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Ukiyo-e Heroes
August 31, 2012 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Illustrator Jed Henry and woodblock printmaker David Bull recently collaborated on a set of videogame-inspired woodblock prints in the ukiyo-e style. Just recently funded through Kickstarter, the prints are already underway. There are videos of the creative process here and at the bottom of the first link.
posted by gilrain (53 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
woodblock printmaker David Bull

Metafilter's own woodblock100, even! The art is pretty darned great.
posted by cortex at 3:07 PM on August 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


Just dropped in to say, MetaFilter's own!

Woodblock's website is amazing. I especially like his quarterly newsletter, that journals his life ever since he picked up in the late 1980's and decided to call Japan home. Inspiring.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:14 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Heh
posted by KokuRyu at 3:16 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was waiting for the Kickstarter to end to post this, so yay! Congats on doing an awesome job and getting funded.
posted by griphus at 3:18 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yup. These are lovely. The contemporary references are handled subtly and with respect for the style. I endorse.
posted by davemee at 3:30 PM on August 31, 2012


Needs more engorged Donkey-Kong vittles.
posted by idiopath at 3:34 PM on August 31, 2012


Wow. Fantastic.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:44 PM on August 31, 2012


I love these. Samus' design is pretty inspired, I think. Mega Man and SMB are also great.
posted by curious nu at 3:45 PM on August 31, 2012




Dear Pop Culture:

I know irony is still king, but can we maybe have a moratorium (this is how you know I'm old, is because of the word moratorium) on video-game inspired stuff that isn't actually a video game?

It's just played out. Yeah, I know - you saw what I did there.

Sincerely,
LT
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 3:51 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sounds like someone doesn't get it.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 3:57 PM on August 31, 2012


Woodblock print + Mario = all kinds of awesome.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:02 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


what irony? Who is ironically enjoying this? How can you apply the concept of irony to something so cool looking? What is the opposite of ironically liking something? Really, really really liking it? Cause I really like Link and Ukiyo-e and now they're TOUCHING.
posted by The Whelk at 4:06 PM on August 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


A few years back when I was in art school and taking a seminar in Ukiyo-e, I stumbled across a video on an NHK rebroadcast here in the US. It showed a Japanese artist who discovered an old bookstore that had an attic full of original woodblocks from prints going back to the 17th century. Almost all of them were incomplete sets, some of the plates were lost over the centuries. The artist immediately purchased them all, and started sorting and cataloguing the woodblocks. Many were in good enough condition to print. Some of them were almost complete sets, missing only one color plate, so he researched and found the original artworks, studied them, reconstructed the missing woodblocks, and printed new editions.

More of that, and less ironic videogame mashup BS please.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:07 PM on August 31, 2012


Be the change you want to see, chuck.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 4:11 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


More of that, and less ironic videogame mashup BS please.

More making art, and less telling other people what art they should be making, please.
posted by aubilenon at 4:12 PM on August 31, 2012 [24 favorites]


I know that we've been thoroughly abusing the word "irony" for the last decade or so, but this doesn't qualify even under that debased definition. My guess is that people are buying these because they genuinely feel some kind of connection to the games these are based on. I'll admit that I don't personally understand that, never having been into games very much, but that doesn't make it any less real.

I don't get the sense that people want these in the way that people were wearing trucker hats and bowling shirts a few years ago, which was a kind of neo-"irony" where the joke was that *of course* they wouldn't wear such proletarian clothes "for real". This is totally different.
posted by atrazine at 4:14 PM on August 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Charlie is an expert in woodblock printing, you see - he took a seminar on it in college. Christ, what an ignorant comment to make, especially given calibre of the artwork and craftsmanship here.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:15 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also: anything that introduces new people to the buying of original art is a very fine thing in my eyes. I imagine that this will be the first woodblock print that many of the backers will ever own, if they have souls at all then I doubt it will be the last and that is a thing to celebrate even if you don't like video games. For the record, even though the subject matter isn't my thing, the quality of the work is outstanding.
posted by atrazine at 4:22 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Like Lipstick Thespian, I don't really like most videogame-inspired art, but this feels different. It's not an awkward splattering of pop culture icons onto a medium where they just don't belong, but a thorough reimagining of videogames and what they mean to us in another context. I mean, just look at that Starfox print! It hits all my "real art" buttons.
posted by archagon at 4:26 PM on August 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, this isn't really irony. It's actually drawing some interesting aesthetic comparisons between a classic artform (ukiyo-e) and a more recent one (electronic games). If Jed were in this just for ironic yocks, I don't think they'd have been executed nearly as well. This is artistic commitment.
posted by Strange Interlude at 4:30 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think these are fantastic. Calling them an "ironic mash-up" misses the point, which is that there's a neat connection between today's pop art in Japan (games) and yesterday's (ukiyo-e). I mean, there are old 16-bit scrolling games chock full of yokai, so this is not a new idea... nor are modern (and often whimsical) Japanese woodblock prints, for that matter.

