Osaka Mon Amour

Hirosada  Nakamura Utaemon IV as Matsuemon  in Act 6 of Seisuiki.

Hirosada. Nakamura Utaemon IV as Matsuemon in Act 6 of Seisuiki.

Toshidama Gallery is showing a selection of fabulous prints made by the Osaka woodblock artists of the mid-nineteenth century. The show runs from October 2017 for six weeks and all of the prints are for sale.

Yoshitaki. Snow Scene in Theatre. 1860’s.

Yoshitaki. Snow Scene in Theatre. 1860’s.

I think that for me as the gallery director, my favourite prints, (my love if you like!) is for the discreet and tragic beauty of this Osaka School of woodblock artists. Even amongst those great works, spanning several decades, I think it is the mid century, the so-called second wave who are most mysterious, most daring and most impressive. Starting I guess with Sadanobu and culminating in the exotic and decadent works of Yoshitaki, these wonderful jewel like prints suggest a prescience and tragedy… a melancholy that is both technically accomplished and restrained… moving and tragic. That these artists could work so freely within such tight constraints imposed by the government censors (post 1842 and most harshly administered in Osaka) and within the smaller chuban format is nothing short of miraculous.

Sadanobu I (1809 - 1879) Lives of Renowned Swordfighters

Sadanobu I (1809 – 1879) Lives of Renowned Swordfighters

The earliest prints in the show are on the larger oban format – the marvellous Ashiyuki portrait of Arashi Rikan II as Mashiba Hisatsugu, from 1830 and the Yoshikuni portrait of the kabuki superstar of the century Nakamura Utaemon III from 1821. For two decades at least nearly every print went either unsigned or unnamed and on the chuban size paper… to avoid censorship but one can’t help feeling that these small prints may have been passed around from one discreet sleeve to another in quiet corners of tea houses!

Yoshitaki (ca 1841 - 1899) An Actor as Yoshitsune? 1868.  Oban.

Yoshitaki (ca 1841 – 1899) An Actor as Yoshitsune? 1868. Oban.

We don’t see a return to the larger format until the end of Osaka print production with a few of the outstanding okubi-e and large portraits by Yoshitaki. My favourite print in the show, despite soome age damage is Yoshitaki’s masterful print of an actor as Yoshitsune, a print that is so confident, so deft, so brilliantly coloured as to be breathtaking.

Hirosada. Nakamura Utaemon IV as Tadaemon, 1850

Hirosada. Nakamura Utaemon IV as Tadaemon, 1850

Elsewhere, as the show opens we have five consecutive pages of chuban portraits, each one so similar but each one so engagingly and profoundly original. I wanted them to all be laid out together, as a group. This is woodblock printing at its very best, anytime, anywhere in the world. These prints bristle, sparkle and crackle with colour and texture, with line, shape and symbol and seethe with barely contained melancholy and writhing emotion… each one a minor miracle. Multiply these small miracles by three and we have some of the astonishing Osaka triptychs, like exquisite jewel boxes that are opened out on the page, each one a three act drama revealed as each sheet unfolds. Especially notable is the lake side scene of Nakamura Utaemon IV as Matsuemon in Act 6 of Seisuiki from 1851. The waves, the pine tree, the astonishing embossed drawing of the figures a virtuoso performance of the art of woodblock. Imagine what these prints must have felt like when they were fresh from a back street workshop, possibly illegal, certainly daring, as they were unwrapped from rice paper envelopes and their shiny burnished details caught the light of the oil lamps.

I hope I can communicate to you some of the enthusiasm I feel, personally towards these prints. They are absurdly cheap. The market is slowly catching up to the genius of Osaka but predictably the market must start with the oldest items first!

Hirosada Writing Manuel for the Loyal Retainers, 1851

Hirosada Writing Manuel for the Loyal Retainers, 1851

It is possible to purchase, to own and to display a work of art that is more usually seen behind glass in a museum, for just a few hundred dollars in many cases. The prints on the site are all original, first editions unless otherwise stated and usually of museum collection quality. Wherever  it is appropriate, we supply links to other copies in major collections.

