Wednesday, 12:00pm
27 May 2020

Virtual Anno

Anno’s Journey: The World of Anno Mitsumasa

Japan House, 101-111 Kensington High Street, London W8 5SA, UK. Original exhibition dates 22 August—27 October 2019. Virtual exhibition ongoing.

The online exhibition ‘Anno’s Journey’ is a delightful overview of work by one of Japan’s most revered illustrators. By Clare Walters

You may have missed ‘Anno’s Journey, The World of Anno Mitsumasa’ in real time, but you can now see this excellent exhibition online – and it is well worth a visit, writes Clare Walters.

Last autumn – which now seems like a world ago – I had the good fortune to visit a wonderful exhibition at Japan House in Kensington, London. It featured 84 artworks and five 3D objects by the Japanese artist Anno. Now 94, Anno has had a long and distinguished career and is very much loved in Japan with two museums dedicated to his work, one in his home town of Tsuwano and one in Wakuden.

Torafarugā-hiroba [Trafalgar Square] from Anno’s Britain (1981), courtesy of Anno Art Museum, Tsuwano.
Top. Entrance to exhibition at Japan House, London, 2019, with screens based on Anno’s artwork.

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In 1984 Anno was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal – the highest international recognition given to an author and illustrator of children’s books – yet despite this accolade, he is not well known in the UK. This online exhibition could help to rectify that, as it is the perfect introduction to his work.

Reading area at ‘Anno’s Journey’ exhibition, 2019.

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The actual exhibition was held in a large room in Japan House, with the artworks displayed on the walls and separate panels and a central cosy area where you could sit and browse a selection of the artist’s books. The virtual exhibition gives a clear impression of this space and it is easy to swivel the screen for different views, pinching out or in to expand and contract the image.

Screenshot from ‘Anno’s Journey: 3D exhibition and touron the Japan House website, showing the virtual reading area, 2020.

Anno’s Journey: 3D exhibition and tour

On the ‘floor’ there are buttons to press to alter your position, and above each artwork there are more buttons to zoom in on a piece and read the accompanying text. In all there are eight separate areas to experience, including an ‘In Depth’ section in the centre to learn more about Anno himself. The tour has an audio accompaniment, but you can mute this if you prefer.

Anno trained as a primary school teacher, and from the 1960s onwards, he began to illustrate children’s books. Many of his titles are wordless and most incorporate some sort of visual puzzle or mystery, such as an unusual perspective, a trompe l’oeil illusion or a few unexpected playful jokes. Gentle humour and careful observation are key characteristics of his work.

Colour separation and spread of the same image from the wordless picturebook Anno’s Journey (1977) by Anno Mitsumasa. See Clare Walters’ ‘Told in pictures’ in Eye 85.

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I first discovered the wordless picturebook Anno’s Journey (1977) in 2011 when I was researching my MA dissertation, and I fell in love with it instantly. It shows a tiny man arriving by boat on an empty shore, acquiring a horse and riding through both rural countryside and busy townscapes, observing all he sees, then finally leaving again. For inspiration, Anno drew on his journeys across Europe in the 1960s and 70s, and hidden within his highly detailed illustrations are numerous references to European culture, from art and music to folktales and pastimes. You can see original separations from Anno’s Journey in the exhibition.

Screenshot from ‘Anno’s Journey: 3D exhibition and touron the Japan House UK website, showing, prints (including Ladle Tadpole, far right), an anamorphic projection of a letter ‘T’ and large sculptural Japanese characters.

Anno’s Journey: 3D exhibition and tour

Ladle Tadpole (Otama) from Fantasy Workshop Picture Book (Courtesy of Anno Art Museum, Tsuwano).

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Other ‘Journey’ books, specific to individual countries, followed and in the tour you can see the complete set of pen-and-ink watercolours from Anno’s Britain (1981). Other interesting exhibits include pictures from The Tale of the Heike Picture Book, a series of 79 paintings of a Japanese literary classic made using the traditional technique of ink-and-powder pigments on silk and published one-by-one in the monthly magazine Hon (Books in English); and a fabulous series of mainly black-and-white papercuts produced in the 1970s to illustrate well known Japanese folk tales; paintings and sculptures of Japanese letters.

Memories of Tsuwano / Tsuwano no kioku. Courtesy of Anno Art Museum.

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More recently, Anno has painted watercolours of Tsuwano as remembered from his youth in the 1920s and 30s. The soundtrack of the virtual tour features a familiar sound from his childhood, the steam train (above, left) that wound its way through his home town.

Of course a virtual experience can never be quite as good as the real thing, but there are some surprising advantages, such as being able to expand a picture to look closely at the detail. Also, it is a great resource for anyone studying Anno, Japan, illustration, or children’s literature. This is an online treat almost anyone interested in visual culture will enoy.

‘The Exiling of the Ministers of State’ (Daijin ruzai) from The Tale of Heike Picture Book. Courtesy of Anno Art Museum, Tsuwano.

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‘The Pilgrimage to Chikubu Island’ from The Tale of Heike Picture Book, the image used for the booklet and publicity for the exhibition ‘Anno’s Journey’. Courtesy of Anno Art Museum, Tsuwano.

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Illustration from Fushigi na e [Mysterious Pictures], published in Topsy Turvies (1970). Courtesy of Anno Art Museum, Tsuwano.

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Clare Walters, author of children’s picturebooks and journalist, London

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.

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