Besides, most woodblock prints produced at the height of the style were never meant to be high art. They were small, mass-produced pieces ordinary people could afford, and popular motifs of the time were front-and-center -- if ゼルダの伝説 had been a play in Kyoto in 1690 there would have been tons of ukiyo-e with Link in them. Why should the style be restricted to the 17th century?
posted by vorfeed at 4:38 PM on August 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


Dear LT and charlie,

No.
posted by kmz at 4:42 PM on August 31, 2012


(Alanis Morrisette would be ashamed of the word abuse above.)
posted by kmz at 4:47 PM on August 31, 2012


...a classic artform (ukiyo-e) and a more recent one (electronic games).

Not just that, but both come out of the same mother culture. The artists who made the original ukiyo-e prints are, literally, the forebearers of the artists responsible for the imagery in these games. This art is collapsing that generational gap. With execution this loving and expert, it's obvious why it would work so well.
posted by griphus at 4:51 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait hang on I think I just restated your point. I blame the diner food I am full of.
posted by griphus at 4:52 PM on August 31, 2012


... if ゼルダの伝説 had been a play in Kyoto in 1690 there would have been tons of ukiyo-e with Link in them.

This is our take exactly, and there has been nothing the slightest bit 'ironical' in our project.

Happy to see this (finally!) linked here, although I do feel a bit embarrassed about the 'Metafilter's own' designation at this point. I haven't been a very productive member of this community over the past year or so, as the change in direction I took last year - switching from working as a solo craftsman to running a workshop of trainees - has dramatically changed how much time I have available for 'casual' internet activities.

There is another aspect to this project that is not apparent to those who are just clicking through a couple of links today. Jed's creative concept has actually 'saved' this new workshop of mine. Two blog posts I made back in June tell the story: [Hail Mary time ... | Hail Mary - part 2] (These are self-links of course, but are totally germane to our topic here ...)

Anyway, thanks for the discussion ... although I myself won't really be sitting here trying to argue (or defend) the various points. I have a ton of prints to make!
posted by woodblock100 at 4:55 PM on August 31, 2012 [28 favorites]


I'm old, I get the word moratorium and I'm still going to buy one for my son-in-law for Christmas. I just having trouble deciding, they are all beautiful.
posted by francesca too at 5:06 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Charlie is an expert in woodblock printing, you see - he took a seminar on it in college. Christ, what an ignorant comment to make,

Ad hominem attacks are considered especially ignorant, especially on MeFi. I believe you meant to say, "I disagree with your interpretation of the quality of these artworks."

But perhaps you are right, maybe I don't know a damn thing. I only took a couple of years of grad level seminars in Ukiyo-e, studying with a Monbusho-sponsored art historian who was sent from Japan to our school specifically to teach this topic to our printmaking department. I did not intend to specifically study this topic in such detail.

Be the change you want to see, chuck.

It's not easy. An art school classmate of mine married a Japanese guy and moved to Tokyo with him. She graduated a year before me, I went over to visit her. Before I left, I emailed her and said I wanted to get some woodblock supplies to bring back to the US. She was a printmaking major, so I knew she would know of an art store that had the widest possible selection, stuff I'd never able to find all in one place except in Japan. She said she knew just the place, she'd take me to a really good art store she knew of, specializing in woodblock materials.

