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36 Views of the BT Tower: Kites of Primrose Hill and Fukuroi

As manager of my own website, I can tell from online traffic which designs are more popular than others. Sometimes I understand why a design is popular or not, but sometimes I don't. In this post I will talk a little bit about one of my drawings I really liked from the series but didn't seem to get so much attention, and of my most favourite Japanese prints that inspired it, which has also seemingly been overlooked.

My design shows the view from Primrose Hill, overlooking Regents Park and London zoo, with the BT Tower in the distance. Nearby Regents park has a lot of nostalgic value for me, and the relationship with London zoo is underscored by the elephant on the kite. Elephants are in fact my favourite animal, and I really wanted to include them in one of my designs of London somehow which has a sad lack of any references to elephants (the exception being Elephant and Castle area, but you can't see the BT Tower from there :P ). The pirate ship kites are also a reference to my childhood dream of being a pirate.

In composition, my digital drawing is based on Hiroshige II (1826-1869) 'Distant View of Akiba of Enshu: Kites of Fukuroi'. This print, along with the artist Hiroshige II is usually overlooked, but I consider it one of the most magical and beautiful.

Hiroshige the second's print shows three people flying a kite above rice paddies. The kite string has a pouch of confetti that has been released over the farmers below and allows a burst of colour to appear on the print. It has been suggested that the release of confetti was to bring good luck for the forthcoming harvest. The large kite above has a large Chinese lion that glares at the scene below, creating a playful almost tromp-l'ceil effect. Perhaps more than anything that makes this print beautiful however, is the perfect rendering of gloaming twilight using the bokashi gradation technique. An otherwise humdrum scene of workers in a field becomes whimsical and beautiful. The weather appears warm and people have some leisure to enjoy the remaining light of the day.

So who was Hiroshige II? He was the pupil and adopted son of Hiroshige whose daughter, Otatsu, he also married. Hiroshige II and Otatsu divorced however, and she remarried another student who became Hiroshige III. If that sounds unusual, then consider Utamaro II who married his master's widow. Its seems as if these later artists completely assumed their master's identity and persona, entirely neglecting their own individuality. However, at the time, it was common for Japanese families as well as artists and craftsmen to adopt a student or apprentice to continue the line. Names like Utamaro, Hokusai and Hiroshige were more like brands, with apprentices carrying the name to continue the business after the master passed away. There is little chance ladies such as Otatsu or Mrs Utamaro could have survived economically.



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