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Kabuki Makeup

When I created the design for the previous print - the image of Himeji Castle - it was with the idea of looking at something familiar in a new way. I did this by rejecting the typical 'postcard' image of the castle, and focussing up close on one of the walls. Well, as you have already seen by looking at the current print, I have followed a similar precept this time. We have moved in close ... very close.

Very early on in my readings and studies of Japanese prints, I came across the ukiyo-e sub genre known as 'yakusha-e' (actor prints). Designing such prints was bread-and-butter work for artists in every era, and many men wrestled with the question of how to incorporate the intensity of an actor's performance in their work. I'm not familiar with any of them trying to zoom in like this; perhaps I have an advantage over them by living in an era when movies have made such things second nature to us!

As you have noticed, there is something else quite 'different' about this print, and that is the carving. Rather than cut the design by the usual method of following brushwork, I have taken a leaf from the western engraving tradition, and cut 'tones' instead of following outlines. And in fact, there is only one 'line' in this print - the entire design was created by varying the thickness of a single line that spirals out from the actor's nose. (This is not an original conception of mine, but was first used in the mid-1600s by the French printmaker Claude Mellan.)

For the next design in our series, we'll return to a more traditional multi-coloured ukiyo-e technique, but I hope you have enjoyed these two more 'adventurous' designs!


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