Time to Deliver ...
Around fifteen or sixteen years back, at the time I was approaching the end of the ten-year poet's series, I had any number of conversations with friends and collectors about the direction my future work should take. There was certainly no shortage of suggestions for possible projects: "Dave, do some of the famous ukiyo-e designs! Make a set of the 53 Stations of the Tokaido, by Hiroshige ... Do a reproduction of some Utamaro beauties ..." But one idea came up time and again - the suggestion that I should make a reproduction of Hokusai's iconic 'Great Wave' print.
Now actually, that was never on the cards for me at that time. I was determined not to simply follow the same path taken by all other print publishers - re-hash the same 'tired' designs that had been reproduced ad infinitum down the years. My answer to these people was clear - "The last thing the world needs is yet another version of that Hokusai design. It makes much more sense for me to explore some untravelled paths …"
And I did. I spent the subsequent five years in work on my 'Surimono Albums', a set of prints in which I searched out images from unknown designers that met two criteria - they had to be interesting visually, and they had to offer me a technical challenge in the making. This would 'feed' both the collectors and my own development, I thought, and indeed that's exactly how it turned out. I hugely boosted my technical abilities through the work, and I produced a collection of 50 prints that brought any number of previously unknown designers to a wider audience. I then followed that series with a number of other similar concepts, always following the same precept - stay off the beaten track.
Given this history, it thus came as a bit of a surprise to some of my collectors last autumn, when I announced that I would be making a reproduction of ... yes, Hokusai's Great Wave.
Why that print, and why now? There are a number of factors in play here. One is that we were running a crowd-funding campaign to assist with the financing of our new Asakusa shop, and - there is no reason to hide this - I needed to attract as many supporters as possible; pull out the big guns!
But there was another factor involved in my decision to make this print now, after years of refusing to do so; my age. I don't want to exaggerate the situation, but given that I am moving well into my sixties, I have to face the fact that I don't have a whole lot of time left for quality printmaking. I myself am certainly not 'going away' anytime soon, but my eyes have other ideas; they have already half-way left the building!
Indeed, if this was the era before technical assistance (glasses, etc.) became available, my carving career would have been over many years ago. My acquaintance the old carver Susumu Ito worked without glasses right up into his eighties, but my DNA is not going to permit this; I would be 'retired' by now, like it or not.
But I do have glasses of course, and I also have the assistance of a nice large lens that I swing into place over my workbench, but even with these aids, I am finding it more and more difficult to control the movement of my carving knife. And when it comes to cutting beautiful ukiyo-e lines, and especially when calligraphy is concerned, the hand-writing is clearly (not so clearly!) on the wall. If I have any projects in mind that are going to require sharp and delicate carving, it's now or never.
So, it's to be now. Hokusai and I are about to get acquainted. Very closely acquainted.
Just how close, we'll see in another story a couple of weeks from now ...
Story #473, January 18, 2015
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