So she took me there. She was Taiwanese but I spoke much better Japanese than she did. This always seems to confuse Japanese people, especially shopkeepers, when the Asian person isn't very fluent but her gaijin friend is. We went into the store, where she was greeted with the typical irasshaimase and a bow, me, not so much. We went to the wall of woodblock cutting tools, the finest array of tools I could imagine. Next to it was a wall of shelves with stacks of perfectly cut woodblocks, fine grained and the perfect medium. We discussed the various cutting instruments, while I pondered which items to buy. Finally I made my selection and picked up an inexpensive boxed set.

Whereupon I was immediately set upon by the shopkeeper, yelling and raging at me. I could only stutter out in my worst Japanese, "kau'n tsumori.." I want to buy this! She ripped it from my hands and kept screaming. My friend was confused at why this was happening, she may be a gaijin but she doesn't face this sort of discrimination. I told her we better leave. No woodblock tools for me.

I've only been back to Tokyo a few times since, and have been unable to establish a proper supplier of equipment. Not that I could afford it, lately. But I am working on it. I'm preparing a grad school application for my MFA, they think I can get an assistant professorship, then I can get a Fullbright and go over for a couple of years to study an obscure Japanese printmaking process that I'm sure as hell not going to tell anybody about until I finish my first project.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:16 PM on August 31, 2012


Two blog posts I made back in June tell the story: [Hail Mary time ... | Hail Mary - part 2]

Inspiring stuff!
posted by KokuRyu at 5:19 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I should say that one of the reasons why I find woodblock so inspiring is that he followed his dream, and continues to follow his dream, and he's been successful. On top of that, he's committed to providing jobs for other craftspeople. It's enough to make me think about my own life.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:28 PM on August 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Woodblock100 is agreat guy and I'm fortunate to have one of his subscription sets of prints stashed away, awaiting my making frames. This is an awesome project.
posted by maxwelton at 5:52 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


My wife and I bought Dave Bull's entire Mystique series, and once we had them all, framed all 18 and created a grouping on one wall. It looks amazing.
posted by fatbird at 5:56 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


These are extremely well-executed (especially considering that they are actual prints, and not digital imitations), and incredibly evocative of prints from the mid-19th century Kano school and after.

The video game imagery is absolutely appropriate (especially considering that the subject matter of the majority of prints during this period tended to consist of the following: the contemporary equivalent of fashion magazines; promotional materials for Kabuki plays and actors, or for various sumo wrestlers, or courtesans; in-jokes for poetry clubs; popular legends and ghost stories; or porn), and presented with a high degree of respect for all of its sources.

The first Mario example, the Pokemon tournament, and one of the Samus prints are especially well done.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:01 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or tourist guidebooks- I forgot those.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:03 PM on August 31, 2012


Sounds like someone doesn't get it.

Just because he doesn't appreciate it doesn't mean he doesn't get it.

I, on the other hand, don't get it at all.

I love woodblock printing. I liked videogames when I was younger, but this is like someone mixing wasabi and peanut butter and thinking I'll like it.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:13 PM on August 31, 2012


...wow. Why the fuck doesn't anyone make wasabi/peanut-butter snacks?
posted by vorfeed at 6:16 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kid Icarus next, please.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:30 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Woodblock100 I'm so pleased for you that this idea has been such a success and "saved"your new workshop. Congratulations! I have bought several of your Christmas prints in the past and I definitely think the world needs more of your work - in whatever form - not less of it. :)
posted by smoke at 6:35 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just because he doesn't appreciate it doesn't mean he doesn't get it.

No, but thinking that irony is the only explanation does.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 6:41 PM on August 31, 2012


More making art, and less telling other people what art they should be making, please.

Yes. Talk is, as usual, cheap.

Incidentally, though, if you're an aspiring Ukiyo-e aficionado or just like watching talent at work, David Bull frequently livestreams his work to the web, and it is amazing to watch.
posted by mhoye at 7:11 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey Woodblock100, these are fun and gorgeous! Thanks!
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:50 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another satisfied Woodblock100 customer here.
posted by Wolof at 8:14 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have watched this project for the past month, rooting for the numbers to rise high enough to assure the workshop of printing work for the coming year. I've collected David Bull's prints for a few years now and, thanks to a young former student to whom I introduced them, am no longer his only Louisiana customer! This young man grew up in game culture and, with some of his peers, went for this project in a big way. He said to me that he was waiting until the last minute to make his final decision about just how many woodblocks prints he'd get; he wanted the project to be a definite winner. I noticed the great spike in orders on the last day (from my laptop in exile where I fled from the hurricane) and think there were others who felt the same.

