Ralph Kiggell is a British artist who was born in Zambia in 1960. He is a woodblock printer, whose work is strongly influenced by East Asia.
Since he was a child, he had always been interested in Japanese woodblock prints. Works by masters such as HOkusai and Utamaro could be seen periodically in special exhibitions at the British Museum in London.
In 1990, Ralph Kiggell came to Japan to study woodblock printing. He first studied at the Yoshida Hanga Academy in Tokyo under Tsukasa Yoshida, the son of Toshi Yoshida, and the grandson of Hiroshi Yoshida. Later, he learned contemporary woodblock printing techniques at Kyoto Seika University and at Tokyo’s Tama Art University.
Kiggell enjoys the sensitivity of Japanese woodblock printing, because the whole process is carried out by hand using hand-made and natural materials. There is an organic connection from hand to wood to paper. Kiggell thinks that in the digital age that we live in, woodblock printing has particular resonance as an important medium for contemporary artistic expression.
Ichibee Iwano was born in 1933 in Imadate in Fukui Prefecture. He is known as the son of the 8th Iwano Ichibee, who was designated a Living National Treasure for his work making washi (Japanese paper) in Echizen.
His son, the 9th Ichibee Iwano, was also designated a Living National Treasure in 2002. The paper he crafted was beloved by many artists, such as Picasso. He inherited his temperament for this work from the 8th and, for 60 years, worked hard to make the best washi.
Ichibee Iwano's paper is stiff, and is not easily torn. Its thickness prevents the paper from blotting. He also created an extremely thin paper for publishing reprints of Katsushika Hokusai's woodblock prints. To print these, it is necessary to rub the back of the paper with a special burnishing implement called a baren a few hundred times. To be sure, it is difficult to make a thin paper that withstands these rubbings. However, the 9th smiles and asserts that 'The harder it is, the better it is.' The spirit of craftsmanship may even exceed that of his father.
Ukiyoe are woodblock prints depicting aspects of life in the Edo period. 'Ukiyo' means the present world and ukiyoe are pictures that take as their subject daily life, scenery and people during that period.
Lives of the common people were first depicted in Kyoto during the Azuchi-momoyama period. After that, ukiyoe spread and became popular among many people in the Edo period.
In the beginning, depictions of people were only painted by hand or printed in a few light colours. But with advances in printing techniques and the improvement in quality of paper, colorful prints called nishikie, were also made and became popular.
The subject matter of ukiyoe varies from figures, such as beautiful ladies, actors and samurai, to famous views and humorous stories.
Although the artistic level of ukiyoe is very high, they were only printed to be used as fliers or posters. In the Meiji period, they were even used as a wrapping paper for export pottery. Many foreign artists were influenced by the prints that they saw this way.
Ukiyoe is famous all over the world and attracts many people.
The Yumeji Local Art Museum Branch, located in Setonai, Okayama Prefecture, commemorates the birthplace of Yumeji Takehisa, who lived here until the age of 16.
Yumeji Takehisa was a lyrical and roving artist/poet whose work is representative of the Taisho Romantic style. Yumeji was born in 1884 (Meiji 17) in the town of Oku. Surrounded by beautiful mountains and rivers, this environment must lie at the roots of Yumeji's art.
The Yumeji museum exhibits Yumeji's sketches and block prints. Near the window are drawing marks he made for his beloved sister who had married. There is a monument at the museum entrance with the words, 'Takehisa Yumeji was born here' by Ikuma Arishima, one of Yumeji's best supporters. Next door, there is a recreation of Yumeji's studio, designed by him and now called the Yumeji Youth Lodge. Yumeji fans should definitely pay a visit to the poet's birthplace.
Hagoita, or kogiita as they were known in olden times, were used as decorative battledores or presented as New Year gifts. Hagoita were believed to repel evil, and had connotations of healthy growth.
In the late Edo period, a Chinese technique called 'oshi' was first used for hagoita. A design is made, then cardboard is tacked against a board, which is covered with cloth to give a 3-d effect.
At that time, the merchant Edo culture had entered a mature stage with the creativity of ukiyo-e, woodblock prints of popular subjects. Like ukiyo-e, hagoita featured similar designs with portraits of Kabuki actors being very popular. At the annual year-end fairs in Edo, many people bought hagoita with portraits of popular actors.
Even today, beautiful hagoita make a popular gift to bring luck at New Year or to be presented as a special gift.
Hiroshi Kibe is a craftsman of Edo karakami, and was born in 1931 in Asakusabashi, Tokyo.
'Karakami' means Chinese paper; 'kara' is the old Japanese name for China and 'kami' means paper. In the mid-Heian period, people started to make paper using Chinese methods. By the Edo period, Edo karakami was a well-established paper craft which used used many decorative techniques, such as stencilling, stripe-printing and dusting with powder dyes.
In 1950, Hiroshi succeeded to his father's business, and became involved in karakami printing. His karakami of colorful birds or people in 'sarasa' patterns are especially beautiful and are used for sliding doors.
Hiroshi says, 'No one will be either a master or a failure at this work. The important things are to work carefully and to think of who will be using the final product. Sliding doors involve completing a set of several doors, so I make efforts to ensure that each door is finished in the same way and is tasteful.'
Hiroshi was designated as a Tokyo Traditional Craftsman. In 1997, he was also designated as a Traditional Craftsman of Katsushika-ku.
Kyoto woodblock printing began in the Asuka period. It was widely used as illustration, for patterns on common fabric, and on folding fans. This form of printmaking has an incomparable power, depth and individuality.
In the Asuka period, woodblock-printed sutra texts from Korea were copied in Kyoto, some of them with simple Buddhist pictures. By the Edo period, woodblock printing in Kyoto was flourishing. The inimitable art of Japan astonished the West when they first saw it at world expositions.
Kyoto woodblock printing gradually evolved as one of its classical forms of art and culture. It uses typical Japanese pigments, such as 'gofun' and 'kira', which are handmade using a method called 'Kyo-gonomi'. Even though this printing method became standardized in Japan, it still possesses the soul of Kyoto, beloved by contemporary people.