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Fuji from Edo Castle

Posted by Dave Bull at 1:05 AM, October 15, 2006 [Permalink]

As you know, the ten prints in this Small Print Collection were all originally made to be sent out to my friends and collectors at the turn of each new year. There is of course a Japanese term for such cards - nengajo. I myself generally like to avoid using that word, because the ones I make differ from traditional nengajo in a number of ways.

For a start, I never use the zodiac signs that are such an important part of the traditional calendar in Asia. You might think it a bit silly of me, but I have such a strong dislike of astrology that I just can't bring myself to get involved with them.

A second difference is that I avoid including a greeting message as part of the design, something that is common with nengajo. This is perhaps a bit selfish of me - I just don't want to spoil the beautiful designs with a hackneyed 'Happy New Year!' message.

But perhaps the most distinctive feature of my greeting prints is that I don't have a strong sense of a 'new year' as a specifically 'celebratory' event, and will thus sometimes select images that may seem somewhat mis-matched to the season. This print is perhaps a good example, as I think some people might have thought it a bit too 'grey'.

It is a reproduction of one of the pages from Fugaku Hyakkei, the most famous of Katsushika Hokusai's many book designs. That entire book is printed in a few shades of sumi; no colours appear in it at all. I have studied that book for many years now, and every time I open it am struck again at the incredible variety of moods and atmospheres that he created with such a limited palette.

So please erase from your mind any thought that grey = sad and dreary. If it helps you to appreciate this print, imagine you are seeing it in an era before the introduction of colour television - we never had a problem seeing everything on those old screens in a completely natural way, did we!

Monday, October 16, 2006

(Here's the print in context in the Small Print Collection.)


Following comment posted by: Marc on October 21, 2006 10:12 AM

Beautiful use of the limited palette! Wonderful design by Hokusai. Excellent execution by Dave Bull. My favorite of the Small Print Collection, so far. Bravo!

Following comment posted by: Dave on October 21, 2006 10:19 AM

Thanks Marc! Glad you like it ... not everybody shares your opinion!

Wouldn't it be an incredible project ... to reproduce the whole book - all three volumes, at actual size, as finely printed as possible ...

Completely impossible, of course - I can't imagine how many years it would take me!

Following comment posted by: Steve (siznax) on June 6, 2011 4:09 AM

it's a beautiful design, and i'm sure it's masterfully executed. i'll be interested to compare this image to whatever version i can find in the library.

the profile of Mount Fuji appears to be extruded (perhaps it actually looked this way at some point?) complimenting the vertical aspect, and the small bird perched atop the roof ornament is endearing. it makes me wonder if Hokusai was telling us something by placing this tiny creature above both Mount Fuji and the imperial castle.

knowing little of Japanese culture, i was curious to know what the design actually depicts. i gather from the title and the perspective that it is some kind of roof ornament.

the internet tells me that it may be crafted in the form of a "Shachihoko", which is an animal in Japanese folklore with the body of a carp and the head of a dragon, and because folklore held that this animal could summon rain, its form often adorned the roofs of temples and castles to protect them from fire. [Wikipedia]

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