The Mezzotints of Hamanishi Katsunori at the Art Institute

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One of the most surprisingly rewarding and interesting exhibitions I have come across all year has been the Mezzotints of Hamanishi Katsunori at the Art Institute. Stumbling across the work in the Japanese prints section of the museum was quite a rewarding find. When I first encountered Katsunori’s work at the museum I knew little about the process of mezzotinting and yet was immediately engaged by the work, both by it’s content and process. Upon my very first encounter, what stood out straight away was the intense velvety blackness of the backgrounds on the prints. The process of mezzotint allows the surface to be saturated to such a level, that it is unlike any other opaque black medium/process because of the roughing of the surface. This in turn creates a mesmerizing visual that feels mysterious and moody. Capitalizing on this, Katsunori further pushes the audience into the realm of contemplative Zen by both the composition and content. Many of the prints are divided into sections that form a whole image, which made me consider the separate importance of separation verses unity, some even highlighted by splashes of color. In particular, I felt that those of knots where most successful, they seemed emphasize not only the virtuosity of Katsunori’s facility but also engaged the enigma of the ‘thing’. I found myself attempting to unravel its complexities, both as an object and image. These questions reminded me somewhat of Paul Sietsema’s work at the MCA in which the imagehood melded so smoothly with the objecthood that I could not firmly grasp on to either thing but yet felt engaged and rewarded in front of it. The collapse in this case was not in the bodies of knowledge it referenced, but rather in the nature of images in relationship with its Eastern philosophical roots.

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