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Winter ...

Posted by Dave Bull at 5:58 PM, December 4, 2004

You realize of course, that the word 'winter' can refer not only to a season of the year, but to a season of life ... The previous three prints in this series - as far as we can tell - portrayed youngish women; that is what one generally expects to see when thinking about a collection of 'beauties', but beauty is not a monopoly of the young ...

When I was in my twenties, I am sure that it was the women around me of a similar age who caught my eye; at that time I would probably never have thought of a woman in her 50s as beautiful. Thirty years later - now in my 50s - I have no such trouble at all, and the knowledge of how my viewpoint has evolved of course makes me wonder about what I will be thinking when yet another 30 years have passed and I am in my 80s. But I think it is no place of mine to be 'lecturing' my collectors on what is beautiful and what is not. Suffice it to say that the moment I first saw this print, something about it captivated me, and I determined to reproduce it for myself.

It was about four or five years ago. I was prowling the bookshops of the Jimbocho district in Tokyo one day; on that particular trip I was searching for scraps of old paper to use in mending old damaged prints, and had asked one of the dealers if he had any torn and worthless prints. He gestured toward a drawer, "See what you can find in that pile of junk ..." I did find a number of scraps of the type of paper I was searching for, but also came across this print, which was buried near the bottom of the pile. The dealer knew nothing at all about it, who designed it nor where it had come from. It carried neither signature nor seal. In style it was utterly unlike any other print either of us had ever seen. It appears to be a woodcut reproduction of a photograph, and going by technical points seems to have been produced by professional craftsmen, rather than by an artist working by himself. It is very difficult to date; going by the type and apparent age of the paper, and certain details of the production, about all one can say is 'mid-20th century'.

Since finding it that day I have made extensive inquiries of printmakers, dealers, and galleries both here in Japan and around the world, and have never found anyone who can offer even the slightest clue about the origin of this print. I have been able to turn up some information on the image itself; I made an internet search of fabric and embroidery patterns, and discovered that the patterns on her head-dress indicate that she is almost certainly from Turkmenistan in Central Asia. Further discussion with people with knowledge of that region establishes that this sort of image was a common type in mid-20th century Soviet propaganda art - a 'contented' member of one of the ethnic minority groups posed looking off into the 'happy Soviet future'. But the route from a Soviet-era photograph to a woodblock print in a junk drawer in a Tokyo bookshop? I have not the slightest idea ...

The dealer asked only a few thousand yen for the collection of material I had selected from the drawer, so that print became 'mine', but possession of a piece of paper does not give one any ownership rights in the image. I wanted very much to include this image in my series, but without knowing who to ask for permission, was technically not able to. As you can see though, I decided to take a chance and make a reproduction of this print, hoping that the 'permission' can come later, if ever necessary.

Perhaps at my upcoming exhibition, when the four prints of this series will be displayed to the general public for the first time, there will be somebody among the viewers who can fill in the blanks for me. If so, then when I finally have a chance to talk to the creator of this image (or the heirs), I hope they will understand why I felt it necessary to make this print and share the image with collectors and viewers around the world. A much better future for it than languishing in a junk drawer, I feel ...

December 2004


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