For a copy of our newsletter and a discount on all prints in the show, please do click HERE

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Posted in Hirosada, Japanese prints, japanese woodblock prints, kabuki theatre, Osaka Prints, Osaka School, ukiyo-e, ukiyo-e art, Yoshikuni, Yoshitaki | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tattoo You – The Continuing Debt To Ukiyo-e

The newspapers have been very full of risque images from the 13th International London Tattoo Convention . It’s a huge event, tattoos cover any number of different body types, body parts and genders and there seems no end to the diversity of imagery or culture. The common factor remains ukiyo-e… particularly the drawing of Hokusai and Kuniyoshi which imbues nearly every subject and genre.

Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden: Tammeijiro

Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden: Tammeijiro

Of course, regular readers will know that it was Hokusai who re-invented the stories of the Water Margin, the great medieval tales of Chinese heroes, holed up in the marshes… (the mythical, liminal spaces between fact and fiction) when he illustrated the translated edition of the novels in the 1810’s.

 

Hokusai (1760-1849) Portraits of the Heroes of the Suikoden

Hokusai (1760-1849) Portraits of the Heroes of the Suikoden

His illustrations invented the muscle-bound, terrifying warriors, decorated head to toe with writhing tattoos. Hokusai‘s pictures were only small black and white illustrations, nevertheless they inspired Kunisada to make colour prints in the early 1820’s on the same subject and that in turn prompted Kuniyoshi to copy these and enlarge upon them, eventually publishing his own Hokusai and Kunisada inspired series of Suikoden warriors. It is these single sheet full colour, bravura pieces that inspire the drawing and shapes of modern full body or sleeve tattoos.

Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Battle Tales of the Han and Chu: Fan Kuai, 1827.

Toyokuni III (1786-1865) Battle Tales of the Han and Chu: Fan Kuai, 1827.

I expect that this debt to ukiyo-e is well known in the circles of tattoo afficionados and indeed, many of the images at the recent fair were directly taken from well known Kuniyoshi prints. Outside of those circles, I am sure that as in so many areas, the debt that the modern world owes to the design genius of ‘pre-modern’ Japan goes unrecognised.

Posted in Floating World, Hokusai, Japanese Art, japanese woodblock prints, Kunisada, Kuniyoshi, Tattoo Art, Toshidama Gallery., ukiyo-e, ukiyo-e art | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Christopher Bucklow at Southampton City Art Gallery

Bucklow, The Moon's Inner Vision

Bucklow, The Moon’s Inner Vision, 2016. Oil on canvas, 213cm x 510cm

The celebrated international artist Christopher Bucklow is well known to followers of the Toshidama Gallery. The artist is currently celebrating a lifetime retrospective of paintings and photographs at the Southampton City Art Gallery in England. Toshidama Gallery director, Alex Faulkner has long been a collaborator with Bucklow, on joint exhibitions as half of the fictional duo Dimitri & Wenlop, and now as author of the lavish catalogue that accompanies the exhibition.

Chris Bucklow Peel 2013

Before the final hang at Southampton. Foreground, Peel, Oil on Canvas. 2013

The show brims with exhilirating references to the ukiyo-e prints of which Bucklow is an avid collector. Outstanding among these though, is a recent painting; The Moon’s Inner Vision from 2016. (top).

The Moon’s Inner Vision exemplifies many of the themes which dominate the paintings in this huge exhibition. As with many of Bucklow’s recent works, the picture respects the living space of each group or single figure – there is a single canvas dedicated to each set. This device, this way of dividing the picture, is a nod to the ukiyo-e tradition of the nineteenth century, whereby kabuki prints especially were sold either as individual sheets or in multiples of two or three… the final design being more frequently conceived as a panoramic triptych. Of course, the idea was that the avid fan could save money by not purchasing the prints of his less favoured actors. I suspect Chris Bucklow might not be open to such an offer on this particular work!

