A RARE TECHNIQUE?
Generally, I try to
never repeat the handling of a particular print because there are so many
different designs to choose from. However, every so often one comes along
--- or a pair as in this case --- which are just too good to pass up. When I
first bought a copy of this diptych a number of years ago I was puzzled and
amazed by the technique of controlled splattering which is obviously meant
to represent burning embers falling through the sky. The application should
mean that no two prints would ever be exactly the same.
Over the years it
has become easier and easier to identify some of the elements such as
publishers, carvers, etc. who worked on individual prints. In this case the
publisher is Ebi-ya Rinnosuke and therein lies a key. Although I have yet to
identify the specific performance being illustrated I do know that it was
staged late in 1860. The costuming of the male figure tells us that he
is playing a fireman. But it is that splattering technique which most
mystified me and then I found a series of four similar prints by Yoshitsuya
(芳艶 or よしつや), similar in look, similar in feel and representing exactly the
same scene in the same way: Night, fiery embers, macho fireman and one
woman, the same publisher and the same date. Clearly someone working for Ebi-ya
Rinnosuke said to his boss "I know how to produce that effect. You know, the
one with the fiery embers falling through the sky. Why not use a metallic
ink?" Why else would two such similar sets of prints by two different
artists, but for the same publisher create such a spectacular effect?
This is a technique
which had long existed. It often was used to indicate snow, i.e.,
splattering with white. It is called gofun (胡粉 or ごふん), but I had
never seen it used for embers or done with metallic inks. Perhaps there were
some used on surimonos, but other than that I can't think of any
examples. And...I am only guessing about surimonos.
But why would such
a spectacular effect be rare? There are a number of possibilities: 1) While
this style may appeal to me it might not have found a sympathetic market
among its contemporary buying public; 2) It might have been too expensive.
Perhaps these inks cost more than ordinary inks. Just speculating; 3)
Controlling the medium might have been extremely difficult. Splatter mistakes
would have proved extremely costly since the gofun had to be
applied after the rest of the print was finished. Therefore this technique
might not be worth the
effort. Also the inks would have to be applied in such a way that they would
not lump up or flake off later; or 4) It might have been an executive
decision. Maybe the publisher was more interested in the bottom line than in
quality. Just look at the publisher's seal and how crudely it was printed.
Got to cut corners somewhere.
If anyone out there
in cyberspace has any other ideas or knowledge of this technique I would
love to hear from you.