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Artist Recreates Surimono Woodblock Masterpieces

Fascinated by the beauty of Edo-style woodblock prints, Canadian artist David Bull began carving and printing his own versions of traditional Japanese prints almost 30 years ago, just to please himself.

Now living in Japan, Bull is one of a small group of craftsmen working to reproduce Japan's popular ukiyo-e and other woodblock prints.

In 1998, the Canadian printmaker completed a set of reproductions of Katsukawa Shunsho's illustrations for the 'Hyakunin lsshu' (One Hundred Poets), which is a collection of 100 poems by different poets. It took him 10 years to complete that project.

Since then, Bull has been working to reproduce prints called surimono, forgotten woodblock masterpieces that were privately printed and received only a small circulation among the general public, unlike the more famous ukiyo-e prints.

Next week, about 20 of Bull's delicately carved surimono wood-block prints will go on display at his annual exhibition at Gallery Shinjuku Takano in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward. This show, called 'Surimono Albums' is Bull's second showing of his surimono prints.

Dating from the 1760s to 1860s, typical surimono style blends an image and poetry in one print.

Using fairly simple and straightforward styles, surimono themes included historical events, scenes from kabuki dramas, still-lifes and seasonal landscapes in nature.

Bull uses the same traditional techniques that the original craftsmen used, and his show will feature fine carvings and prints, including reproductions of Toyota Hokkei's Spring Fuji, Kitao Shigemasa's Yoshiwara Courtesan, Isoda Koryusai's Peony and Sparrow, Katsushika Hokusai's Soshi the Philosopher, Ando Hiroshige's Evening Rain at Eitai Bridge, Yashima Gakutei's Warrior and Tiger and many more.

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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Craftsman Carves Poetry in Wood

"I am not an artist," says woodblock carver David Bull. The 40-year-old Canadian distinguishes himself clearly from the creative talents who produce the original drawings for woodblock prints. "I am a craftsman." he says. Born in England and raised in Canada, Bull was originally trained as a classical flutist, and for some time pursued a career in music, which ranged from making classical guitars to conducting youth orchestras to playing bass in a rock band. (1992)
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Traditional Craft, Crisis or ... ?

As a worker in the field of traditional Japanese crafts, one of the most common things I hear from visitors to my workshop is, "Isn't it a pity that wonderful crafts like this are dying out nowadays." We sometimes tend to view traditional crafts as being superior to modern ways of doing things, but I have to wonder about this. I am sure that the craftsmen of old did not view their work in special terms. I think that they were simply people 'doing a job'. (1994)
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