1970. Item #91035
Yamashita Keisuke 山下慶助, artist. Posuta. Privately published.. Osaka?]. 1970 - 75. 5 portfolios in paper wrappers approx 31 x 23cm with additional small pieces. Each wrapper has a yellow label printed in black and numbered in red from 1 to 5. Numbered 2 of a limitation of 20 copies. Original woodblock prints and Japanese text. There is a theme to each section, with a color folder within each color folder containing multiple-size woodcuts. Laid-in are large folded sheets with designs and white folded sheets that are similar to a pamphlet that serve as an introduction to the theme and materials within. Also included are 9 small laid-in packets with intricate woodcuts. Handmade paper and original woodblock prints throughout.
Artist Yamashita Keisuke 山下慶助 (1913 -77) has created an imaginary world of lettering and images with a medieval sensibility that is simultaneously Old World, fantasy and mythical. His borders are suggestive of Celtic knots but not copies of them. Clearly he draws on visual knowledge of Celtic, Byzantine and Romanesque manuscripts; perhaps the Book of Kells, the Lindisfarne Gospels or the Ebbos Gospels, as well as 16th century northern European woodblock title pages. He is presenting a hidden mythology that refers to many European sources. Although his work mainly has a western aesthetic, there are hints of East Asian influence, particularly in the final section. One print, for example, combines dragon-like creatures in the middle with designs of cherubic faces at the top, while another incorporates shapes that are reminiscent of traditional Thai hats into a Celtic design. His mention of Goethe in the introduction of Folder 1 leads to the interesting choice of the overall format of the grouping. Part Two of Faust consists of five independent acts, just as this has five discrete folders, each with a different theme. And, like Goethe’s work Faust, this also appears to be Yamashita’s magnum opus, for research reveals only prints and smaller works by him, such as a collection of bookplates also published in 1975. Faust was translated into Japanese in 1913 by Mori Ōgai and that edition was considered a gold standard for many years, well known in educated circles.
Yamashita was born in the city of Naruto 鳴門市 in Tokushima prefecture 徳島県, and after attending Tokushima Commercial High School 徳島商業, began working at Mainichi Shimbun Newspaper 毎日新聞 in Osaka in 1930. After serving in the military during WWII, he returned to the newspaper in 1945, where he worked for a total of 37 years. In the mid-1960s he studied the art of woodblock prints on his own and began his first Poster (Posuta) collection. Yamashita did all of the design, artwork, block carving and printing of the collection. He and “Poster” are listed in Helen Merrit’s book, “Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975,” p.172, as well as in the June 1974 issue of Hanga Geijutsu 版画芸術 (6) on p. 212. The title of the article is “Hitori Waga Sekaini Asobu ひとりわがせかいにあそぶ” [Playing Alone (in His Own World)].
Folder 1 都会二題・尋ね人頌 - has a cream color wrapper with an interior brown paper wrapper. The inside front of the brown wrapper has a large printed, color label printed in black with color designs, the date of 10.70 and Japanese script identifying it as handmade. An inner yellow wrapper 27.2 x 20.2 has a label of the same design as the outer folder, numbered, but done in black ink on brown paper. A printed translucent sheet, decorated and with Japanese text and hanko, is tipped into the inside front cover. An initial folded cream paper, 26.5 x 18.5 that opens to 26.5 x 37cm, serves as an introduction to the artist and key to the overall work. The artist has created his own script. Underneath the script title is furigana as a guide to pronunciation. He explains the origin of the title “Ten Grand Poster;” the “ten” comes from “tengoku 天国” (heaven) and “posuta” comes from the Latin word “posta” referring to message delivery. He relates the latter to the mythological messengers - the Greek god Hermes and the Roman god Mercury.
The introduction itself is written like a missive or gazette, with topics numbered 0 (prologue) to 10 followed by an epilogue, printed in handwritten font with 3 laid down designs on the first page and 2 tipped-in designs on the final page, in various fonts and colors ranging in size from 10.5 x 7.5cm to 2 to 4.5cm. Both sides have a light gray design along the bottom of two facing dragons or similar creatures. A black sheet pasted into the center has an intricate tipped in woodcut with Japanese script and “Presse Bibliomane” at the top and “Kikyo Sasaki” at the bottom. A tiny red label is pasted down to the right and says “Tokyo - Sasaki Kikyo Sama” in Japanese script. The reverse has a full page design with script on translucent paper tipped in. The rear inside cover has 4 tipped-in designs. One on translucent paper with the limitation and hanko “け” (ke), likely for Keisuke and below it a printed colophon with a tipped in design at the top, likely another hanko of the artist, with the image of a bunny grinding rice and the text “Tsukuru Hito,” which is a way of saying “creator” or “artist.” Next to it is a Buddhist iconography design with text printed in gold on blue paper and a small slip with printed text and the “Ke” hanko in red below it. A folded sheet with a design printed in black with Japanese text opens to 42.5 x 28.5cm. The sheet has the rabbit hanko printed in gray in the middle and a red hanko next to it. On the back is a small, tipped-in, green slip with a note about the text printed on the reverse and a reference to “Ten Grand” with the “Ke” hanko. A cream-color sheet folded to 30.5 x 2.3cm has lettering design on the front and is numbered 1; inside is a design across both sheets with Japanese text and the ‘ke’ hanko. A brown paper folder 30.5 x 23cm has a large decorated label numbered 1 in blue. Inside are 17 monochrome and color woodcuts mounted on the inside front covers and inside on black paper. Most are double or full-page with three smaller ones, the smallest being 12.2 x 9cm.