A few years ago after I started buying his woodblock prints, I read the entirety of Dave's newsletter archives and then ordered the back issues, in order to have a complete run of them. It is as inspiring a biography of a self-directed life in our times as you could hope to read. I admire this man and love his work. In addition to collecting as many as I can, I've given his woodblock prints to young people as gifts for graduations, weddings, new babies and so on because I think they are wonderfully appropriate but also to do my bit to introduce more people to their charm. Lately, I've even determined to buy another copy of prints I've given away, just in order to fill in series! I guess I got bitten by the collector bug.

The collaboration between these two, the young illustrator and the master craftsman, to produce this appealing series seems to me a most fortuitous event. There need not be discussion of "art" on the subject at all, in my view! This is an excellent illustrator and a superb craftsman and their product is desirable both to gamers with lucrative tech jobs and to grandparents needing just the right gift. Great quality, pop culture, hands across the generations and a beautiful object that will last two hundred years, homage to our times and to the past. Thank you Jed and Dave. It's absolutely splendid. (I know I'm not the only one who wanted to post about this project.)
posted by Anitanola at 9:08 PM on August 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


I love it when people think they're right about art.

This is not an ironic statement.
posted by cmoj at 10:16 PM on August 31, 2012


I like these! They remind me of Akira Yamaguchi and Hisashi Tenmyoya's art.
posted by misozaki at 1:06 AM on September 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this. I just bought one.
posted by marcdalessio at 2:15 AM on September 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Calling them an "ironic mash-up" misses the point, which is that there's a neat connection between today's pop art in Japan (games) and yesterday's (ukiyo-e).

It seems to me the subject matter is perfect for a contemporary take on ukiyo-e, which was always concerned with pleasures and diversions, the fleeting and the fantastic. In the context of a lot of the art we see online, sure, there is a glut of video game imagery, but these transcend that not only because of their quality, but because they fit well within the genre.


I like 'em. I get to see beautiful ukiyo-e every day, and I think these could hang along side some of their counterparts and complement them nicely.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:16 AM on September 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


We have some of Dave's prints in our house. I think it's time for more. I really loved the translation of our modern video game characters into figures appropriate for woodblock prints who still maintain their recognizable characteristics.
posted by chatongriffes at 7:10 AM on September 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


as the change in direction I took last year - switching from working as a solo craftsman to running a workshop of trainees

Oh yay, that's so exciting! I'm glad it seems to be working out.

charlie don't surf if you're really interested in Japanese print making then David is the guy to talk to. He's really nice and all that but also genuinely lights up when talking about his craft. I think you'd actually find a lot in common (and you could probably learns something from him), assuming you're willing to get over your apparent arrogance as posted here.
posted by shelleycat at 8:08 AM on September 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


These are awesome. I just ordered two of Woodblock100's prints. Can't wait to get them!

One is going to be a gift, and it's really nice to have the webpage and videos and all the other supplemental info available to send on along with the print.
posted by danny the boy at 10:22 AM on September 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Coming up for air a bit today after a pretty chaotic time of it this past week ... Thank you very much to the commenters for all the congratulations and the compliments on our work; we've had a great ride this past month during the campaign, and here in my workshop we're now primed for a good couple of years of work getting the stuff actually made.

Jed and I have a zillion possible projects on the table, and once we get this one smoothly up and running along (and get my trainees to a bit more stable and confident level), we'll be starting something else, for sure.

Thanks again!
posted by woodblock100 at 2:04 AM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wanted to post this on the Blue, but lo and behold it was already here. Absolutely amazing work by all involved. I'm watching the videos of woodblock100 carving and am absolutely mesmerized. Reminds me of this post which I devoured with equal relish.

I do some drawing and design in vector graphics format, and it strikes me how perfectly vector graphics could be rendered as woodblock prints. Uniform lines, flat colors, total control over size and shape. While I love seeing the artist's hand in the work of other people, I've always preferred to make it invisible in my own. Rendering svg drawings into wood, that most organic of all media, would be a wonderful contrast.
posted by cthuljew at 12:39 AM on September 13, 2012


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