The Moon's Inner Vision, 2016

The Moon’s Inner Vision, 2016. (detail of centre panel)

Central to the piece is the enigmatic figure above which is derived from two sources, the first, a print by Kunisada of the Ghost of Oiwa from a triptych depicting the actors Ichikawa Ebizô V as Tamiya Iemon on the right and Onoe Kikugorô III as the Ghost of Oiwa in the centre.

Kunisada, The Ghost of Oiwa, 1836.

Kunisada, The Ghost of Oiwa, 1836. Woodblock Print.

Bucklow has transformed the figure. In kabuki dramas,  Oiwa is the hapless victim of her miserable husband and his scheming lover. Interestingly, she is always depicted as the disfigured monster that was her fate before her murder. Kunisada here chooses to show her as a great beauty. Bucklow has transformed… rescued, even, Oiwa and turned her into a Madonna, a Mary. The magical transformation is effected by splicing (grafting) Kunisada’s Oiwa onto the outstanding painting by Paul Gauguin, Ia Orana Maria, (Hail Mary). Bucklow has decorated his Oiwa with the rich Tahitian colours and the specific vegetation of the exotic and living Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, Hail Mary, 1891

I want to break off here and talk briefly about grafting, (vegetation in fact). Bucklow’s very earliest mature work was exhibiting unlikely, grafted hybrids of commercial or household plants. The works themselves were plant forms that he had either altered genetically or otherwise combined by grafting species together. (Hyacinthus Orientalis at Selborne, Dianthus chris eubank, Potato-tomato plant, Pear-hawthorn graft, variously shown in 1993 at the Lisson gallery, London and in 1996 at the Museum of Modern art in Oxford).

His practice of combining; colliding disparate things to create surprising and new objects has its basis in these plant based works which became a constant through many of his ideas and his made pieces, photographs and latterly, paintings. This fertilisation, is unpredictable, fecund, and bountiful. As in this hybrid painting where the vegetation is Gauguin’s, and the stem is Kunisada’s it produces a hybrid ‘Mary’. A mother Godess figure, the Dream Sender, the Queen of Heaven, the Repair between East and West. It is the central figure that links, via the spirals of tarot cards, the bound figures in the left panel with the ominous, Balzacian figure that towers in the right.

The bound figures in the left hand panel are derived from a William Blake print, Vision of the Daughters of Albion…. Bromion and Oothon:

Blake's Vision of the Daughters of Albion…. Bromion and Oothon.

William Blake, Blake’s Vision of the Daughters of Albion…. Bromion and Oothon.

They represent an aspect of the artist in a dream, as does the ‘released’, combined form on the right, itself derived from a 2016 painting by Bucklow in the exhibition called The Repair.

There is a lot to take in here. The painting is enormous… over five metres long. The central panel, this hybridised Mary figure… a distant echo of Gauguin, of tragic, (rescued now) Oiwa, and even another figure in Bucklow’s pantheon, Eliot’s Mm. Sostrisis. She is the Moon of the title, the visionary, the repairer and the soothsayer.

Oothon, one of the suggested figures on the left is of course another version of Oiwa and her doomed but vengeful husband. Oothoon, (the female) is in love with Theotormon, who represents the chaste man, filled with a false sense of righteousness. Oothoon desires Theotormon but is suddenly, violently raped by Bromion (pictured above). After Oothon is raped neither Bromion nor Theotormon want anything to do with her. Oothon and Oiwa are similar, aren’t they? They are both  victims of the rage and passion of men. The powerful figure in the centre of the picture, the Dream Sender, restores and repairs the balance… the yin and the yang, if you like. The figure on the right, the repaired lovers,  reveals the longed for truce which eludes us all.

Illustration of Plato's Allegory of the Cave

Illustration of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

A further twist is the relationship that Blake made implicit in his print of Bromion and Oothon with the often repeated allegory of Plato’s Cave, (illustrated above). Blake used Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in Visions of the Daughters of Albion as a theme for the three characters not being able to understand the true nature of reality, without being hindered by convention. By coincidence, the title of the catalogue essay for Bucklow’s retrospective is Bucklow’s Cave. It argues that the artist uses Plato’s analogy as the primary motivation behind the making of his work, as for Bucklow, the real drama takes place behind the screen.

