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VJP title
Utamaro print showing


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SHINAGAWA Takumi (born 1908)


Shinagawa Shinagawa kanji Shinagawa Takumi (品川工) was a disciple of Kôshirô Onchi. True to Onchi's spirit, Shinagawa experimented with designs created in different media, including woodblocks, paper blocks, plastic mobiles, and photography. Shinagawa has said that the depth of color found in ukiyo-e prints fascinated him, which led to a special interest in the characteristics of color as printed on paper and to Shinagawa's mixing his own colors to achieve the desired effects. He has also commented on the quality of line in ukiyo-e prints, which he found "problematic" because the wood was carved away from the sides of the line and thus the line was not directly created. He decided to experiment with cutting away the areas representing the line, to "reveal the form and its shadows." Shinagawa found this method more "spontaneous and free."

The figure on the right is titled Haiyû ("Kabuki actor") in pencil in the lower margin while the artist's name and the year 1953 are inscribed in the lower center of the image. It is a large format print on paper measuring 600x375mm. Like other sosaku hanga artists, Shinagawa experimented with working woodgrain patterns into his designs and simplifying his forms. Here Shinagawa has cleverly used the blue bands of color plus the grain pattern (from a block cut with curved-blade chisels) to suggest the bold face make-up called kumadori ("taking the shadows") used in aragoto ("rough stuff") plays made popular by the Ichikawa family of actors in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The print was made with five blocks of plywood faced with shina (basswood or Japanese linden) used through five printing stages. Pigments were German colorants plus Japanese white (gofun) and some powdered mica applied to torinoko paper. The background includes very dark bands [difficult to see in this scan] of green, blue, and purple resulting from overprinting the colors.

Shinagawa's composition does not depict a specific actor, role, or scene from a play. It is instead an evocation of the appearance and powerful presence of an actor in makeup performing on the kabuki stage. The design represents an imaginative adaptation of traditional iconography, a transformation into recognizable anthropomorphic forms. Although not portraiture in the strictest sense, it nevertheless distills the essence of an actor's form in aragoto role, and despite its abstraction, it does not lack emotional feeling in the stylized but expressive face. ©1999-2001 by John Fiorillo


  • Kawakita, Michiaki: Contemporary Japanese Prints. Tokyo & Palo Alto: Kodansha, 1967, p. 185 and plate 13.
  • Smith, Lawrence: Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989. London: British Museum Press, 1994, p. 60 and plate 96.
  • Statler, Oliver: Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn. Rutland & Tokyo: Tuttle, 1956, pp. 71-78 and 194-196, plates 44 and 47-50.
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