The shared rhythms of seasonal festivals, called “matsuri” in Japan, do not especially reflect the dynamic, fast-changing, capital-driven modern world. Some matsuri are still practiced simply because they make people feel good—does anyone still believe they are necessary to keep the community together as well as the rivers flowing, crops growing and sun rising? To outsiders, they may seem quaint and folksy, which is just how contemporary woodblock printer Itow Takumi depicts them. His work would serve quite well to promote tourist trips to rural Japan, just as many Chicago artists once specialized in travel posters for the railroads that served the American West. However, these woodblock prints do much more than attract consumer attention, and Itow’s motives for making art can hardly be attributed to mere commercialism. President of the Japanese Print Society, he teaches at Waseda University in Tokyo, and is more like a master craftsman than a gallery artist. Like a well-made tea bowl, his pieces don’t flaunt their tight design or push any of the boundaries of contemporary art, but enough is there to inspire view after view after view—leaving the spectator with a glow of contentment.
Itow grew up with matsuri in Miyagi Prefecture, an area on Japan’s east coast that was hit especially hard by the 2011 tsunami and nuclear aftermath. Does humanity really have a place on this bountiful but threatening planet? The calm faces, sturdy postures, rich textures and insistent rhythms in Itow’s prints answer in the affirmative. (Chris Miller)
Through October 26 at Floating World Gallery, 1925 North Halsted
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