Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Neo-Ukiyo-e: Modernising Japan's traditional art form

You may have heard of the Ukiyo-e style of printmaking, the art form made popular in Japan's Edo period (17th - 19th century), or at some point you'll probably have seen Katsushika Hokusai's Great Wave print. It was a method of woodblock printing whereby several visual elements within the piece would be etched out of a separate woodblock, and each individual colour applied to paper in sequence to build up the image. Many prints from the Edo period depict everyday lives and famous scenes throughout the land, and now a lot of them are considered masterpieces.

However, I recently came across the term Neo-Ukiyo-e and wondered what it referred to. It is in fact another name for a movement known as Shin-hanga, which came about in the early 20th century as a means to revive the Ukiyo-e style. But it differs slightly from the traditional form of the classics, incorporating more of the common western techniques of lighting and perspective. There isn't a great difference, but the works seem to pop out a little bit more and make us feel like we're almost there.

I was particularly intrigued by the artist Kawase Hasui, who is said to have focused on local scenes as opposed to famous imagery that would be more likely to sell. This resonates with me as I sometimes like to create work based around my memories of certain people or places, and although photography can now provide a snapshot of life today, I think there is still scope to depict scenes through illustration in a way that photography can't even begin to replicate. 

I would like to try my hand at woodblock printing some day, but in the mean time I am continually inspired by works like this and I look forward to depicting some of the less often seen sights that matter to me....in a manner that I know how.