Warrior and Tiger

Those of you who were collectors of my first Surimono Album last year may remember that I wrote in one of these little stories about the prints being mostly very 'quiet'. At that time I mentioned that I might look for some designs that were a bit more lively and exciting. Well, how about this one? When I first saw this print, a design by Yashima Gakutei, I assumed that it was a scene from a kabuki drama, but I was incorrect; this story is older than that - it is an episode from the old set of tales known as the Uji Shui Monogatari - the Tales of Uji. The particular story concerns a warrior of old who is involved in a violent incident with his master and flees to Korea to escape punishment. While there, he distinguishes himself by killing a tiger that has been ravaging local villages, and this act of bravery serves to exonerate him for his previous misdeed when he later returns to Japan.

I doubt that Gakutei ever saw a tiger in the flesh. When I first saw this print thought that there might actually be two of them here, one in front, and another one behind the tree. But the exaggeration of the animal's shape is just artistic licence I suppose.

Gakutei made a series of prints from the Tales of Uji, and in future Surimono Albums I will be including more of them; I very much like how they imitate the appearance of mounting a print and a poem 'card' side by side on an album sheet with an embossed design (blossoms and the Bunbunsha poetry group circular 'mark' made up of the character for 'bun' repeated).


Last month I explained to you that the design for the print came from a collection over in America, and this month too I have a similar story. The original print that I have reproduced is in the collection of the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas. The curators there kindly allowed me permission to make this reproduction, and provided me with a color slide of the print for my work. I also had access to a published book illustration of that same copy of the print, and interestingly enough, the colours on the two photographs were quite different in tone, as they had apparently been taken under differing lighting conditions. Working from small photographs like this is far from the best situation for making a reproduction; details of fine Edo-era surimono like these simply cannot be 'captured' in a photograph, and I am very much handicapped by not being able to have the originals beside me as I work. But this seems unavoidable, as it simply isn't possible to travel every month and do my work sitting in museum rooms and studying the original at every stage. Perhaps one day, if I can improve my skills enough, it will be the other way around - instead of me having to 'beg' the museums and collectors of the original prints to let me have a 'peek' at them, it will be they who bring their prints to me to have them included in my Albums ... Dream on ...

This is without question the most technically advanced print I have yet made. I inlaid boxwood inserts at two places in the keyblock, so that the warrior's face and the calligraphy of the poetry would be on this hard wood, far denser than cherrywood and thus allowing finer lines to be carved. There are more blocks than I have ever used before, the registration is critical in absolutely every area of the design, and the metal powder that you see on the clothing and other places on the print is far more difficult and time-consuming to print than 'normal' colour. But of course I think that the end result is well worth it ...

I hope you enjoy the result too, although I have to ask that you please don't expect to find this sort of thing every month when you open your package! (And in fact next month's print will be much more restrained ... we will be back to the 'quiet life' for a while ...)

October 2000