Blocks that beckon
Ukiyo-e prints are expressive forms of graphic art produced in the medium of woodblocks
SHOWCASING A pinnacle of the Japanese culture to the Chennai audience is an exhibition of Ukiyo-e prints, generally acknowledged as one of the most sensuous, complex and expressive forms of graphic art produced in the woodblock medium anywhere in the world.
The art of ukiyo-e meaning `pictures of the floating world,' originated in the 17th Century metropolitan culture of Edo (present-day Tokyo) and was closely connected with the contemporary urban pleasures of theatres, teahouses, geisha and courtesans. With the rise of the merchant class, ordinary life became the extraordinary focus, and before long several essential themes emerged.
Never entirely abandoning classical subjects such as landscapes, the popular ukiyo-e print themes included beautiful women and actors of the kabuki theatre who provided the context for idealised portraiture and depictions of the most current fashions.
Ukiyo-e was the result of the collaboration among artist, woodblock cutter, printer and publisher, their skill and creativity yielding designs of utmost refinement, as well as imaginative, earthy expressions of the lives of the commoners. The early `sumi-e' prints in black pigment that were sometimes hand-coloured, are often wonderfully expressive and powerful works of art. Multi-block colour prints then appeared and were followed by the widespread production and commercialisation of full-colour brocade prints in the 1760s.
Reproductions of the best known Japanese prints by Katsushika Hokusai, indisputably the greatest ukiyo-e artist, including his famed series `Thirty-six Views of Fuji' and Ando Hiroshige's `Fifty-three stations of the Tokaido Highway' are on display at this exposition.
`The Breaking Wave off Kanagawa' also called `The Great Wave' is from the former series, depicting a remarkably humane view where the yin violence of Nature is dismissed by the yang relaxed confidence of expert fishermen huddled in their boats.
Sharing space with the reproductions of prints by masters such as Masanobu, Moronobu, Utamaro, Hokusai and Hiroshige among others is an original 200-year-old woodblock print by the hand of Kuniyoshi, still as eloquent today as the day it was pulled. The extraordinary attention to detail is evident in the subtle black-on-black designs just about noticeable on the drapery.
Intended to coincide with the celebration of 400 years of Edo, this visual feast suitably numbering about 400 prints has been organised by the Tamilnadu Centre of AKS-AOTS Dosokai, an organisation consisting of members who have benefited from training in various disciplines in Japan and are dedicated to promoting Japanese art, culture and tradition in India.
Open until October 10 at the Lalit Kala Akademi, the exhibition of ukiyo-e prints, accompanied as it is by lilting sounds of Japanese music is indeed an evocative encounter enabling the viewer to examine and appreciate the evolution of an art, which over two-and-a-half centuries, developed its unique expressiveness, beauty and vitality, in turn exerting a profound influence on the Western masters of the late 19th Century.
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