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Kabuki Actor (1858)

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About the Art

In a dynamic sweeping pose, the kabuki actor readies himself to use his kendo.

Although this piece is simply titled "kabuki actor", the date of this Kunisada print hints at being a scene from the play 'Edo Zakura Kiyomizu Seigen'. In the actor’s hand is a 'kendo', a two-handed samurai sword made of bamboo used for fencing. 

In the Edo period, fighting was no longer needed for survival, so the practice of kendo had more moral and spiritual significance. But in the kabuki play, the art of fencing is used once more for fighting.

In a famous scene, a group of fencing disciples of rônin Torii Shinzaemon, stroll through the pleasure quarter looking for trouble. They drink sake and instigate an argument with the seller, dragging the old man away and beating him. A man overhears and comes to help, who the kendo fighters realise is the infamous otokodate Sukeroku, leader of the ‘black hands’ gang. The kendo disciples scurry off, and Sukeroku makes amends with the sake seller on their behalf.

Outlaws such as this would have been recognisable by their tattoos, here being pictured in extraordinary detail. The dark silver background colouring was made using 'mica'; a ground-down pigment using mother of pearl. An interesting aspect of this piece is Kunisada’s use of perspective, a technique borrowed from western art. Using the mica, Kunisada creates depth and shadow, alluding to figures hastening past under the cloak of night.

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      • Fade resistant paper and canvas materials, with a matte finish for an authentic look

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