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Woodblock News
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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 ...

Shokunin vs Craftsman

During the seven years that I have been living here in Japan and studying woodblock printmaking, I have visited many shokunin and have enjoyed long discusions with them about their life and work. I have been surprised by many of the things they have said, and have come to realize that their thinking is sometimes quite different from my Western conceptions of a craftsman. (1993)
Full Story.

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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'Youngest' Ukiyo-e Craftsman

Ukiyoe, the Japanese art form most familiar to foreigners, was not always highly appreciated. In its earlier days during the Edo period, ukiyoe prints were used to wrap fish, similar to how people use newspaper comics to wrap garbage. Though its reputation gradually improved, mainly due to its popularity with Westerners, it may be to no avail. Ukiyoe and the traditional woodblock printmaking craft is dying in Japan. With less than 40 members in the crafts guild, all of them over 60 years old, and no apprentices, this art form is close to extinction. (1992)
Full Story.