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Sadao Watanabe

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Sadao Watanabe
Showa Printmaker
Japanese, (1913–1996)
Sadao Watanabe is a Christian Japanese who uses religious themes for all of his works, basing his prints on both the Old Testament and New Testament. His prints are housed in collections all over the world, including that of the Vatican.

Mori Yoshitoshi (1898-1992) and Sadao Watanabe (1913-1996) were the two best known 'sosaku hanga' artists to use the medium called kappazuri ("stencil printing"), a technique related to 'katazome' ("stencil dyeing"). 'Katazome' is said to have originated in Okinawa (the method there was called 'bingata'). The paper most widely used in Japan for stencil printing is called 'shibugami', made from several layers of 'kozô' paper laminated with persimmon tannin. The sheets are dried and smoke-cured to strengthen them and make them flexible and waterproof. Once the artist makes a drawing, it is fixed to the 'shibugami' with a thin adhesive. The basic pattern is then carved into a "key impression" stencil (the equivalent to the keyblock in woodblock printing) called the 'omogata'. If colors will also be used for the final design, separate stencils are sometimes cut for each color. If the stencil pattern has thin lines they can be reinforced with silk gauze, which still allow for uniform printing of colors. The first stage of the printing process involves the application and drying of a dye-resist paste to cover all the portions of the design to be left unprinted by the design. The patterns and colors can then be brushed over the stencil while affecting only those areas without resist paste. Typically the first colors printed are the lighter areas so that darker colors can be overprinted. After all the colors are printed and dried, the key impression stencil is finally used to print the key design over all the previous colors. The dye resist paste is then washed off (called 'mizumoto', "to wash by water") and the paper is dried on a wood board.

Watanabe and Mori shared similar formative artistic experiences. In 1940 and 1941, respectively, Mori and Watanabe first met and worked with Serizawa Keisuke (1895-1984), a master of stencil-dyed illustrated books who was a leader in the folk art movement (he later received the Award of Cultural Merit from the Japanese government in 1977). His influence on these two was considerable (as it was on Shikô Munakata). These artists were all involved as well with the founder of the folk art movement, Yanagi Sôetsu (1891-1961), who advocated an honest and dedicated approach to traditional techniques and materials. Although both Mori and Watanabe also made a few woodblock prints, nearly all their works were stencil-dyed prints. Both experimented with various types of papers, but the most obvious difference was Watanabe's use of a type of 'kozô' paper called 'momigami' (crumpled, wrinkled paper), which was a thick paper purposely crumpled by hand and then only partly smoothed out before printing. It gave his prints a deeper, rough, and more expressive texture than would have been possible with smooth papers.

Watanabe, who was baptized a Christian in 1930, based his designs exclusively on biblical subjects, though his Christian stories and figures are interpreted through a filter of traditional Japanese techniques and even some older Buddhist figure prints. Watanabe typically printed on a colored ground, so he would first apply a color to the paper before taking the other steps described above.


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