11 October 2010

Woodblock Printmaker David Bull on NHK


I first encountered moku hanga in 2005 through a three-day workshop with New Hampshire printmaker Matt Brown, a workshop that was life-changing for me. However, I actually owe an even larger amount of my knowledge about moku hanga to a woodblock printmaker I've never met, Japan-based Canadian printmaker David Bull. NHK, Japan's public television network, has just produced a 30-minute segment about the life and work of this accomplished printmaker, so I thought I would take advantage of the occasion to write about David on my blog. David's 30-year love affair with this artistic medium has literally been the scaffolding upon which my own learning has taken place.

How is that possible? First of all, the computer makes it possible. In 1997, David launched the Baren Forum listserv and accompanying web site. The Forum began as a way for isolated woodblock artists and craftsmen around the world to compare notes, learn from each other, and talk shop. In the 13 years since it began, the site has become the go-to place on the internet for English-speaking Japanese woodblock artists, an absolute treasure-trove of information for anyone who is interested in exploring the medium outside of Japan. Although David handed over the reins of the Baren Forum site to a team of volunteer administrators several years ago, the site would not exist and would not be so comprehensive without his influence and expertise. I've learned 90% of what I know about woodblock printing through trial-and-error combined with strategic searching and question-asking on the Baren Forum web site.

In addition to technology, the other ingredient that makes my relationship with this printmaker on the other side of the world possible is David's own infectious enthusiasm. Notice it when you watch the video above -- David Bull loves Japanese woodblock and he has a deep desire to preserve this ancient craft in the midst of a rapid decline in trained printers and carvers and the accompanying decline in suppliers of wood, washi and tools. I believe it's this enthusiasm that gives David the energy to reach out over and over again to other printmakers around the world to share what he knows. Whether by facilitating contact between western artists and Japanese suppliers via the Baren Mall, where one can buy supplies directly from Japan, or  producing an e-book called Your First Print, a "highly practical and focussed guidebook that will take you - step by step - completely through the process of creating your first print," David conducts all these activities on top of the hours and hours he spends producing his own superb and finely crafted work.

In many ways David is a bridge between this exquisite but declining Japanese art form and artists in the West who are deeply interested in learning it. Congratulations to David on this wonderful NHK portrait of his life and work. Perhaps one day we'll meet in person.


Dave Bull said...

Annie, thank you very much for the kind comments, (and for helping bring more people to watch the program).

You say 'infectious enthusiasm', and I think that's an appropriate phrase - because I do see other people becoming 'infected' with this bug ... and you are one of the best examples! You've got it bad too, obviously!

Many people give it a try and make 'a' print. A very few of them then go on and make 'another' one. But very few indeed press on with this to the extent that you have, with your very intense and detailed activities. I claim no 'credit' at all for the work you have produced, but it is very satisfying indeed to see that some of the various seeds that I have scattered around have - in your case - fallen on very fertile ground, and have helped (even just a little bit) in the creation of such interesting and beautiful work.

I wish you made more copies of your prints, because I find it frustrating that more people are not able to enjoy owning one, but you and I have had that 'argument' before, and I do understand your point of view, even if I don't 'buy' it.

I'm looking forward to seeing much more of your interesting work in the future. And thanks again for the kind words!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Annie, for airing this on your site. I am fortunate enough to own one of David's prints and hope to (someday) add to my tiny collection.

It was lovely to get a little glimpse of David at work and to feel the enthusiasm for and understanding of the spirit of moku hanga.