Japan and Colorado are almost on opposite sides of the globe.

But despite the geographical distance, a pair of exhibitions at the Denver Art Museum and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs find parallels between the cultures in the two regions.

“36 Views of Pikes Peak,” now on view at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Galleries of Contemporary Art (GOCA), takes its inspiration from the work of 18th - 19th century Japanese print artist Katsushika Hokusai.

The exhibition draws specifically on Hokusai’s “36 Views of Mt. Fuji.” The seminal collection of woodblock prints -- a traditional Asian technique which uses handcrafted blocks of wood to print images and text -- depict Japan’s famous mountain in varying seasons and weather conditions as well as from different perspectives.

The show features pieces by 10 Colorado Springs artists, working in such media as printmaking, photography, mixed-media sculpture, video, painting, drawing and ceramic installation.

Daisy McConnell, the director of GOCA, helped to curate the exhibition.

McConnell says Hokusai uses Mt. Fuji to further explore the many dimensions of Japanese culture in the early 1800s. Ultimately, the mountain is not the main subject, but rather a starting point for capturing a much larger narrative about a changing society.

“If you look through the portfolio, you see scenes from daily life and Mt. Fuji are not always the prominent feature,” McConnell says. “Different aspects of the area that involved human activity are much more popular.”

“36 Views of Pikes Peak” has a similar motive.

McConnell says visitors to the Colorado Springs area today often come away with a snapshot impression of the city and its surroundings because of the striking Pikes Peak landscape setting.

Contrastingly, she hopes the exhibition will deepen people's understanding of the region by highlighting its diversity and ongoing evolution.

“There’s a battle going on right now about developing downtown and expanding to the northeast,” McConnell says. “With different cultural backgrounds coming together, this work narrates a much larger story about our society, our values and our aesthetics.”

Hokusai’s influence is also a focus of a current exhibition at the Denver Art Museum (DAM), which runs until Sept. 21.

“At the Mirror: Reflections of Japan in 20th Century Prints” features woodblock prints that reveal the changing styles and art movements developed by Japanese printmakers over the course of a century.

All of the works on display are part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Some, such as the color woodblock prints “Clay Image” (1952) by Kiyoshi Saito and “Horses in the Blue Afternoon” (1991) by Tadashi Nakayama, will be shown for the first time during this exhibition.

Ronald Y. Otsuka, the Dr. Joseph de Heer curator of Asian art at the Denver Art Museum, takes "The Colorado Art Report" host Chloe Veltman through “At the Mirror: Reflections of Japan in 20th Century Prints."

(Photo: CPR/Corey H. Jones)
Ronald Y. Otsuka, the Dr. Joseph de Heer curator of Asian art at DAM, has been with the museum since 1973. “At the Mirror: Reflections of Japan in 20th Century Prints” is Otsuka’s final exhibition.  

Chloe Veltman, CPR arts editor and host of “The Colorado Art Report,” visited with Otsuka earlier this week at DAM. They toured the exhibition together, starting by viewing a single print and discussing how it relates to Colorado art.  

CPR: Hokusai inspired “36 Views of Pikes Peak” at GOCA as well as the current exhibition at DAM. What was his impact as a Japanese artist?

Ronald Y. Otsuka: Hokusai was one of the early artists who began to depict the Japanese landscape and townscapes in woodblock prints. He and another artist, Hiroshige, established a very high level of quality and variety in prints that showed the appearance of Japan and commented on its cultural shifts. His work and style greatly influenced other artists working in the same mechanism.   

CPR: How does the work on display reflect more than the landscape? What does it say about society?

Ronald Y. Otsuka: This exhibition includes prints that depict the appearance of Japan in the 20th century. It was a century when Japan was transforming from a fairly remote country to a world power. These images look at Japan’s past, but also make comments on what’s happening with Japan as it interacts with the U.S. and Europe. The 20th Century was a time period when Japanese artists began to explore art styles and movements around the world, and they began to travel. This collection highlights theses interconnections of art and culture within the time period.