Dr. Clare Pollard
Dr Clare Pollard is Curator of Japanese Art at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, where she arrived in 2006 after working at the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Clare’s research has focused mainly on Meiji decorative arts, and her publications include Master Potter of Meiji Japan: Makuzu Kozan (1842–1916) and his Workshop (2003) and Threads of Silk and Gold: Ornamental Textiles from Meiji Japan (2012). In recent years she has developed a series of exhibitions and catalogues of the Ashmolean’s Japanese print collections (including Hiroshige – Landscape Cityscape: Woodblock prints in the Ashmolean Museum and Plum Blossom & Green Willow: Japanese surimono poetry prints from the Ashmolean Museum).
This vibrant, funny woodcut by Naoko Matsubara is from a series of prints first inspired by the busy hand movements of her baby son. The series grew over the decades into a wider visual exploration of human hands engaged in music, sport, prayer or a variety of creative acts. The woodcuts all convey a sense of joy and wonder, whether exploring the symbolism of gestures, playing with form and colour, or expressing a mood or emotion – energetic, humorous, disciplined or spiritual.
In Praise of Hands forms part of a wonderful gift of works presented to the Ashmolean by the artist in 2018 and is the subject of a forthcoming collaborative book project between Matsubara and the poet Penny Boxall, as well as of a small exhibition I am curating next spring. The joyful energy of ‘Clap’ sums up for me the power of Matsubara’s work in general and seems to have a particular relevance in these strange, troubled times. The subject of hands – and the idea of touch or the absence of touch – has taken on a new significance during the pandemic, and many of the images in the series have taken on powerful new meanings. When Matsubara created this work in 1974 these clapping hands expressed her deep enjoyment of music and dance; when I look at ‘Clap’ now it reminds me of standing in the street clapping the NHS with my neighbours. Something positive in a dark time. So for me this woodcut really illustrates the power of art to uplift.
[on display in ‘In Praise of Hands’ free exhibition at the Ashmolean, from March 2021]
Vase with waterfall over rocks
Namikawa Yasuyuki (1845 – 1927)
Cloisonné enamel with silver wires
Purchased with the assistance of an anonymous benefactor
Tokyo Station (Tōkyō eki)
Onchi Kōshirō (1891 – 1955)
From the series ‘Scenes of Last Tokyo’ (Tōkyō kaiko zue), 1945
Colour Woodblock Print
26.3 x 19.9 cm
Presented by Christopher Dyment
Black Tea Bowl,
10 x 13 x 12.5 cm
Presented by Christopher Gorman-Evans
Porcelain, with white glaze
50.3 x 48.9 cm
Presented by Lady Sansom, in memory of her husband Sir George Sansom, 1965.