A bit of background ...
My name is David Bull, I live in Japan, and am a woodblock
print 'craftsman' - that is to say, I cut blocks
of wood, and print sheets of paper, making reproductions of
old Japanese prints using only the original techniques.
I do not usually call myself
a 'printmaker', because that term has pretty much come to imply
that the person also creates the imagery present on the paper.
I have been making woodblock prints professionally since the late 1980s, producing a new set of prints every year.
The set I made during 2004 was the 'Beauties of Four
Seasons', comprising four prints of the bijin-ga
(beautiful woman picture) type.
Once the first print in the series was issued, I started to
receive comments and
feedback from viewers, and I realized that there were two very
different ways that people were 'seeing' the prints that I was
making. For one group (and I should say right up front that this
includes me), prints of this type are purely decorative; the
important points are colour, line, and visual effect, and the
pleasure in the viewing comes from appreciation of the skill of
the artist and craftsmen at creating a 'beautiful' object.
The other camp likes to look 'inside' and see more; they want
to see personality, emotion, and 'meaning'.
Now I'm not such a fool as to try and claim that art cannot
perform both of these functions. But I do think that by-and-large,
the world has come to see much more of the second 'theme' in the
Japanese prints than was actually intended by their creators. I
do believe that their main purpose was decoration, pure and simple.
But what to make of this particular print series? At first glance
the images are no more or less 'decorative' than any other prints
of that era, but each one carries a very short descriptive caption
implying that we should be looking deeper. Obviously
then, these prints cannot be looked on as just decoration.
I didn't want to 'give up' quite so easily though, so I tried
a little experiment with a few friends. I showed them the five
images, and asked them to match the pictures with the descriptive titles.
I wanted to see if there actually was enough 'feeling'
visible in the finished work to enable them to be correctly matched.
The results were quite entertaining, leading me to think that
a wider audience may also be interested in playing this little
'game'. I won't spoil your pleasure in the quiz by telling you
at this point just how well (or poorly) viewers are able to sense the
emotions that Utamaro wanted to make them feel; after your input
from the entry form (below) is received, you will be shown a
read-out of the correct match-ups, along with a total of the
accumulated scores to date.
The small images visible on this page don't show enough detail,
so enlargements have been prepared, and clicking the images at the
left will 'pop' them up.
If your browser cannot do that, then click on the thumbnails below
instead; an enlargement will come into view, and you can return with
your 'Back' button. Once you have studied them all, make your selection
with the form. (You have one chance only; the quiz script will reject
a second attempt!)
Decoration ... or more 'meaningful' art? You decide!
Thank you for your interest in my work!
Dave Bull, 2005