Folder 2 エロス讃歌・大ゲーテ頌 [Ode to Eros - Great Goethe] - has a black wrapper 31 x 23cm wrapper with an interior brown paper wrapper. Inside is a green folder 29 x 19.5cm with a red label labeled 2. The inside front wrapper has a color photo of an older man with a cane crouched down on a stone bridge in the middle of a field, likely the artist. The first page is on translucent paper and has a printed design with handwritten Japanese below it and is signed by the author with the date of 5.2.1971 (for the photo) and a hanko. The second page had the same paper with a printed design, Japanese text and handwritten Japanese. The inside back cover of the folder has 2 woodcuts tipped in with the artist's hanko and the date of 1971. Laid-in are 2 folded sheets 27.5 x 18.5cm with 7 laid-down prints in b + w and color. Two are on the subject of Goethe. On the cover and inside are handwritten/printed Japanese text and printed designs. Laid in is a 44.5 x 31.2cm folded sheet with an intricate b+w design and color text with a hanko and the date December 4, 1800. In the rear is a tipped-in sheet with a printed design and handwritten text which seems to explain the text on the other side. It is titled “Festival Jexpoem Guten tag” and has a hanko with the character ‘kei’ “慶” from the artist’s name. A folded page opens to 44 x 30.7cm with a printed title on the front and a number 2 and inside a double-fold print of a hybrid human/animal creature, Japanese text with a quote on art and the same hanko. A thick, tan folder has a large printed label and the number 2. Inside are color and b+w woodcuts: 5 double-page, 6 full-page and 9 smaller prints on multiple pages.
Folder 3 - 神々のヘドロ [Divine Sediment] - has a red wrapper with a yellow printed label and the number 3 printed in lavender and an interior brown paper wrapper. A thick, cream folder has a large printed label and black pages with color and b+w woodcuts: 9 double-page, 5 full-page and 3 smaller prints on multiple pages. A cinnamon color folder 29.5 x 21.3cm has a stamped label and the number 3 in red. Inside are two full page designs laid in, one on translucent paper with handwritten/printed text. 2 smaller designs are tipped-in on the diagonal and one on the last page has the date 1972. A laid-in sheet has a laid-in folded sheet with printed designs and text and a tipped-in design on translucent paper with text with the title “Kamigami no Hedoro 神々のヘドロ,” [Divine Sediment] and the saying “一切のひと見ろ、一人もみるな.” Issai no hito miro, hitorimo miruna [“Look at Humanity, not the individual”]. Laid in are a folded sheet 31.7 x 22cm with a title and the number 3 in blue and a second folded sheet with text on one side and a printed design on the other. Within the printed design is the small “kei” character.
Folder 4 - 古譚草詩 [Kotan Sōshi]・丼魚頌（タンナ）・別冊翻文篇 - has a cream wrapper with a yellow label and the number 4 in red. Inside is a thick tan folder with a large label and the number 4 in green with 2 double-page prints, 17 full-page prints, a fold out sheet with 2 prints and one laid-in print and 2 smaller prints on one page. A large, black sheet of folded paper has folded, laid-in print 30.5 x 43cm. Two other large, folded sheets with designs are laid in: one opens to 43.5 x 30.5 with Japanese words written in romaji and the other opens to 44.5 x 30.7cm.
Folder 5 - 酒嫣紫宴・饗宴篇・別冊酒嫣紫宴・コースター詩 - has a black wrapper with a yellow label and the number 5 in red. Inside is a thick gray folder with a large label and the number 5 in yellow. Inside on brown paper are 3 double-page prints and 2 double-page prints that are half size horizontally, 5 full-page designs and 12 small prints on multiple pages. A bright purple folder has a tan label with the number 5 in red and one print each on the inside front and rear covers. The latter gives the date 1975. Laid-in are black pages with 8 small and medium size prints laid down, one translucent page tipped-in and two pages tipped in to center, one on the front and one on the back. Three folded sheets are laid in: one opens to 26.3 x 37cm with a large tipped-in print inside and printed on the front and back, another opens to a 29 x 41.7cm b+w print and the third has a title on the cover with the number 5 in yellow and a print with “Bacchanalia” on the inside. Bacchanalia is a reference to the Roman festival of Bacchus, which was celebrated with much revelry.
