Back in January I was asked to give a demo of Japanese Woodblock printing at the British museum for the Hokusai show, “Beyond the Great Wave” (which celebrates the artist in the last three decades of his life). Hokusai Prep 7It was a great excuse to spend a lot of time poring over Hokusai’s huge output. I began to admire his unerring brushstroke, and radical, often humorous compositions. Hokusai Prep 8

I’d promised to make a Hokusai-inspired work for the demo, but how I could even start to make a comparable rendition of modern day London? I thought briefly about depicting Whitechapel with cycle couriers: let’s face it, this is probably the closest equivalent to the Tokkaido, or a distant view of St Paul’s in the rain instead of Mount Fuji. Hmmm… I was stuck.

Hokusai Prep 11So I decided I’d look closer at the place where he is now being shown, the British Museum. This place is a veritable temple to the arts, with ionic columns lining the walkway up to the main central hall, and the most beautiful shimmering glass dome that brings a soft brightness to the courtyard inside.

Hokusai Prep 12We look at iconic images, like Monet’s Haystacks, Chagall’s Flying Lovers and Hokusai’s Wave, and the world is subsequently and irretrievably coloured by having seen them. These images are unforgettable, inspiring, desired and thus overused and parodied. At the same time, we like to place ourselves in the picture. Is it selfiegenic? Where do I exist in relation to this?

Hokusai Prep 6The prints I designed are about Hokusai becoming part of my identity: I can hide behind him, and he represents some of what I aspire to be (not caring about much apart from making paintings every day, with a factory of workers transforming them to prints, and hoping to live to 110…)

Hokusai Prep 3Hokusai Prep 4Hokusai Prep 5The demo on 5th June was a very exciting event. We set up in a hall full of of Greek marble sculptures, surrounded by sinuous sea lions and against a backdrop of three headless female dancers in revealing dresses.

Hokusai 01It was really echoey and a bit dark, so they put in some spotlights.

Hokusai 1I was incredibly lucky that my students from the last Japanese woodblock class (in East London Printmakers in May) were very keen to come help out for the evening, as there were loads of customers!

Hokusai 3I talked about the fundamentals of Japanese woodblock printing, showed how to print a three colour print, and then the public had a go at printing a mystery five colour print. Hokusai 2There was one colour and block per table and they had to take a piece of damp paper and print it, then move around the room. Students helped supervise and guide how much water, glue and ink to put on the blocks. Hokusai 4It was busy and chaotic but thrilling to see the results.

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The British Museum show is highly recommended. It’s on til 13 Aug, with a change over of prints in early July (3–6). For more information please see

http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/hokusai.aspx

I’m running a course in Japanese woodblock printing in East London Printmakers this Autumn, For more information please see https://www.eastlondonprintmakers.co.uk/course/japanese-woodblock-2/

Hokusai Prep 13Finally, if you’d like to buy one of the prints, please get in touch!

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HAppy NEw YEar!

Here’s wishing you all a year of fun and frolicks!

I love the double chance at a New Year. Fresh starts, shiny behaviour, aspirational goals… This year 2014 started with a celebration in Japan, one of the places I feel most at home, where I spent a few weeks seeing friends, making prints and reconnecting with the country.

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The streets on the way to the Meiji shrine were lit up with fairy lights and flags, and Asakusa was filled with people who’d come to pray for good luck and happiness in the year to come.IMG_2781_e

Of course no national holiday would be complete without a spot of shopping, hanging out with friends and eating fun things…

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I had a chance to visit a few artists when I was in Tokyo: firstly Asaka Motoharu who is a traditional Japanese woodblock carver who has been working for over 40 years without (he claims) making a single mistake… Here is one of Masami Teraoka’s prints ( a riff on Hokusai’s Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife) that he carved and printed.

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Traditional tool shops still exist: this one specialises in knives and woodblock tools

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Arts Space Chiyoda is a maze of galleries, residency spaces and craft outlets in a converted primary school; this is where the Mokuhanga innovation laboratory has its headquarters. I was so happy to see the work of one of my students, Mareike Besch, on the walls there!

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After a night bus ride to Kyoto I was shocked at the cold temperatures, but the river view was the same as I remembered, bright and full of eagles.

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The annual coming of age ceremony was on so I got the chance to see the kids in their finery

IMG_3082_e IMG_3062_eI spent almost two weeks in Kyoto carving wood

IMG_3175_eEating

IMG_3281_eVisiting temples

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and my old university: Kyoto Seika: where woodblock is still going strong

IMG_3189_eeating some more

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enjoying the gorgeous landscape

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and last but not least….. admiring the loos…

IMG_3344_eNow I’m back in London, let’s see what the Lunar New Year brings!

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The stranglehold fascination with black and white is relenting. Last week when I was in Italy teaching (in the haunted castle in Montefiore Conca) I made a water based woodblock with imagery inspired from my recent book Swallow Span which I have called Swallow Double Wing. It’s for a portfolio called Common Space which will be shown in Illinois later in the year. The colours are a bit primary, but I enjoyed the emotional shift you get with colour over black and white… Hmmm, this is something to ponder.

Meanwhile, I’m just putting together some ideas for the Al-Mutanabbi Street project curated by Beau Beausoleil and Sarah Bodman. The project is a call to book artists over the world to make work that responds to a car bomb that exploded on the Iraqi street in March 2007, killing 26 and destroying many book shops and businesses in the area. I’ve been folding paper and cutting up old prints, and collaborating with Ingrid Schrieder, a South African poet. Will upload imagery when it’s nearer completion!