Christopher Bucklow, Said Now and For All Time is at Southampton City Art Gallery until 13 January 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Chris Bucklow, Japanese Art Gallery, Japanese prints, japanese woodblock prints, kabuki theatre, Kunisada, Paul Gauguin, Toshidama Gallery., ukiyo-e, ukiyo-e art, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ukiyo-e Heroes

Film production company, Rivertime Entertainment wrote to us at the Toshidama Gallery recently, promoting their latest film. Ukiyo-e Heroes is an outstanding and generous piece of work. It documents the collaboration of David Bull, a modern woodblock carver, printer and artisan with designer and comic book and game specialist Jed Henry. In 2010, Jed contacted the older, David Bull who has spent most of his life living and working in Japan, refining the traditional skills of a Japanese woodblock artist. Jed had the idea to take modern gamer images and reproduce them using traditional Edo techniques and materials.

Yokai Dracul. Woodblock print designed by Jed Henry

Yokai Dracul. Woodblock print designed by Jed Henry and produced by David Bull.

The results are really terrific – a proper meeting of two disparate cultures and skills, producing something very fresh and very engaging. The traditional skills of David Bull really come alive with these fresh, vibrant images. I confess that the re-making of old prints in the manner of the nineteenth century leaves me cold. Despite the extraordinary technical skill that Bull brings to say, his reproduction of Hokusai’s Great Wave, the piece for all its technical brilliance is a dead thing. The original piece is alive and shouts with the joy of nature, of life, of existence.

The same is true even when artists make copies of their own works. William Blake’s careful reproductions of his earlier works are very inferior to the verve of the original mono-prints and engravings.

Trailers for the movie which is an account of the two artist’s working relationship are available on youtube.

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The Beautiful Image of Fuji Appearing in an Awning…

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Kuniyoshi, Virtuous Women for the Eight Views. 1842

The very beautiful print above is  a small and delicate thing by the Japanese woodblock print artist Kuniyoshi from 1842. It’s a complicated thing and I have written about the print extensively on the gallery site. I wanted to make a final iteration of the piece here and to make the pleasing link between this small melodrama and the preceding posts about the hotly anticipated exhibition of Hokusai prints at the British Museum in May 2017.

The print has a curious title to the uninitiated… what is the reference to the Eight Views? In eleventh century China, eight views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers developed as a formalised series of landscape paintings.  They represented views of the rivers and wetlands around Lake Dongting.  The same eight views–autumn moon, lingering snow, evening glow, vesper bells, returning boats, clearing weather, night rain and homing geese–are likened to virtuous women from Japanese history and legend in this series of prints.

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Rain at Night on the Xiang River from a 12th century hand scroll.

The subject matter is tragic, set in the twelfth century, two boys, the Soga Brothers are orphaned when their father is killed by a rival lord. Their childhood is spent in preparation of revenge and in early adulthood they plot to assasinate their father’s killer at the hunting grounds. They ambush the temporary camp of their enemy and kill him but in so doing, one brother is killed, the other executed by the shogun. Kuniyoshi illustrates Tegoshi no Shôshô,one of the brother’s lovers leading them to the hunting ground… a similar scene is caught by Hiroshige in his series based on the story:

hiroshige_revenge_soga_brothers_monogatari_zuye_wedding

Hiroshige, Revenge of the Soga Brothers. 1847

So, we have Kuniyoshi cleverly combining the traditional watery tragedy of the eight views… (There is more to the choice of view… Any reference to Xiao-Xiang immediately calls to mind an early legend: a sage ruler named Shun (traditionally 2294–2184 BC) died suddenly near the Xiang River. His two wives mourned on the water’s edge for days, their copious tears staining the nearby bamboo. Overcome with grief, they cast themselves into the Xiang and drowned, becoming goddesses of the river.) with the ukiyo-e tradition of the watery setting of the tragic Soga Brothers tale. He then adds a further layer of meaning by imposing the precise outline of Hokusai’s Red Fuji, (Mount Fuki in Clear Weather, 1832) into the folded drapery at the top of the print.

