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David Bull: Woodblock Print Artist

"Japan is such a fascinating country! Individual energy is balanced, so that individuals and society operate in step with each other. I'm not going home to Canada. I'm grateful if I can carve woodbIocks, and I'm delighted to see my skills improve - nothing gives me greater pleasure!" The enthusiasm shown by David Bull (47), an English-born Canadian, is enough to make any Japanese happy.

As a child, Bull moved from place to place with his saxophonist father. He studied music at the University of British Columbia, but quit after a year. He also studied flute in London, but soon returned to Vancouver on the west coast of Canada, where he found employment in a music store.

One day he saw some ukiyo-e prints in a small gallery in Toronto, and was immediately hooked. Later, on the transcontinental railroad that spans the North American continent, be met a Japanese woman, whom he later married.

His wife agreed to return with him back to her homeland, where he wanted to study woodblock carving. They brought their two daughters with them, little Fumi strapped to mommy's back, and Himi led by the hand.

To support his family, Bull opened an English conversation school and, using his multifarious talents, made and sold handcrafted wooden toys while teaching himself the art of woodblock printing.

"I was watching the children play with traditional Japanese playing cards, which I had never seen before," he recalls. "Some of them reproduced prints by Ogata Korin, Kitagawa Utamaro, and Katsushika Hokusai. The ones that really caught my eye, though, were by Katsukawa Shunsho, who was active in the mid-Edo period."

"Each of the men that Shunsho depicts has his own individual character. Their faces are similar, but their clothes and gestures are different; it was the character of his men, and the poses of his women, that attracted me to his prints."

Bull has been studying Edo-period woodblock printing for the past 18 years. In the Edo period carving and printing were two separate occupations, but Bull does both, using only technologies that were available when the originals were made over 200 years ago.

"There was a division of labor between carvers and printers, but that era is over." he says decisively. "It's just a natural result of the changing times. If you don't maintain communication with your audience, the quality of your work won't improve. It's no wonder that the old-style artisans have no successors."

Last January, Bull finished carving and printing his reproduction of the last print in Shunsho's masterful series, One Hundred Portraits.

That 10-year project now completed, he's set his sights on new horizons.

With the rapid development of computer technology, Bull is reaching out overseas via the Internet and has created a group called 'Baren' (named after the round pad used to press the paper against the inked woodblock) where members exchange opinions and information about different techniques and materials and with the participation of professional artists overseas, operates on the cutting edge of the woodblock print world.

"lt's just a personal thing," he says, "but I'd like to try my hand at carving four or five lines within the space of one millimetre."

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 ...

In the wake of Hokusai

From behind his shaggy beard, affable British-born Canadian woodblock printmaker David Bull ended our interview at his studio in western Tokyo with what sounded like a challenge ... (2008)
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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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Canadian artist wins top prize of 1,000,000 yen in Essay Contest

David Bull, a citizen of Canada and Britain, received 1,000,000 yen, the top award, for his winning essay in the fourth annual "Save the Earth" contest on Saturday at the Yomiuri Shimbun headquarters in Tokyo ... (1994)
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