Willamette lecture connects traditional woodblock printmaking and video games

by University Communications,

Willamette University’s Department of Art History will host artist Jed Henry, designer of “Ukiyo-e Heroes,” for a free public lecture on Thursday, Sept. 20, at 7:30 p.m., in the Hallie Ford Museum of Art’s Roger Hull Lecture Hall at 700 State Street in downtown Salem.

Henry will give a talk entitled “Ukiyo-e Heroes, Video Games meet Edo Pop: How Two Western Foreigners saved Japanese Printmaking from Extinction, But Not Really, But Yes, Really.”  

A lifelong video gamer and Japanophile, illustrator Henry combined these interests in a collaboration with Tokyo-based woodblock printer David Bull beginning in 2012. Henry’s print designs re-envision characters from modern video games as characters in traditional woodblock prints of the Edo and Meiji eras, from the early 18th to 20th centuries. In the Edo period, ukiyo-e prints were the pop culture of the day, with theatrical scenes of heroes, monsters, myth and history. Henry saw the connection, “Centuries ago, the tradition of ukiyo-e was known for its vibrant creativity, and showed invulnerable heroes, holy swords, and boss fights. Even the classic double-jump can be traced back to medieval Japanese legends,” says Henry. “The video games we love are just a new chapter in that ancient and enduring culture.”

Henry’s modern designs are painstakingly hand carved and printed from cherry wood blocks in the same process as the prints from centuries ago. “Ukiyo-e Heroes” has introduced international audiences to Japanese woodblock prints, spurring such an interest that Bull’s workshop has begun training young carvers and printers to keep up with the demand, thus helping to preserve this art form for future generations.

While on campus, Henry will visit four classes and lead a drawing workshop for students, “Comic Illustration, Manga Style: Illustration techniques with artist Henry of Ukiyo-e Heroes.”

Henry’s visit is generously co-sponsored by Willamette's Hogue-Sponenburgh Lecture Fund and Center for Asian Studies. For more information, please contact Ann Wetherell at awethere@willamette.edu.