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Hokusai, South Wind Clear Sky 1832

Fuji was and remains a place of great spiritual strength for the Japanese.  The folded material is clearly there to act as a symbolic entity, overlooking the entire scene. Fuji san as it is known represents the great, animist god of the nation… it is a mighty and brooding presence, important as a place of worship, as a place of pilgrimage and as a holy place in both shinto and Buddhist religions. Its place in this print is to overlook the scene unravelling beneath it… the cone of Fuji, disguised in the curtain acts as a benevolent blessing to the whole venture. I have posted a jpeg that overlays the profile of the canopy from Kuniyoshi’s mini-masterpiece with Hokusai’s famous print to illustrate how closely and deliberately Kuniyoshi has followed the design.

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Fuji by Hokusai overlaying drapes in the Kuniyoshi

I suppose that this brief summary is one of the reasons that I so much enjoy these wonderful pieces of Art. They are so rich in layered meaning and so rewarding… they give so much back. Many are also within the reach of most pockets – not the Hokusai I fear – this demotic, popular and populist artform continues to amaze and serve the mass of people for which it was originally intended.

Women of the Drowning World in Japanese Woodblock Prints is at the Toshidama Gallery until March 31st 2017

 

 

Posted in Floating World, Hokusai, Japanese Art, Japanese Art Gallery, japanese woodblock prints, Kuniyoshi | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Does Everyone Hate Jonathan Jones?

jonefuji

Jonathan Jones against Hokusai’s Fuji

I am adding this post as an addition to our recent ‘scoop’ on the exciting prospect that the little known carnival float designed, painted and carved by Hokusai may be loaned to the British Museum for its forthcoming show of his work, Beyond the Great Wave, in May this year. The excellent critic, Jonathan Jones previewed the exhibition in his column in the Guardian newspaper on the 11th of January It was a perfectly reasonable article pointing out what this blog, and the Toshidama Gallery have been propounding for years, that Japanese woodblock prints of the nineteenth century remain undervalued and that furthermore, there is more than a little xenophobia or at least resistance to the extraordinary influence that Japanese visual arts made on the development of early modernism in painting, architecture and design.

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William Merrit Chase, My Daughter Alice 1896

Except, except, except… it is apparently a quite unreasonable article after all – at least to the seemingly hundreds of internet trolls that have posted slighting and gauche comments in the ‘below the line’ section of the online edition. I really don’t understand the impulse to do this. The same can be said about the literally hundreds of excellent articles that Jones has posted in this time. It is baffling that visual art should enrage the online commentators so much. It is not uncommon for relatively dry pieces about contemporary art to attract several hundred comments, many of which are vitriolic, some of which are filled with anger and the kind of supressed rage that I imagine most people reserve for really very toxic or distressing subjects… not painting and sculpture. It is possible perhaps that some of these people are artists who have failed to gain recognition and perhaps feel thwarted by what they see are the unreasonable rewards of contemporary artists such as Tracy Emin. Indeed, even in something as innocuous and removed as the article on Hokusai, someone managed to drag up a slighting reference to Emin, whereas someone else simply felt justified in insulting Mr Jones simply for the hell of it…

Hokusai and other great Japanese artists are not news to art lovers, Mr Jones – though to you, apparently. And when you can write such generalised and meaningless sentences about Hokusai such as ‘a richly developing and complex oeuvre of great human profundity’, or ‘He captures the human condition’, I wonder if you’re the best person to expound on his work.

Whilst yet another reponded…

Or on any form of art whatever.

Well, at least the article is doing the job of generating interest in what Jonathan Jones rightly points out is an artist whose true brilliance and influence does remain undervalued even today. To readers here who do not suffer from a misplaced or aggrieved sense of their own worth, I can only recommend Jones’ column as an oustanding corrective to less insightful popular criticism.

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Kuniyoshi 1842. The Suffering Critic

 

 

 

 

Posted in British Museum, Hokusai, Japanese prints, japanese woodblock prints, ukiyo-e | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will the British Museum be Host to Hokusai’s Kammachi Festival Float in May 2017?

