Waves of Japanese Influence, Sam Francis & More

Monet, 1875
Japanese aesthetics have impacted Western art at two distinct times, in two distinct ways. The first wave of influence, referred to as Japonisme, happened in the mid-to-late 19th century, the second in the mid-20th century. The influence of the first wave was more decorative, ornate, and Romantic, though not purely so, with influence evident in great works from Monet, Van Gogh, Whistler, and many, many more. Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Art Nouveau movement also revealed Japanese influence. It was kind of a craze back then, socially speaking. The second wave was more Zen in spirit: it was minimalistic, calligraphic, and fit nicely with then-popular Existentialist philosophy as a means of directly apprehending life without overlays of socially- or ideologically-received prejudices. *

Two friends of Art & Argument, Robert Janz and Judith Trepp, create work that is sometimes inspired by this second, Zen-like wave. Robert was a young artist on the West Coast when Zen hit in the 1950s and 60s. Think D.T. Suzuki, Alan Watts, and Gary Snyder. His work often reflects or demonstrates the great Buddhist truth of the transience and impermanence of phenomena. Judith is younger, but has traveled to Japan any times. It is her minimalist, calligraphic work that really captured my attention when I first encountered her work a few years ago.

This theme occurred to me when I was looking into the work of Sam Francis this morning. Francis was born in San Francisco in 1923, so he comes by Asian influences naturally. His work is quite diverse, but I'll post a couple of works here that are relevant to this discussion. To see my previous posts on Janz and Trepp, click on their names in the Labels space below.

Untitled, 1959, ink on paper, 48 x 32 cm.

Untitled, 1984, acrylic on canvas, 41 x 26.7 cm.

* Mad Men reference: Burt Cooper, played by Robert Morse, was into both waves of Japanese influence. The set designers must have had fun creating his office.


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