What is a Japanese woodblock print?
The woodblock printing technique begins with the
artist who creates the image and designs the
colors for the print. The image is then taken to the block carvers who create
the wood blocks from which the final print is printed. Each woodblock print is
the product of anywhere from two to sixty individual wood blocks, all
individually carved. Each color and texture of the original design has to be
carved onto a separate piece of wood and printed in order. For example, a simple
woodblock print with three colors, green, black, and red, would require three
carved wood blocks. Needless to say, each woodblock print is the culmination of
many different artists and skilled artisans working together.
Each color of a woodblock print must be
carved as a separate block and printed one at a time. A single print may
have as little as one color or more than a hundred.
What is Ukiyo-e?
The word ukiyo-e has Buddhist origins, meaning
"floating world" expressing the transitory nature of life. In the distinctly
materialistic age of the Edo period (1614-1868), the word took on new
connotations. Instead of a spiritual phrase, it became a slogan for people to
"seize the day" and enjoy the present.
The word ukiyo-e also refers to the woodblock prints
which were developed at this time. The most frequent subjects are of beautiful
courtesans and famous actors of the kabuki theater. As time went on, artists
like Hokusai and Hiroshige explored more diverse subject matter. Landscapes,
very often famous landmarks like Mount Fuji and the views from the main roadways
around Japan became popular.
Ukiyo-e prints also played a part in influencing
western artists, most notably, the Impressionists. As many of these artists were
interested in "exotic" artifacts and became collectors of Japanese exports, what
they found most interesting was the wrapping that these objects arrived in. Many
prints were used as wrappings for porcelain and other wares destined for Europe.
Monet, Degas, and Van Gogh were all intrigued and deeply influenced by the
compositions and bold line quality.
Many thanks to Robyn Buntin of Honolulu Gallery (http://www.robynbuntin.com) for allowing us the use of these images and the accompanying texts. You are cordially invited to visit the gallery which is located three doors from the Honolulu Academy of Art. This is Honolulu's stellar source of museum-quality Asian art and exciting exhibitions, where every visit is an adventure.