Daily Archives: January 3, 2009

Review – Utamaro Revealed

Utamaro RevealedBeautifully Written Insights into the Artist and Japanese Culture

Rating: 5 of 5, TMBOA Recommended!

Author: Gina Collia-Suzuki
Available: Paperback Non-fiction

For those unfamiliar with Kitagawa Utamaro, he was Japanese artist in the late 1700s / early 1800s whose expertise in Ukiyo-e prints is unsurpassed. Ukiyo-e, meaning “pictures of the floating world”, is a style of woodblock prints capable of being mass produced. Ukiyo, or “floating world”, refers to the rising unregulated merchant class appearing during this same period. Hence, Utamaro’s work reflected much of Japan’s culture and life during this period especially his compositions and study of women.

In Utamaro Revealed, Gina Collia-Suzuki beautifully reveals much more than just Utamaro, and her expertise not only in the artist but the rich culture and history of Japan shines. She takes the reader on a journey of a proud and changing society by highlighting Utamaro’s work through themes of the time: the pleasure quarter, entertainment, legendary gods and heroes, leisurely pursuits, everyday life, and so on.

Filled with over ninety of Utamaro’s reproductions, Collia-Suzuki augments each of these with a warm and thoughtful description of the back story inspiring the piece while pointing out specific details in the print providing the reader with a true understanding of the subtle brilliance of the artist. One such example is her explanation of Utamaro’s A young woman painting her lips. In this particular print, there are a number of bowls and paraphernalia used by the woman to prepare her face. Collia-Suzuki explains, “Beside the bowl is a box of fushi powder, which was made from the gallnuts found on the Japanese sumac tree. The combination of fushi powder and kanemizu, made by fermenting iron fillings in a mixture of tea, vinegar and rice wine, produced a black pigment which could then be applied to the teeth, and once dried provided a rich lacquer coating.”

It is clear Collia-Suzuki has spent years in the pursuit of acquiring, learning, and understand Utamaro’s work. Utamaro Revealed is like having your own personal art museum and cultural expert at your side. This is truly a masterful work that can be enjoyed by all.

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