Roslyn Kean: Defining shapes - creating edges. Megalo Print Gallery, 21 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston. Closes June 12.
Over the past few decades, Roslyn Kean has immersed herself in the traditions of Japanese printmaking - more specifically the Japanese printmaking Mokuhanga movement.
Within this tradition, to be a printmaker is also to be a philosopher, and Kean embraces the Japanese philosophic ideal of 'ygen' with its idea of power to evoke a profound sense of beauty of the universe combined with the melancholy beauty of the human condition.
Unlike transcendental philosophies, the 'ygen' state does not aspire to transport you into a different realm, but to expand your perception and experience of this world. It is an awareness of the universe that goes beyond verbal expression.
What I find amazing about Kean's woodblock prints in the 30 years that I have known them is a consistency without repetition. Over the years, there has been a growing complexity and sophistication in her work but, at the same time, a deceptive simplicity and visual lucidity. In the exhibition at Megalo I am constantly perplexed by how she has managed to achieve such grace and ease apparently so effortlessly.
The answer is that it is done through enormous amount of skill with the works produced from between 30 and 40 individual hand-carved blocks frequently printed across two sheets of hand-made Japanese Kozo paper.
The trick is the exact alignment or registration of the inked blocks when printing so that each change in colour is the impact of an additional block with its translucent colours. The printing is done by hand, by rubbing the back of the paper with a barren while it rests on the inked block.
Technically, some of the prints, including Basho's Garden (2020), Weaving Ancestral Voices II (2019), Triangles of Rhetoric (2021) and Defining the Edge (2021) are nothing short of miraculous and even people very familiar with the technique scratch their heads as to how seamlessly and with what subtlety Kean has managed to overlap her forms in translucent layers.
Apparently, the colour arrangements in many of the 33 prints in this exhibition are inspired by the late 19th century series of prints by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, widely regarded as the last outstanding work of the ukiyo-e tradition.
Already when the tradition was under challenge from new technologies and changing tastes, Yoshitoshi gave new life to an ancient tradition.
Kean, like a modern-day Yoshitoshi, remains a traditionalist at heart and is prepared to give new life to a 16th-century tradition that still has the power to surprise, astound and inspire.
Speaking of her present body of work, Kean observed, "My work reflects light and shade in nature and the experience of the silence of a space, with a minimalism and limited colour scheme evoking a sereneness and contemplation in the landscape."
What I always find challenging about Kean's work, especially in this exhibition, is that it does not easily lend itself to verbalisation, and parallels with other artists are largely beside the point.
As you are drawn into a print such as Triangles of Rhetoric, it is like glimpsing into infinity, stillness within dynamic floating forms yet also a complete serenity.
Basho's Garden is restrained in palette and forms, enveloping but also liberating, where a few humble bamboo leaves lead you to contemplate a vastness - similar to a visual haiku where you glimpse the physical world but perceive something deeper, like the essence of existence.
Roslyn Kean's Defining shapes - creating edges is a wonderful exhibition that will reward you if you allow the time for it to work its magic.