I have been collecting Japanese woodblock prints for over 40 years . To begin with I saw prints like these as reproductions in books about French Impressionist pictures which I read in the 1960’s at my grammar school in Finchley in north London – books which described how European artists like Monet, Lautrec and Van Gogh had been influenced by the bright colour and quirky viewpoints of the Japanese images.
I did not actually see Japanese prints in any numbers until 1973 when the Victoria and Albert Museum had their big Floating World exhibition in London. That was an eye-opener for me – a marvellous show and I bought the catalogue. Until then I had thought of Japanese prints as being all about landscape . Even today I suppose many people still think that way -with Hokusai’s Great Wave being seen as typical of all Japanese prints.
What I like about the prints is the side of them that is almost reflective of Liverpool on a Saturday night: the buzz, people enjoying themselves and a sense of life lived outdoors. You can see it in many of the prints -a vibrant street life with urban stories. Many of the prints are of actors, wrestlers and famous beauties, and the people who bought the prints were fans of these Edo celebrities. They could have a superbly crafted hand-made print of a hero to paste on their wall for the price of a bowl of noodles. I really like that .
Edo, now called Tokyo, in the 1850s and 60’s, was a city of a million people – almost entirely built of wood. It was a city in transition. Something of the stresses and strains of this turbulent time comes across too in the prints.
It is a real privilege to be able to show the prints at the Lady Lever in the superbly designed space. Normally the prints hang 8 deep in my hallway at home. It is a pleasure to share them with other people. I normally see the prints all together each morning when I am coming downstairs to breakfast and they do cheer me up. I hope they have the same effect on visitors to the show.
Edo Pop: Japanese Prints runs at the Lady Lever Art Gallery until 24 September 2017.
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