The outstanding Art of Ukiyo-e – A Look at contemporary Pieces: ‘Ukiyo-e Heroes’

'Battle of the Bath House', who might be first in the tub?! Street Fighter
‘Battle of the Bath House’, who might be first in the tub?! ‘Street Fighter’

Another ‘accidental’ finding while browsing for material for an upcoming article. It can’t be necessarily considered news, as it made rounds about 2 years ago, yet it might be still interesting to some readers. As the images give away, I am talking about Japanese woodblock printing, or UKIYO-E (浮世絵・うきよえ), which basically means ‘pictures of the fleeting world’.

Before I go into the actual post, a few words on what the art means to me. I couldn’t call myself a connoisseur really, but I do know that it is one of the art forms I absolute adore and that it is outstanding craftsmanship. A few years ago, I had the fortune to see an exquisite exhibition of KATSUSHIKA HOKUSAI, with a friend in Fukuoka and another magnificent display of UTAGAWA KUNIYOSHI prints in Osaka with my brother. I still vividly remember ‘Musashi on the Back of a Whale’. I always look at the Ukiyo-e as windows to the past with their intricate and beautiful depictions of historical events, folktales, satire, erotica, scenery and celebrities of each respective era, such as OIRAN (花魁・おいらん) and Kabuki actors. The prints are the predecessors of manga as we find them today. Both mediums have been appreciated as sort of entertainment for the people of the time. Even though manga gets down played often in Western views, just like Ukiyo-e back in Edo, it documents trends in culture and society, no less reflects what is on people’s mind at the time of creation.

Mastering the art of Ukiyo-e is said to take decades and to produce a single print is a rather time consuming process – compared to more conventional methods nowadays, a lot more costly, too. These aspects could be one of the reasons, why new blood to rejuvenate this traditional style of printing in some areas seems to lack. Our hasty world appears to be even more transient and ephemeral as ever before. People are in for the short-lived distractions, rather consumers than creators. Each art form has then to rely on devoted individuals and striking ideas to keep it alive or to be re-discovered. Although Ukiyo-e has its fervent admirers and collectors, a new breeze in the trade had been missing for decades. A project that took forms in 2012, however, brought modern appeal and a new audience to the Ukiyo-e genre. Illustrator JED HENRY and DAVE BULL, traditional woodblock printmaker stationed in Tokyo, teamed up for a groundbreaking venture by the name UKIYO-E HEROES that was backed by a KICKSTARTER campaign, which received an overwhelming support. Ukiyo-e Heroes, is a spectacular picture collection of fine woodblock and Giclée prints of popular video game characters, beautifully recreated in a medieval setting and designed in this traditional art form by these two artists. According to Jed Henry (initiator also of the fighting RPG game EDO SUPERSTAR), game characters as they have been created in Japan are by implication a product of the rich inherited culture of the country and thus fuse naturally in this creative project. The success of the project has proved him right.

As woodblock prints of artisans of olden days let us glimpse into the Edo period, Henry’s and Bull’s leave images for generations ahead to see what entertainment was appreciated by people of our age. Personally, I would like to see more such creative surges in this genre, which could portray scenes of everyday life in modern-day Japan. For instance, the ever-changing capital alone should provide endless ‘fleeting world’ inspiration. How about ‘The 63 Street Views of Tokyo’ depicting frequented districts in the city or so – you go from there…

Down below, I listed some of the Giclées and prints I liked the most as well as a video of Dave Bull, giving explanations on the making process of an actual print in the Ukiyo-e Heroes series.

'The Soul Eater', Kirby's Dream Land
‘The Soul Eater’, your nightmare has a name: ‘Kirby’s Dream Land’
'Rickshaw Cart' Mario and King Bowser on the Nihonbashi course? 'Mario Kart'
‘Rickshaw Cart’ Mario and King Bowser on the Nihonbashi course? ‘Mario Kart’
'Infestation', Samus Aran, last one standing: 'Metroid'
‘Infestation’, Samus Aran, last one standing: ‘Metroid’
'The Last Arrow', the legend continues: 'Legend of Zelda'
‘The Last Arrow’, the legend continues: ‘Legend of Zelda’
'Barrel and Hammer', monkey don't fall far from the tower: 'Donkey Kong'
‘Barrel and Hammer’, monkeys don’t fall far from the tower: ‘Donkey Kong’
'Fox Moon', knights of the night: 'Star Fox'
‘Fox Moon’, knights of the night: ‘Star Fox’
'The Power of Vanquished Souls', tattooed from toe to head: 'Rockman', or 'Mega Man' in Western spheres.
‘The Power of Vanquished Souls’, tattooed from toe to head: ‘Rockman’, or ‘Mega Man’ in Western spheres
'The Queen', another homage to 'Metroid'.
‘The Queen’, another homage to ‘Metroid’
Dracula slayer Simon Belmont: 'Castlevania'
‘Yokai Dracula’, demon slayer Simon Belmont: ‘Castlevania’
'The Hero Rests', Okarina of Time?: 'Legend of Zelda'
‘The Hero Rests’, Okarina of Time?: ‘Legend of Zelda’
'The Wolf Goddess', Amaterasu, the sun goddess, in wolf form: 'Okami'
‘The Wolf Goddess’, Amaterasu, the sun goddess, in wolf form: ‘Okami’


©MyLittle Dejima

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