Tadashi Nakayama – Horses in the Afternoon (1961)

Successfully managing to blend Western European influences with traditional Asian art, Tadashi Nakayama (1927 – 2014) was a Japanese artist known for his masterful use of the traditional technique of woodblock printing on hand-made hosho paper.

This centuries-old Japanese technique is incredibly labor intensive and time consuming, requiring the use of one block for each color in the composition, leading up to fifty printing sessions for one artwork. Initially, in his early years when his color palette was more muted and the artwork lacked the details and color versatility that his later compositions would have, Nakayama was able to produce more prints per year. After 1981, when his style fully developed, the artist couldn’t compose more than two to three prints yearly, due to the intense process they involved.

Tadashi Nakayama - Horses in the Afternoon
Tadashi Nakayama – Horses in the Afternoon (1961)

Nakayama’s favorite subjects were horses, butterflies, flowers, birds and long-haired girls. He would often combine together two or more of these subjects in his later prints. Horses in the Afternoon (1961) is one of his early works where, even though the color palette is reduced and the horses are static, through the alternating white and black lines the horses gain volume and movement. There is a masterful optical illusion at play, with the horses’ legs overlapping. We can count six distinct limbs instead of eight, and yet there’s no sense of loss; instead, there is more cohesion. The horses’ wild manes add even more life to the print, suggesting freedom and running, with red strokes to amplify their wildness or, perhaps, to convey the afternoon sunlight.

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