Ohara Koson’s “Fox in the Reeds” is an impressive woodblock print in the style of Shin-hanga.  I say impressive due to its haunting quality and use of only 5 colors.  For me, the source of the haunting quality comes from the crescent moon, the reeds that appear bent in unison with the tentative fox, the ripple that reveals the fox’s apprehension in “testing the waters”, as well as the ghostlike mountains in the distance.

In terms of 5 colors, we see black, white, yellow, brown, and blue.  There are shades of grey (regarding the black) and slight grades in color (regarding the other colors). That there are only 5 colors in use to bring Ohara Koson’s vision to life is the other primary factor that makes this work impressive.  While it may go without saying that the entire color spectrum can be conveyed with only a handful of primary colors… it may not be said enough that a masterful artist is able to do much with little.

With Ohara Koson and most Shin-hanga prints, it seems that much is done with little.  There is a gentle simplicity in the portrayal of the subject, yet at the same time much is implied.  This print reminds me of the phrase that a good picture is worth 1000 words.  Why?  Because the work is so specific that it simultaneously becomes broad.

At first blush, it might seem contradictory to say “the work is so specific that it is simultaneously broad” but upon brief reflection it should become apparent that something specific is always broad, whereas something broad is never specific.  To put it another way, if someone were to say “I saw a picture that was both haunting and sublime,” it would mean nothing.  The picture thus described could be anything and thus nothing (because it’s too broad).  On the other hand, if someone were to say “I saw a picture of a fox amidst a sea of reeds at the edge of a still lake stepping tentatively into the water by the light of a crescent moon…” it would seem more obvious that what’s being spoken of is perhaps both “haunting and sublime” based on the stylistic choices of the artist.

There isn’t much going on within the painting, but with the fox’s small act of a single tentative step, the image seems almost symbolic of “hesitation” at large.

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