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Japanese Art with a Canadian Touch

A British-born artist from Canada is holding an exhibition of his 60 works of ukiyoe woodblock prints, part of his 10-year project to carve and print the Hyakunin Isshu poem collection.

Hyakunin Isshu is a set of 100 cards featuring 100 selected poems along with portraits of the poets who composed them.

Having lived in suburban Tokyo for nine years, David Bull has produced 10 prints a year since 1989 based on the original prints of Katsukawa Shunsho, an ukiyoe painter from the Edo Era.

In the Edo era, ukiyoe was produced by a painter, a carver, and a printer under the organization of a publisher.

The exhibition of the prints by David Bull will be held at the Grand Gallery Osaka from Jan. 30 to Feb. 4, following a recent Tokyo exhibition.

Born in Britain and brought up in Canada, Bull came across ukiyoe prints at a Toronto gallery while he was working for a music instrument leasing company.

Bull and his then wife toured Japan in 1981 and visited woodblock carvers in Asakusa Tokyo, with the hope of some day learning the craft. He moved to Japan with his family in July 1986 and started studying carving and printing techniques while earning a living by teaching English.

His 10-year Hyakunin Isshu project was initiated after he first saw Shunsho's paintings for the poem collection. He held the first exhibition in 1990. His works gradually gained recognition, and last year's exhibition sold 72 sets of 10 prints for 100,000 a set.

Bull says "Shunsho's work is actually very unusual; in most ukiyoe we can't see the personality, but in these portraits we can see the subject's deep personality."

"The old master carvers could carve lines that dance on the page. My lines don't move yet," he says.

TV Listings

The 'Woodblock Shimbun' has a full selection of TV programs on file. Videos available include some of David's news appearances, complete feature programs, and some short documentaries on his work. The files are in QuickTime format, and can be easily viewed with your browser.
Program listings are on the Index page ...

Enchanting Japan

Colourful woodblock prints - for people all over the world, to hear this phrase is to think of Japan. Japan has a long history of woodblock printing, or hanga, originally for illustrations for books. By the late seventeenth century, hanga in the ukiyo-e style came into its own as an art form, and prints came to be appreciated on their own merits. The many woodblock prints that accurately depict life in the Edo period are excellent examples of this tradition. Whether a print of a geisha, a kabuki actor strutting on stage, or even a completely modern image, the woodblock printing technique seems to provide the perfect means of expression to capture the essence of things Japanese. (1998)
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13 Another Lucky Number

David Bull is as insistent as he is stubborn. No sooner has he sat me down beside his workbench (the only warm room in the house), with younger daughter Fumi (16) creating a Web page on the computer on top of the "kotatsu," than he is demanding how much I know about "hanga" (woodblock prints). "Hanga were never made to be framed and hung on walls," he states. "Premodern Japan had no such tradition. Prints were objects, not images, to be looked at in natural light. The best way for the art of the craftsman to be appreciated is in your hands, at a window." (2002)
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World of Japanese Craftsmen: Printmaker David Bull

"Have you ever seen a woodblock print?" asked printmaker David Bull, with a twinkle in his eye. Up until that point, I thought had seen a fair few. He then turned off the light overhead and steered me toward the sunlight streaming through the window, putting one of his latest prints in my hands. Sure enough, what had seemed a lovely design under the harsh fluorescent lighting took on a new depth in the soft glow of the winter sunshine. The colors were richer, the fuzziness and subtle grain of the handmade paper was readily apparent and the impression left by the wood-blocks used to print the design could be seen to full advantage. (2001)
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