Ukiyo-e, translated as “pictures of the floating world,” has uniquely captured wisps of the natural beauty that one sees around us every day. The term “floating world” comes from the Buddhist idea about how temporary life on earth is. For Buddhists, this means that our time on earth feels like suffering. It’s just a step on the way to enlightenment. In some ways, the pictures of these floating worlds were like depictions of everyday life.
“living only for the moment, savouring the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms, and the maple leaves, singing songs, drinking wine, and diverting oneself in simply floating, unconcerned by the prospect of imminent poverty, buoyant and carefree, like a gourd carried along with the current of the river…” Asai Ryoi, Tales of the Floating WorldThe Ukiyo-e artist saw that the everyday world has its own beauty. They made prints as a way to show how happy they were. The first prints were just black and white. Over time, the artists started to colour their prints with vegetable dyes and a separate wood block for each colour.
Painting ProcessTo create a ukiyo-e print, the artist first drew on a fragile piece of paper, usually made from the bark of the Mulberry tree. This was stuck to a block of fine-grained wood, and engravers consequently cut out the lines. The drawing would probably be ruined in the process. From this line block, a few proofs would be made and shown to the artist, who would then mark the areas that should be printed in colour. So, more blocks were made for each colour. Sometimes, ten blocks were needed for single ukiyo-e. Each print is beautiful and has a lot of information in it. Along with the artist’s signature, the Prince often took the marks of the publisher and the engraver. After 1880, the prints also had the censor’s seal on them, as a result, the government liked what was in the picture. In the upper right corner of some prints, there are words that say where the scene is. It’s hard to believe that these beautiful, well-made pieces were not made for art experts but, undeniably, in the end, popular art. They were souvenirs from a trip to the theatre, pattern books where women could find new kimono designs, and often sex manuals for the new bride.
Influenced the WestThese prints are a recording of 18th and 19th-century life in Japan. They also had a profound effect on the great Western artists of the time, particularly the Impressionists in France. Artists like Mary Cassatt, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Gauguin, and Manet were clearly influenced. The American artist Frank Lloyd Wright collected Ukiyo-e prints and influenced his architecture by their lines.
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Ukiyo-e – Google Arts & CultureJapanese for ‘pictures of the floating world’ and referring to transient everyday life, it provided a major source of imagery in Japanese art from the 17th to the 19th centuries, particularly in the work of printmakers such as Hiroshige, Hokusai, and Utamaro.