04 June 2009

American Shunga

Keyblock

Today I finished carving the keyblock for my latest print, American Bible Story (John & Priscilla). Above is a shot of the whole 12" x 14" block. I was originally going to call this print "American Adam & Eve" but then a host of other Bible stories wandered into the scene. Keep in mind that this is a mirror image of the final print.

The John and Priscilla figures are based on a shunga print by Utamaro. Shunga, which translates literally as "spring picture," is a Japanese euphemism for erotic art. Shunga is very sexually explicit, both homo- and heterosexual, and often shows exaggerated genitalia. Westerners would classify much of shunga as pornographic. Most of the classical ukiyo-e artists produced shunga in addition to their other work, as it was very profitable.

As soon as I started planning this print, I knew that I wanted to depict John and Priscilla having sex. I wanted to challenge the modern belief that the Puritans were… well, "puritanical." Sexually prudish. While it's true that the Puritans punished sex outside of marriage as well as sexual activities that did not promote conception, like homosexuality and masturbation, they were very enthusiastic about marital sex. Frequent and mutually satisfying sexual activity was not just a right but a duty for both partners in a marriage. Puritans believed that the only legitimate object of sexual activity was procreation, but they also believed that conception required a mutual orgasm and medical texts recommended good food, wine, a relaxed atmosphere and foreplay -- hardly the puritanical attitudes we so blithely accuse our founding fathers and mothers of possessing. (ref. "Sex and Sexuality in Early America" by Merril D. Smith)

The quilt I carved to cover my hunky Puritan ancestor's butt is a pattern called "wedding ring." Another misconception we have is that Colonial American women were all sitting around quilting. Quilting is in fact a very time- and labor-intensive activity and only became an American pastime in the 19th century as leisure time became more abundant.

Next I'll print some proofs of this block, refine the carving where needed, and then use proofs of this keyblock to create a few color blocks.

Here are some links to shunga for those of you who are curious to know more.

8 comments:

Katka said...

This is fantastic! I love watching the stories unfold.

Ares Vista said...

Beautiful work! Do you have any of this for sale?

Vicki said...

Annie, that is just gorgeous. Is it OK to copy it my students? We've been doing reduction. V.

Annie B said...

Thanks Katka!
@Ares Vista - I still have to print this and add color, but it will be for sale on my web site once I've completed it.
@Vicki - absolutely, feel free to share with your students.

mizu designs said...

Wonderful detail Annie! The final print will look amazing. And good on your for putting a bit of shunga into the image too :)

Pistoles Press said...

Wow, Annie! I'm really enjoying the symbolism and culture you are imbuing this print with. It's really a treat for me to pick out all the little pieces in this visual puzzle. The shunga element is great to see as well. Normally work and literature from this time period puts me to sleep but when filtered through the lense of your style it really keeps me interested and inspired! Thanks so much for the fresh but timeless work!

d. moll, l.ac. said...

Great surprise ending. So fascinating about the Puritians and sex, I really had them all wrong, well mostly wrong.

starkeyart said...

Looking forward to seeing the prints! How long did it take to carve the key block? It's beautiful...