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Ceiling Panel from the Kammachi Festival Float at Obuse.

The photograph at the top of this article appears at first glance to be a detail from the  famous woodblock print by the nineteenth century Japanese artist, Katsushika Hokusai: Kanagawami-oki nami-uraThe Great Wave, or its transliterated name, Under the Great Wave off Kanagawa. We are all shortly to be engulfed by this deluge of Hokusai waves as the British Museum, London opens its forthcoming exhibition, Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave.

hokusai-float

The Kammachi Festival Float and detail of Carved Figure

The image of foaming waters is in fact a hand painted panel – one of two – that decorates the underside of the canopy of a festival float, housed in the Hokusai Museum at Obuse in Japan. There are rumours that this fabulous object is to be expertly dismantled and re-erected in London, to form part of the exhibit celebrating the great artist and his most famous image.

Toshidama Gallery spoke to the Japanese Department at the Museum today and they were mysteriously cautious… neither confirming nor denying that they will be showing this staggering 4.8 metre object. Given that there are only three months to go until the show opens, their reticence to deny the rumour holds the tantalising prospect that this extraordinary object may, uniquely, be on display in Europe this year for the first time.

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Painted Ceiling Panels – Female (L), Male (R) on the Kammachi Float

In Japan, there are countless festivals in provinces, towns, villages and so on. These festivals – partly in the nature of Shinto – celebrate natural phenomena, places, gods, events and so on. They are often colourful occasions and are usually accompanied by elaborate carved floats and chanting, drumming participants. As a very old man, Hokusai spent many months in the the town of Obuse (1844/5), during which time he contributed two painted panels depicting a dragon and a phoenix for the ceiling canopy of the festival float.

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Painted Ceiling Panels – Dragon and Phoenix on the Kammachi Float

Hokusai returned to Obuse the following year during which time he added the two wave panels, Onami – masculine – and Menami – feminine. These paintings post date the Great Wave print by a good fifteen years and yet their debt to the original print is obvious. By this time, Hokusai’s depiction of crashing waves had become the standard form for picturing surf, adopted by all of the Utagawa School of artists, as seen here in a print by Kuniyoshi…

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Kuniyoshi. The Priest Nichirin Calming the Waves 1831

Astonishingly, The Kammachi float also includes the only three dimensional piece known to have been carved by Hokusai. He appears to have spent three years, off and on, creating a painted and carved representation in wood of the legendary figure of Gongsun Sheng and the dragon Yinglong. Gongsun Sheng appears in the Chinese novel, The Water Margin. One of the great classics of Chinese literature, the work assumed a cult-like popularity in Japan in the early part of the nineteenth century, due to its translation and relocation into Japanese.

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Hokusai, Heroes of the Water Margin. 1829

In 1805 the publisher Kadomaruya started production of the Japanese translation of the Chinese novel Suikoden. This was in part an historical account, in part a folk-tale, of 108 heroes released from a stone tortoise who became magnificent brigands and outlaws in fourteenth century China. They were later pardoned by the Chinese government and went on to defend the dynasty against attack.

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Kuniyoshi, Gongsun Sheng (Ju-unryu Kosonsho)

The story inspired the great series of prints by Kuniyoshi from 1827 that was to make him famous and establish the warrior print genre for half a century or more. I am illustrating Kuniyoshi’s depiction of the same character that Hokusai carved on the magnificent float at Obuse. The British Museum’s celebration of Hokusai will, I am sure, be a fascinating show… if they can pull off bringing in the great and more or less unknown Kammachi Float from Obuse it will be an undoubted triumph!

Male Tragedy in Japanese Prints is at The Toshidama Gallery until 17th February 2017

 

 

Posted in British Museum, Great Wave, Hokusai, Japanese Art, Japanese prints, japanese woodblock prints, Kammachi Festival Float, Kuniyoshi, Obuse, ukiyo-e, ukiyo-e art, Ukiyo-e landscape art | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment