Walking Into the Floating World
I've been captivated by woodblock prints for sometime and finally made my way to the ROM Friday night to see their exhibit Drama & Desire: Japanese Paintings from the Floating World. This is the last weekend the exceptional collection is on display. While the pieces are predominantly from the early period, before colour technologies blossomed, it is a great starting point to learn about the art and history of Edo.
Before there was Tokyo, there was Edo, a scintillating place for artists, actors and musicians to celebrate life, sex and nature, oooh, and clothing, beautiful clothing. While in Tokyo I'd once seen a portrait, a slice of Edo, of several women floating around in a boat, drinking sake in lavish kimonos, celebrating the arrival of cherry blossoms and the changing seasons while monkeys performed and musicians played. If only I could be transported back in time to enjoy this rich and poetic culture.
This exhibit showed some screens and scrolls with similar scenes, women in colourful garbs fishing, lounging and smoking, with always a bit of nature peaking out of the background reminding you where the people were; beside each piece, a charming tale to help bring the art to life.
I'll admit I was a bit dismayed that the ukiyo-e collection at the ROM, on loan from Boston, was missing some of the great masterpieces I'd expected. There were limited pieces from Hiroshige and Hokusai and only one true landscape piece, Hokusai's Li Bai Admiring A Waterfall. It's his prints that always strike me the most. While he's well-known for The Great Wave, it's his pieces with one solitary individual in the throws of nature that I'm especially drawn to, those that make you reflect on the power within yourself and aware of the delicate balance mankind shares with his surroundings.