Laid in are 9 small packets with intricate woodcuts 赤神青神死話 [Aka Kami Ao Kami Shibanashi]・あいきやう他 [Aikyō, etc.] -
1 large, folded sheet of green paper opens to 41.8 x 31.7cm with a printed design that looks like a child’s crayon drawing in yellow with the artist’s hanko and on the other side a large section of newspaper with the date of May 1968 with multiple prints, in a printed wraparound.
2 sheets folded together approx 26 x 22cm with printed designs, in a wraparound.
14 x 9 paper card with print on one side and small fruit design on the other, in glassine.
Large sheet folded into a square 11.2 x 10.5cm with a design and text with hanko opens to reveal a round cardboard “Lacto Ice” [ice cream type] lid with a vintage Disney design and a design on the back, each housed in its own glassine. The inner design appears to be adhered to the glassine.
A purple and gold Peace cigarette wrapper folded to 14 x 6.5cm has a printed design of a reclining nude and Japanese text on the reverse white side with a design of a nude printed on a section of a small cardboard box on the other, housed together in glassine. (The Peace logo was designed by Raymond Loewy, who also worked on the design of the well-known Lucky Strike cigarette logo.)
A small book 10.5 x 9.2cm has a red wraparound with text printed in yellow around the bottom third and a print with text laid-in on the front cover. There is a title page with text and the date 1975 on the reverse followed by a title page with text and a print, 10 prints inside the book and a print on the final page with the title repeated, housed in glassine. The title reads Akai Kami, Aoki Kami, Shibanashi 赤神 青神 死話 [Red God, Blue God, a Tale of Death.] A play on words, taken from Akaikami, Aoikami 赤紙青紙 (Red paper, Blue paper, an urban legend).
A sheet folded to 9 x 8cm with a title and the number 5 in yellow opens to reveal a small book in glassine. The wrappers are made from a Peace cigarette wrapper and decorated with printed art gallery paper with 2 printed designs, one tipped in, and text with the date 1975. The final page has three thin strips of printed paper laid-in.
Paper folded to a 10 x 7.7cm rectangle has a color print on the front and [poster (posta)] in Japanese text on the back. It opens to reveal a slightly smaller version of the same front print. Inside is a red and yellow Nittoh tea bag envelope with two separate glassine papers inside, each encasing a round cardboard milk top with Japanese script written on one side and a painting of a Japanese woman on one and a Japanese man on the other. A small slip of lavender paper with printed text 6.5 x .7cm that reads Hiyoku Mame Cosutaa 比翼豆コースター [Happy Couple Miniature Coasters]. With a glassine wraparound.
Paper folded to 12.2 x 3cm has a long narrow print on the front and inside is a tipped-in paper with printed design and text. Closed with a tiny red wraparound
All pieces are housed in a navy fabric-covered chitsu 36.5 x 24cm with a blank title slip. Chipping to edges of chitsu; artwork is in very fine condition. An extraordinary collection, beautifully imagined and rendered.
Additional material - periodical
Issue 68 of Korekushon これくしょん [Collection]
Gallery Gohachi ギャラリー吾八, publisher
Showa 52 
17.8 x 15cm staple-bound magazine with beige paper wrappers and printed title on front cover. Front inside cover has a tipped-in illustration of a rabbit on brown paper with “Tsukuru Hito” that Yamashita Keisuke 山下慶助 often used as a hanko.  initial folded washi [Japanese paper] sheets that are open at the top form  pages and are printed with essays on the recently deceased artist, one by his son, in Japanese text. A glossy sales insert folded to 13.7 x 13.7cm has reproduced photos of Posta artwork as well as text about its creation.The final washi page has 20 red hanko used by the artist. Pages 9-24 are printed on glossy white paper and serve as the publisher’s catalog and price sheet, with reproduced images of books, Japanese text and a small colophon on the bottom left of the final page. Inside rear cover has a tipped-in book plate with the name “Minoru Miyamoto.”
The 68th periodical reference/sales catalog Korekushon これくしょん [Collection]
produced in 1977 is devoted to a series of essays on the artist Yamashita Keisuke. Korekushon was produced by Gallery Gohachi ギャラリー吾八, the important publisher/book purveyor of livre d'artiste, especially those produced by the Mingei 民芸 and Sosakau Hanga 創作版画 artists of the post-War period.
Yamashita seems to have made quite an impression on those who write about him in the journal. Looking at his work at hand, it is easy to see why. His influences are variously attributed to genres as disparate as Fin de siècle Art Nouveau and 60s psychedelia. Though ascribed to him, these influences are not apparent in his medieval-style work, which leads us to imagine that he was not understood in his own time. What everyone agrees on, it seems, is his independence of spirit; his refusal to simply decant old creativity into new containers. The one element that unites all the influences is the artist's own unique voice - he wanted to build models of his worldview to let others explore it. But the act of creativity is said to have been as important to Yamashita as the end result. Hence his self-carved, self-printed, frankly amazing ehon 絵本 survive as perfect examples of 20th century bunjinga 文人画 [literati painting].
Small stains near the binding of the front cover. Interior pages in fine condition.