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KABUKI ACTOR PRINTS AND ARTISTS

In Japan, you will find that one of the most beloved cultural events is Kabuki theater.  Performances first began in the early part of the 17th century, which was at the very start of the Edo era, Edo now being today’s Tokyo.  A Shinto shrine maiden by the name of Okuni actually created Kabuki.  Initially, actors consisted only of women performers, which created quite a controversy in Kyoto where the performances occurred.  Because of this, officials put tremendous pressure on Okuni to change the show in which only young men were used.  Soon, Kabuki took another change in which adult males were used as well. 

Even today, if you were to visit Japan, you would find Kabuki still being performed only by young and adult males.  Within a short time, Kabuki actors were all the rage.  Dramas performed branched out whereby performances were being conducted in several of the larger cities to include Edo, as well as Osaka and Kyoto.  What made this so interesting is that while the basis of the performances remained, styles began to differ.  Even so, the theater performances in Edo were the highest in demand. 

Then in the 18th century, Japan saw yet another innovative change in the form of woodblock prints.  These prints were created by various Japanese artists, usually depicting images associated with the “floating world”, which was associated with Buddha.  However, imagines also changed as artists began to paint the Kabuki actors.  Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, woodblock prints of Kabuki were popular.  Some of the most treasured were Ukiyo-e prints, with many collections still in possession or sought after around the world. 

While there were a number of early artists, one of the best known was Torii Kiyomasu I.  His career spanned the latter portion of the 17th and the early years of the18th century.  Torii’s skills were quite broad but his primary focus and what he excelled at was bold prints, magnificent color, and hand stenciling.  One of the early Ukiyo-e masterpieces was entitled Kintoki and the Bear, a beautiful woodblock print that ended up as a part of a French collection owned by Henri Vever. 

Originally, Ukiyo-e woodblock prints were only created in black and white ink but when color was introduced in the mid-18th century, everything changed.  With Torii’s career shortly after this innovation, he had a huge advantage of many of the earlier artists.  Keep in mind that Kabuki actors wore very vibrantly colored and elaborate costumes, along with full makeup.  Therefore, with the creation of colored ink, Torii was able of creating amazing prints, which continue to be in demand today. 

Prints depicting Kabuki actors were also created by many talented artists.  For instance, Toshesai Sharaku who painted only a short time from 1794 to 1795 was best known for two particular prints, which are extremely rare.  What makes this artist so unique is that during his short-lived career as a woodblock painter, he was able to develop more than 150 prints.  In addition to Kabuki acts and theater scenes, Toshesai also depicted sumo wrestlers.  As with Torii, Toshesai’s work focusing on Kabuki actors was vivid, detailed, and very colorful. 

Finally, we want to mention another Kabuki theater artist by the name of Sawamura Sojuro III.  Similar to the other two actors mentioned, he too focused the majority of his work on actors and scenes relating to Kabuki theater.  However, Sawamura was also known for his incredible ability to capture romantic aspects of modern and historical dramas performed.  The imagination and creativity of this artist pushed him to great success.


Read more about Japanese Woodblock Prints:
  Japanese Woodblock Prints   Ukiyo-e   Toyokuni Utagawa   Eisen Kikugawa   Hiroshige Ando   Utamaro Kitigawa

 

Visit our online store for dozens of Japanese Woodblock Prints

Click here to see our current selection.
 
The Great Wave by Hokusai
The Great Wave by Hokusai
Code:fw1002
Price:$27.95
Kabuki by Utagawa
Kabuki by Utagawa
Code:fw1121
Price:$27.95
3 Beauties by Utamaro
3 Beauties by Utamaro
Code:fw1118
Price:$27.95
General in Battle by Utagawa
General in Battle by Utagawa
Code:fw1120
Price:$27.95
Mt Fuji by Hiroshige
Mt Fuji by Hiroshige
Code:fw1010
Price:$27.95
 

 


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