HOKUSAI: BEYOND THE GREAT WAVE EXHIBTION AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM LONDON
The Exhibition Hokusai: Beyond The Great Wave is being held in London at The British Museum where the famous Japanese Woodblock print ” The Great Wave Off Kanazawa” by Katsushika Hokusai can be seen from the 25th May to 13th August 2017.
Hukusai is one of Japan’s most famous and influential artists. But is Woodblock printing an art or craft? Christine Guth of The School of Oriental and African Studies at The University of London explains:
“Within Japan, woodblock prints weren’t seen as art, they were seen as a popular form of expression and commercial printing. Once used for Buddhist text, woodblock prints had become synonymous with illustrations for poems and romance novels so Japanese Government officials and art historians were less than thrilled that such a seemingly lowbrow art form had come to define them.”
Woodblock printed books from Chinese Buddhist temples were found in Japan as early as the eighth century but Woodblock printing began to be adopted during the Edo period between 1603 to 1868 where water-based inks were used as opposed to the oil-based inks in The West. Craftsmen decided that the running script style of Japanese writings could be better reproduced using woodblocks and by 1640 woodblocks were used for nearly all purposes.
Woodblock printing was time-consuming and expensive but far less so than the traditional method of writing out each copy by hand. The text or image was first drawn onto thin Japanese paper called “washi” and then glued face-down onto a plank of close-grained cherry wood. An incision was made along both sides of each line or area, and then the wood was chiseled away. The block was inked using a brush and a flat hand-held tool called a “baren” was used to press the paper against the inked woodblock to apply the ink to the paper.
The traditional “baren” was made of three parts. The inner core was made from bamboo leaves which were twisted into a rope of varying thicknesses and the nodules created applied the pressure to the print. The coil continued in a disk called an”ategawa” was made from layers of thin paper which were glued together and wrapped in a dampened bamboo leaf with the ends tied to create a handle. Modern printmakers have adapted this tool and today “barens” are made of aluminum with ball bearings to apply the pressure.