Japan influences new YCBA retrospective

Elizabeth Salter, the one-woman artist behind “into the light of things,” became interested in Japanese art after studying the Genji scrolls.
Elizabeth Salter, the one-woman artist behind “into the light of things,” became interested in Japanese art after studying the Genji scrolls. Photo by Yale Center for British Art.

The Yale Center for British Art is not just the home to old English hunting portraits — with a new exhibition from British artist Rebecca Salter, Japanese aesthetics are now on display.

Yale Center for British Art
Yale Center for British Art
Yale Center for British Art

On Thursday, the British Art Center will open Salter’s one-woman exhibition, “into the light of things,” which features approximately 150 works by the abstract artist, whose work was inspired by her time spent in Japan. As a complement to the retrospective, which is Salter’s first solo show, curators at the Yale University Art Gallery have arranged a second exhibition, “Rebecca Salter and Japan,” which presents 13 works by Japanese and American artists and two pieces by Salter. Amy Meyers, director of the Yale Center for British Art said the paired exhibitions would create a dialogue between Salter’s perspective as a British artist inspired by Japan and pieces produced by Japanese artists.

“In a modern sense, this [exhibition] speaks to the history of intercultural relationships between British artists and other artists from around the world,” Meyers said.

Salter, 56, said she gravitated toward Japanese art after studying the Genji scrolls, a work of literature dating back to the 11th century, in her last year as an undergraduate student in Bristol, England. After graduation, Salter lived and worked in Kyoto, Japan for six years, where she picked up Japanese woodblock techniques and began to use Japanese media.

Though Salter began her career as a ceramicist, her work on display is entirely two-dimensional — mixed media or woodblock prints on linen, canvas, or Japanese paper. Japanese paper, Salter said, is stronger, more fibrous, and softer than the average artist’s paper, qualities that fueled her experimentation with wetting, drying, and dousing the material with ink.

Salter said she incorporated certain aspects of Japanese art-making into her own practice, such as the tendency to work horizontally on a flat, unstretched canvas and the use of muted, “complicated” colors. The Japanese word “wabi” describes an aesthetic of simplicity and beauty in imperfection, which she said is also a point of interest for her.

The British Art Center showcases a range of artistic techniques and Meyers said they also make an effort to show the work of solo artists in balance with thematic exhibitions that draw on multiple artists. Meyers and Gillian Forrester, the center’s Curator of Prints and Drawings, met Salter in 2003 when the artist was living in Connecticut as an artist sponsored by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. They then acquired a piece by Salter, Meyers said, and have since followed her development as an artist.

“Most viewers will not be familiar with her work, because it’s not as well-known in the U.S. as it is in England,” Meyers said. “She isn’t as well-known as she should be, and we’d like our audience to come to familiarity with the incredible eloquence and sensitivity and depth of spirit in her work.”

An opening conversation for the exhibit will be held on Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the Center for British Art.

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