in a pattern by M.C. Escher," referring to the 20th century Dutch graphic artist who worked with woodcuts, lithographs and mezzotints. Escher is perhaps best known for impossible geometric creations, such as endlessly connecting flights of stairs.
More than 50 of Hamanishi's bookplate originals are included in the show.
Although the ancient Egyptians were known to put ownership marks on their documents and personal reading material nearly 3,500 years ago, the habit of marking ownership by means of bookplate art in Europe - "ex libris" is Latin for "out of the books ofa..." - apparently dates to a Carthusian monastery in Germany in the late 15th century. It was followed soon after by bookplate art found in France, The Netherlands and Italy.
Back then, bookplates usually displayed religious symbols or coats of arms or family crests of the wealthy families who were able to commission them from artists such as Hans Holbein, Albrecht Drer and Lucas Cranach.
The first known example in what is now the United States was a simple printed label created by Stephen Daye, the Massachusetts Bay Colony printer of the 1642 "Bay Psalm Book."
Another surge in popularity of the bookplate came in the late 1800s, when the mass production of the Industrial Revolution made readership and ownership available to the masses at reasonable prices.
The bookplate as art form has had another resurgence during the past several decades, both in the United States and throughout Asia, where Hamanishi's work is especially prized.
"There is a gallery in China, in Shanghai, that specializes in bookplates, and they did a book of all of Hamanishi's work," said H.P. Lin, co-owner of the White Lotus Gallery and a personal friend of Hamanishi's. "He has a lot of clients in China who want him to create their personal bookplates."
Hamanishi, now in his mid-60s, ranks among the most skilled artists of mezzotint, which is considered perhaps the most difficult method of creating art prints.
The process uses a "rocker," a metal tool studded with small teeth, to create tiny holes in the copper printing plate. The holes hold ink and create a fine, rich texture on the printing paper.
Hamanishi also incorporates in his work elements of the Rinpa school of art, which dates to the 17th century in Japan.
Rinpa features deep, vibrant colors, elegantly refined drawings and the incorporation of gold leaf, either as fine sheets or dotted sprays. EXHIBIT PREVIEW Ex Libris: The Bookplate Prints of Katsunori Hamanishi When: Through April 30 Where: White Lotus Gallery, 767 Willamette St. Hours: From 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and until 8 p.m. during the First Friday ArtWalk Information: 541-345-3276 or wlotus.com Inside The First Friday ArtWalk lineupfor April/D2
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