Gyotaku (literally “fish rubbing”) is the unlikely marriage of fish, sumi ink, and washi paper. Once used to record the size of an impressive catch, it has been elevated to a fine art through the efforts of gyotaku masters such as Yutaka Aso (1898-1961) and Yoshio Hiyama (b. 1909) and was introduced to the U.S. in the mid-20th century.
Contemporary practitioners have supplanted the traditional method with modern acrylics and oil-based inks, as well as the inclusion of pigmentation by colored inks or through digital editing.
Dwight Hwang (b. 1974) is a Los Angeles-based, Korean American storyboard artist who trained in gyotaku during a seven-year stint in Japan. A self-taught traditionalist in that he almost exclusively creates black-and-white images with water-based sumi, he brings life to lifeless forms through his innovative approach which has produced unique depictions of fish at a three quarter view and from above.
“Impressions of the Seas” features a selection of prints depicting freshwater, coastal and open ocean specimens alongside objects that detail the gyotaku printmaking process.
Street parking is available near JFLA. Free admission. Exhibition hours: Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday from 12 to 5 p.m.; closed Sunday. For more information, call (323) 761-7510 or visit www.jflalc.org.
About the Artist
Hwang’s obsessive love for fishing and his artistic ambitions came together during his many years in Japan on a visit to a cramped, dusty tackle shop. Pinned onto the walls and the ceiling were wrinkled sheets of rice paper with impressions of the prized catches by local anglers.
He was taken aback by what he saw but knew nothing about the art, until his fishing companions informed him that it was a cultural art that originated in Japan called gyotaku. Something that only really found interest with old, salty fishermen or as an activity for young, curious children.
With no one to teach him, Hwang simply resorted to experimenting with sheets of cheap calligraphy paper and discount bottles of sumi ink. The results looked like messy black blotches that vaguely resembled what he was trying to print.
Together with his wife, he would continue to print fish on the floor of their humble apartment for years until he realized that the fish may be the subject, but it was also a tool in of itself. That realization would help him control his process so much that his prints not only began to look and remind him of his prized catch, but also gave him the confident flexibility to add what he hoped would set him apart; a sense of life, perspective and movement.
Hwang continues to strive to perfect his process while strictly and proudly using only the materials and techniques originally used hundreds of years ago.
On the Web: https://fishingforgyotaku.com