Hanga Treasure Chest: Print #10

Time for some drama in the series! Things have been pretty quiet up to now, to say the least, so here's something to wake you up!

The image was produced by Nishimura Shigenobu for the publisher Iseya, probably sometime in the 1730's. Going by the large actor's crest illustrated on the kimono, this is Ogino Isaburo, one of the popular actors of that day. As to which scene from which play is being depicted here, my browse through various reference books has turned up no particular information. It looks as though he has been hiding in a well, and this is the dramatic moment when he leaps out, draws his sword, and puts the 'bad guys' to rout. Perhaps one of you collectors - any kabuki fans among you? - will be able to fill in some details for me.

This is not a precise reproduction of the original print. Full-colour printmaking was still sometime in the future at the time this was created, and it was published in the urushi-e format (lacquer print). The black outlines were printed from a woodblock in the standard manner, but colouring was applied to each print in turn by hand with a brush, and the darkest areas of the image were coated with shiny black lacquer.

I did make a reproduction of an urushi-e in one of my Surimono Albums, carefully painting all the colours on each print in turn, but I'm sorry, reduced to this tiny format, and with my very tight schedule, it was impossible for me to do that this time! So I 'jumped ahead' in time a couple of decades, and cut a set of woodblocks for printing the colours. It makes me realize just how much of a technical advance colour printing must have been in those days. In place of rows of painters dabbing colour onto prints one-by-one, trying to remain reasonably within the lines, printers could 'churn them out' in massive numbers, and with much more precise registration.

Of course, they too would be rendered obsolete around a century and a half later, but during their time, they had a pretty good run of it!


Monday, June 6, 2005