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Kabuki Actor

Posted by Dave Bull at 8:00 AM, June 6, 2005

Time for some drama in the series! Things have been pretty quiet up to now, to say the least, so here's something to wake you up! The image was produced by Nishimura Shigenobu for the publisher Iseya, probably sometime in the 1730's. Going by the large actor's crest illustrated on the kimono, this is Ogino Isaburo, one of the popular actors of that day. As to which scene from which play is being depicted here, my browse through various reference books has turned up no particular information. It looks as though he has been hiding in a well, and this is the dramatic moment when he leaps out, draws his sword, and puts the 'bad guys' to rout. Perhaps one of you collectors - any kabuki fans among you? - will be able to fill in some details for me.

This is not a precise reproduction of the original print. Full-colour printmaking was still sometime in the future at the time this was created, and it was published in the urushi-e format (lacquer print). The black outlines were printed from a woodblock in the standard manner, but colouring was applied to each print in turn by hand with a brush, and the darkest areas of the image were coated with shiny black lacquer.

I did make a reproduction of an urushi-e in one of my Surimono Albums, carefully painting all the colours on each print in turn, but I'm sorry, reduced to this tiny format, and with my very tight schedule, it was impossible for me to do that this time! So I 'jumped ahead' in time a couple of decades, and cut a set of woodblocks for printing the colours. It makes me realize just how much of a technical advance colour printing must have been in those days. In place of rows of painters dabbing colour onto prints one-by-one, trying to remain reasonably within the lines, printers could 'churn them out' in massive numbers, and with much more precise registration.

Of course, they too would be rendered obsolete around a century and a half later, but during their time, they had a pretty good run of it!

Monday, June 6, 2005

(Here's the print in context in the Treasure Chest series.)


Following comment posted by: Lauren Page on July 21, 2005 12:49 AM

I meant to comment on this before... I love the circular patterns that appear throughout this print, from the water in the well to the designs on the kimono to the curve of the sword. Even though the print itself is still, all those circles make it spin and swirl.

Following comment posted by: Corbin Campbell on September 5, 2005 11:24 AM

I am beginning to research this print for an upper division art history course at CSU Chico. Fortunately, we have two (almost certainly originals) prints. Interestingly, one of the prints has what appears to be gold flecks upon the shinguards, wristguards, neck armor, and another spot near the stomach. The curator of the Janet Turner Print Museum at Chico State believes this to be carefully applied micah, although she said she'd never seen micah used in this manner on an ukiyo-e print. The heavy black ink of the outer coat-like garment is cracking on both prints.

Following comment posted by: Dave on September 5, 2005 12:20 PM

> flecks upon the shinguards, wristguards ...

That would kind of make me think that what you might be looking at there is a Meiji reproduction/forgery; it was very common during that era to make excellent copies of the old prints, and there was still a lot of old paper around ... Hard to say more without seeing it close-up ...

The copy I worked from to make my reproduction is a Meiji-era copy (perhaps Taisho), and shows scattered bright coloured flecks here and there. I don't think these are mica, but are an indication that the paper was perhaps strongly sized before printing. The size breaks down and softens over the years, but frequently leaves behind these flecks in the paper ... they are actually small hard glue fragments.

>The heavy black ink of the outer coat-like garment is cracking on both prints.

This is black lacquer ... and usually ends up cracked and broken ... very attractive!

Following comment posted by: Corbin on October 30, 2005 4:14 AM

The research paper that I wrote concerning the original print can be found here: http://ccampbell11.deviantart.com/

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