The Artist and the Book in Japan

Roger S. Keyes

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  • Published: 2006
  • Subject Listing: Asian Art
  • Bibliographic information: 320 pp., 250 color illus., 9 x 12 in.
  • Published with: New York Public Library
  • Contents

Ehon - or "picture books"- are part of an incomparable 1,200-year-old Japanese tradition. Created by artists and craftsmen, most ehon also feature essays, poems, or other texts written in beautiful, distinctive calligraphy. They are by nature collaborations: visual artists, calligraphers, writers, and designers join forces with papermakers, binders, block cutters, and printers. The books they create are strikingly beautiful, highly charged microcosms of deep feeling, sharp intensity, and extraordinary intelligence. In the elegant, richly illustrated Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan, renowned scholar Roger S. Keyes traces the history and evolution of these remarkable books through seventy key works, including many great rarities and unique masterpieces, from the Spencer Collection of the New York Public Library, one of the foremost collections of Japanese illustrated books in the West.

The earliest ehon were made as religious offerings or talismans, but their great flowering began in the early modern period (1600-1868) and has continued, with new media and new styles and subjects, to the present. Shiohi no tsuto (Gifts of the Ebb Tide, 1789; often called The Shell Book) by Kitagawa Utamaro, one of the supreme achievements of the ehon tradition, is reproduced in full. Michimori (ca. 1604), a luxuriously produced libretto for a No play is also featured, as are Saito- Shu-ho's cheerful Kishi empu (Mr. Ginger's Book of Love, 1803), Kamisaka Sekka's brilliant Momoyogusa (Flowers of a Hundred Worlds, 1910), and many more.

Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan ends with ehon by some of the most innovative practitioners of the twentieth century. Among these are Chizu (The Map, 1965), Kawada Kikuji's profound photographic requiem for Hiroshima; Yoko Tawada's and Stephan Kohler's affecting Ein Gedicht fr ein Buch (A Poem for a Book, 1996); and Vija Celmins's and Eliot Weinberger's Hoshi (The Stars, 2005).

The magnificent ehon tradition originated in Japan and developed there under very specific conditions, but it has long since burst its bounds, like any living tradition. Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan suggests that when artists meet readers in these contrived, protected, focused, sacred book "worlds," the possibilities for pleasure, insight, and inspiration are limitless.

Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan was praised as "illuminating" in The New York Times' review of the New York Public Library's exhibit.
Roger S. Keyes , a visiting scholar in East Asian Studies at Brown University, has written many books and articles about Japanese prints, most recently a catalogue raisonee of the prints of Katsushika Hokusai.Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan was praised as

"This catalog presents a stunning panorama of the seemingly inexhaustible visual imagination of Japanese book artists."
-Johanna Drucker, Art on Paper
Foreword / Paul LeClerc, President
Ehon: An Introduction
The Distinctive Components of Japanese Books
Note to the Reader
Japanese Artists' Books, 770-2005
Bibliographic Descriptions and References
Inventory of Japanese Printed Books in the Spencer Collection

"Beautifully designed and produced with the sureness of touch and sensitivity."

"Surely the most beautiful book on Japanese art produced in recent years must be Roger Keyes' ode to the Japanese illustrated book."

"Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan goes a long way toward meeting the challenges presented by its subject. It combines passionate engagement and fluent writing with the generous provision of illustrations, fine design, and high production value."
-CAA Reviews

"This splendid book celebrating the artistic tastes and printing skills that went into the production of Japanese illustrated book, known as ehon, is itself beautifully produced."
-Journal of Japanese Studies

"Roger Keyes eloquently implores his readers to better appreciate the aesthetics of the books themselves, as well as the artistic sensibility of their makers..Invaluable to scholars."

"Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan demonstrates Keyes's mastery of the history of the Japanese print tradition and his deep affection for the 'picture book' as a venue for artistic expression. The range of illustrated books from the early modern period alone makes this a welcome volume.. This book is a significant contribution to the history of the material text in Japan, and it raises the New York Public Library collection to due prominence. With its fine production values and informative text, it is sure to appeal to a wide array of readers."
-Print Quarterly

"Truly a goldmine of scholarly devotion to the subject, essential for all interested in the arts of Japan."