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.
Karakami is the woodblock-printed paper mainly used for Japanese sliding doors. Karakami made in Kyoto is called Kyokarakami. The origin of Karakami, which literally means “Chinese paper,” dates back to the Heian period (794-1192), when Japanese craftsmen in Kyoto began to make paper by modeling after the paper brought from China. Karakami was first used to write poems on it and then in the later periods it came to be used for Japanese sliding doors.
Karakami greatly developed in the middle of the Edo Period (1603-1868). In the book illustrations depicting craftsmen of this time, drawn in 1685 by Hishikawa Moronobu, a Kyokarakami craftsman working in his studio is included.
Kyokarakami is used for sliding doors at historical sites such as Katsura Detached Palace and temples, Japanese tea house and other traditional places. However, there is only one Kyokarakami producing studio in Kyoto today. There, more than 600 woodblock patterns made in the 17th century, each of which is elaborately hand-carved, are preserved and used according to the purpose of use.
The pigments are mixed with mica dust and an adhesive to create paint. The paint is brushed onto a fine mesh sieve covered with gauze and applied on the woodblock pattern by gently patting the sieve. The Washi paper is then pressed down with a gentle sweep of the hands and then carefully peeled away.
Mica dust in the pigments creates gentle and graceful gloss. It is exquisitely beautiful when the patterns on the paper twinkle softly along with flickering flames of a candle.
The city of Chiryu in Aichi Prefecture was the 39th of 53 post stations on the Old Tokaido Road from 1601 to the end of the Edo period. In 1604, the Tokugawa Shogunate ordered to plant pine trees on both sides of the Tokaido Road except the zones in the settlements. The row of pine trees protected travelers from the sunlight in summer and cold wind and snow in winter.
Today, as many as 170 pine trees continuing about 500 meters remain in Chiryu City. Byways built on both sides of the row were used for resting horses that were brought to a horse market. The prosperity of the horse market can be inferred from the stone monument erected in the market ruins site to the south of the road and Ando Hiroshige’s “The Fifty-three Post Stations of the Tokaido Road; Chiryu.” The row of pine trees was designated as a city’s cultural property in 1969.
Seta, Ishiyama’s Clear Stream refers to a particular view of the Seta river; Seta river runs through Shiga Prefecture's Otsu city. This is one of the 8 great views of Biwa Lake. The flowing Seta River, lit up by the rays of a setting sun, forms a backdrop for the Kara Bridge, one of the three major Japanese bridges.
Historically, this so-called ‘Seta’s evening sunlight’ has been an especially popular sight among Shiga's famous views. It is famed as one of the Omi Hakkei (Eight Views of Omi) of Ando Hiroshige. Another famous view in the area that appears in many literary works and Ukiyoe paintings is ‘Ishiyama’s Moon in Autumn'.
Even now, an old-fashioned houseboat is popular among sightseers. You can enjoy the unique beauty of all four seasons at Ishiyama temple or along the Seta river; in the Spring, cherry blossoms, during early Summer, azalea, in peak Summer, cool breezes, in Autumn, fall foliage, and in the Winter, a snowy landscape.
The many boats and canoes that now congregate near the Kara Bridge creates scenary very different from the Ukiyoe that Hiroshige painted. However, the scene of boats passing by the bridge in the evening is still quite beautiful, much like a scene straight out of a movie.
Kamigata Ukiyoe is ukiyoe print made mainly in Osaka dating from between the late Edo period and the early Meiji period (1800s).
The subjects of the paintings are dominated by Kabuki actors rather than beautiful women and scenic vistas. Unlike the prints made in Edo, today’s Tokyo, actors were painted as they were, without being beautified.
The technique to print woodblock prints in full color was invented in 1765 and the colored print style quickly took off and became popular among the common people in Edo.
In the next quarter century, Ukiyoe welcomed its golden age and Utamaro enjoyed his heyday. In 1791, right before Hokusai and Sharaku came to the scene, ukiyoe was starting to be made in Kamigata, today’s Kyoto and Osaka.
Kamigata Ukiyoe became known as “Osaka Prints” outside Japan and its collections are housed in art museums world wide including the British Museum.
Miho no Matsubara, or the Pine Groves of Miho, is a beauty spot located in Miho Peninsula in Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Pref. It is a seashore with 54,000 green pine trees and white sands spanning over 7 km. It has functioned as the windbreak forest to protect a fine port of Shimizu from the strong sea wind of Suruga Bay. The grove has been taken up as a theme of poems since the Heian period (794-1192) and was drawn in Ukiyoe paintings in the Edo period (1603-1868). On a fine day, Mt. Fuji can be seen over the pine trees.It is counted as one of Japan’s New Three Fine Views and Japan’s Three Fine Pine Groves. There is a legendary pine tree called “Hagoromo no Matsu (Pine tree of the Feathery Robe),” which is thought to be 650 years old. It is said that a maiden who danced down from the heaven and put her robe on a branch of the tree. A piece of the robe has been housed at vicinal Miho Shrine. Takigi-Noh (Noh by the light of burning torches) “Hagoromo” is performed every October, which has passed down the legend of Hagoromo to the present day.
Kanzashi, which are hair ornaments in traditional Japanese hir styles, came into wide use during the Edo period, when artisans in Edo (present-day Tokyo) acquired the techniques of making Hana Kanzashi in Kyoto. These kanzashi are created from squares of thin silk fabric by a technique called “tsumami-zaiku.” Each square is multiply folded and combined with another to create patterns of flowers and birds. In the middle of the Edo period, not only kanzashi but also combs and kusudama (++) were made. As these articles were beautiful in color and reasonable in price, they were favored as souvenirs. In a Ukiyoe painting that was painted between the late Edo period and the early Meiji period, a woman wearing a kanzashi that seems in tsumami-zaiku style is depicted. At the present time, Edo tsumami kanzashi are popular hair ornaments worn at some formal occasions like New Year’s Day, coming-of-age ceremonies, Shichi-Go-San and Japanese traditional dancing recitals.
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.