Tatami and wood: ink rubbings and the discussion of materiality in postwar Japanese calligraphy and art

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This paper discusses the relationship between postwar Japanese avant-garde calligraphy and the abstract art of the 1950s, showing how calligraphy contributed to the international postwar discussion of materiality. Postwar Japanese art – as exemplified by the art collectives Gutai and Mono-ha – is widely recognized for its close attention to materiality. This study will introduce Japanese avant-garde calligraphy into the discussion of materiality, examining the relationship between the avant-garde calligraphers’ use of traditional takuhon ink rubbings and the technically identical surrealist technique of frottage, invented in 1924 by Max Ernst as a way to implement ideas of automatism in art and to release the ‘material’ from conscious control. The first attempt to examine the encounter between Japanese calligraphy and surrealism, this study argues that when Japanese avant-garde calligraphers such as Inoue Yūichi (1916–85) and abstract painters such as Hasegawa Saburō (1906–57) began incorporating traditional takuhon ink rubbings into their active art practice in the 1950s, they introduced a new dimension of spirituality into the international discourse on materiality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-291
Number of pages23
JournalWorld Art
Issue number2
Early online date20 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Japanese art
  • postwar art
  • materiality
  • avant-garde
  • surrealism
  • calligraphy
  • automatism
  • rubbings

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