Sōtatsu’s Methods: The Visibility of Craft

Sōtatsu dealt with extremely refined subject matter—ancient aristocratic poetry and illustrated court and religious narratives—but he sought to reveal the construction and inner workings of an image rather than polish the “building blocks” until they were invisible. Skilled in both the production of supporting materials—i.e., books, folding fans, screens, and scrolls—as well as the forms that graced their surfaces, Sōtatsu was first and foremost a craftsman. Indeed, it is “craft” that he apparently wanted his audience to appreciate in his work.

As you explore this exhibition, look for the three techniques Sōtatsu used in varying degrees throughout his career: tarashikomi, horinuri, and kataoshi.

Tarashikomi (たらしこみ) is a technique of pooling pigment or ink in partially dried layers, allowing random, semi-translucent shapes to take form. The patterns that result suggest both dimensionality and ephemerality, and thus uncertainty.

Horinuri (彫り塗り) is a style of painting in multiple colors in which ink underdrawings—outlines of human figures and other shapes—remain partially visible. In the more traditional style, tsukuri-e, the outline is completely covered with opaque pigments. Horinuri honors the tradition of works created with brushed ink, which in East Asia is considered to be the skill par excellence.

Kataoshi (型押し) are stamped patterns, frequently seen on the paper Sōtatsu and his studio prepared for calligraphers. The artist forms shapes—cranes, bamboo, flowering plants—with inks that have varying degrees of thickness, and the patterns that result are both manipulated and random.