Ancient Japanese Art Form Comes to Phnom Penh Show

The making of ukiyo-e multi-colored prints involves four specialized people, said Yukiko Tak­ahashi of the Takahashi Kobo studio in Tokyo.

An artist sketches an image, which is then turned into a woodblock by a sculptor. Then a printer has the task of printing the image by hand, applying one color per day to create all the nu­ances required, which may in­volve more than 90 colors.

Co­ordin­ating this process is the producer, who suggests an image to the artist and follows the print through to completion.

Ms Takahashi trained as a producer of ukiyo-e prints in a family that has been printing with woodblocks for 150 years in Japan.

On Saturday at 2 pm at the Cambo­d­ia-Japan Cooperation Center in Phnom Penh, she will explain the various steps of the process while printer Kyoko Hirai demonstrates them.

When the popularity of those colorful images spread throughout Japan four centuries ago, ukiyo-e prints were used to show the latest in kimono or hair styles, Ms Takahashi said. Inexpensive and varying in quality, they also featured actors and sumo wrestlers.

As styles and techniques be­came more elaborate, some art­ists used ukiyo-e prints to portray beautiful women and eventually landscape.

Works such as the de­pictions of Mount Fuji by artist Katsu­shika Hokusai and scenes along Tokaido road by Ando Hir­o­­­shige are believed to have greatly influenced Western impressionist paint­ers in the late 19th century.

Today, ukiyo-e printing has be­come an art form with its own collectors, Ms Takahashi said. But, it is also an art form with few practitioners, said Ms Hirai.

In Tokyo and Kyoto, there are only about 80 artists, sculptors and printers who specialize in uk­iyo-e prints, she said. Ms Hirai, who studied printmaking at university and later apprenticed in the art, is one of only three wo­men ukiyo-e printers in these two cities, she said.

Images must be printed on a specific type of paper handmade from the fibers of kojo wood, a tree that can be found in most parts of Japan, Ms Takahashi said.

That paper is not necessarily of high quality but it is durable and contains long fibers that make it well suited for the printing pro­cess, which includes vigorously rubbing the back of a print with a hand tool, she said.

Organized by the Japanese Embassy in cooperation with the Japan Foundation, the demon­stra­tion on Saturday will be given in Japanese and Khmer.

Ms Hirai will be showing the various stages of the process with actual tools so that people can understand the process without spoken explanations. The two experts will also display a selection of ukiyo-e prints designed by famous artists to better illustrate form.

(The Cambodia-Japan Cooper­ation Center is located on the campus of the Institute of Foreign Languages at the Royal Uni­versity of Phnom Penh on Russian Boulevard. Admission is free.)



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