Tag Archives: Kabuki

Ya: The Call of the Drum

Utagawa Kunisada, Ya, The Iroha Alphabet, mid-nineteenth century, with subject Ichikawa Danjuro VIII getting his hair combed, kabuki play

Kunisada went above and beyond the call of the drum when he designed this print. It’s one of those times that I heard the syllable in my head when I saw the print. Now I must find out more. I’ve seen it before, but I was waiting to find this one with nearly pristine color and no trimmed edges.

Now the fun begins as I research the play, the date, etc. It must have been a popular print (the Utagawa School rules with most surviving Japanese prints). My Lithuanian grandmother studied English speaking and writing until the day she died. She’d write a letter to a friend, and mail it to me in Iowa. Then I’d correct it and mail it back to her in South Dakota. Grandmother then recopied the letter and mailed it to her friends. That is respect for education and how generations spin in a wheel of worlds.

Which would you choose: Gourdian knot on bamboo, crane, painter, signature or mandarin orange?

Japanese Ukiyo-e Nishiki-e Woodblock Print Kawanabe Kyosai, Ichikawa Sansho

This print has a happy new year vibe about it. When we are all busy preparing for 2020, I will take a moment to admire the gourd and his friends before buying the oranges.

Cherokee cherry tree: Mistaking cherry blossoms for pink clouds — Happy New Year!

As a young child, I believed that I was Japanese. Perhaps it’s explained by my father’s black hair, narrow dark eyes and face that looked like the Japanese people in art books. The first books I remember: The Golden Bough and a Thomas Crown giant art compilation. My father brought home many adult art books instead of children’s books to me as a toddler. That’s why I love Japanese prints like this one from 1815 of a Lion Dance by Toyokuni I. It shimmers, too with mica sprinkles subtly on the background.

I taught myself to read, too. And I shunned children’s books. Like Groucho, I didn’t want to be a member of a club that would accept me.

My first school finger painting began with a cloud of pink on beige manila paper. I dotted fingertip detail on top of the pink with whorls and loops of white that mixed into the pale pink color that I wanted to denote blossoms. Blowing a dollop of dark brown at the bottom of the paper upward with a paper straw grew the trunk and gnarled branches. As I finished I felt a thrill at having created a Japanese cherry blossom tree. Indignant that my teacher and fellow students didn’t know what I was talking about, I took it home only to find my mother ignorant, also. I fiercely felt that I knew the value of this tree and too bad for everyone else.

Later I found out that Dad had Cherokee blood, not Japanese. He and I shared art knowledge. My younger brothers would complain, “Pen got all the Indian blood.”

My father, an actor and professor of speech and theater, did understand my cherry blossom tree. He took my tree art to the college to show his scene design students, saying “This is how you draw a tree.” Then he told the story to all his friends when they visited, year after year. Now this is a family legend.

Happy New Year. Winter cherry blossoms bloom. Father knows best.

Men Acting Like Women

Artist Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) shows a Kabuki actor dressed as a woman from the series “Index of Favorite Actors Showing Off”. The face reflected in the battledore -shaped mirror is identical. The feet are too large and masculine for a woman in this beautiful Japanese print.

Why did Kabuki theater have only male actors? Because women were punished by legislation that was intended to curb the prostitution that followed the first performances (later, young boys were also banned from performing for the same reason). The history of Kabuki began in 1603 when a woman, Izumo no Okuni, who was an apprentice at the Temple of Izumo began performing with a troupe of female dancers a daring new style of dance drama, on a makeshift stage in the dry bed of the Kamo River in Kyoto according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica.
The older Noh style of dance was formal, gracefully stylized and with a tradition influenced by Buddist doctrine. Noh was stately, for aristocratic samurai audiences while Kabuki was wild, shocking and flamboyantly dramatic; appealing to the average citizen. Kyogen is a third form of ancient comedic theater for the masses with an influence on Kabuki (See youtube.com, NHK Kabuki Kool 2016, Discover Kabuki Based on Noh and Kyogen Documentary). Kabuki was the first entertainment conceived for the masses.
I propose that it is Okuni’s revenge that male actors have had to study femininity closely for hundreds of years. Walking miles in the shoes of female warriors, poets, ghosts and all types of heroines on stage has surely led to a unique understanding and respect for women by the actors and by the artist.

Information from kuniyoshiproject.com

Series: Index of Favorite Actors Showing Off, Yakusha kidori hi-iki-biiki,
役者寄取贔屓びゐき
Subject: Female standing in front of calligraphy
Actor: Ichikawa Hakuen
Publisher: Maru-ya Jimpachi, c. 1840
Size: Oban, about 14″ x 10″
Artist: Kuniyoshi