Ink on Paper: Japanese Monochromatic Works, currently on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, explores the rich history of Japanese monoprint art. Before methods in color printing came around in the 1760s, black and white monoprints dominated the printing industry in Japan. Yet, even after color printing became widespread, something timeless remained in the simple starkness of the black ink prints.
In Japan, monoprinting became known as sumizuri-e, menaing “pictures printed in ink.” A method that goes back centuries (so far back we can’t pinpoint an exact date), a monoprint is made by carving a design into a block, often made of wood or metal, applying ink to the surface, and pressing it onto paper. An artist may sometimes additionally apply ink by hand onto the resulting print. In its collection spanning nearly 250 years of Japanese printmaking, the Art Institute celebrates the breadth and depth of monochromatic prints on paper. From airy mountain scenes to bold caricatures, the exhibit takes a look at the diverse aesthetic potential of the art form.
These powerful images were made using the most basic of materials. With just ink pressed on paper, there is poignancy created in the contrast of black against white. The result is an atmosphere balanced by strength and delicacy that transcends time—over 200 years later, they still make a lasting impression.