Last night, I stopped by Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra (definitely the SGV’s no.1 place for all things Pop Art) where this month’s opening featured Jed Henry, an artist who’s current project’s success is made of the things internet dreams are made of. The story behind “Ukiyo-e Heroes” started with some designs the artist made to share with his friends on facebook and tumblr, where it later went viral and eventually led to him collaborating with a master Japanese woodblock artist and a kickstarter campaign that managed to earn much more over it’s goal of $10,400 (an astounding $313,341, with 2,422 backers).
So, what is “Ukiyo-e Heroes”? Chances are, if you’re a gamer, you’ve probably heard of it, but if not, basically it’s a parody of famous video game characters illustrated in the style of historical Japanese woodblock art. Henry transforms familiar heroes of the popular Nintendo and Capcom universes into mythical Japanese warriors battling yokai. Games like “Mario Kart” turn into a dynamic scene of rickshaw racing where Mario trades in his signature overalls for a more traditional Japanese robe, Link and Samus Aran are clothed in Samurai-like armour, and cute and cuddly Kirby becomes a ferocious soul eater!
"Soul Eater" Giclee print.
And that’s where the main appeal and charm of this collection of work comes through: the details. So, Henry decided to get even more detailed and more historical by enlisting the help of master woodblock artist David Bull (apparently, there are only a few real masters left, as Japanese woodblock printing is a dying art form). *more pictures and info after the jump..
"Fox Moon" Giclee print
At Nucleus, all of the “Ukiyo-e Heroes” designs were up on display in the form of Giclee prints, with one woodblock print (“Rickshaw Cart”) on view. The Giclee prints were very beautiful, printed on washi paper which gave the ink a richer, softer texture, but once I saw the “Rickshaw Cart” woodblock print, I could see the difference in the two printing techniques. With the woodblock print, the inks were even richer and there was evidence of the “artist’s hand” where you could see indiscrepancies and sharper lines. (When it comes to art, I’m much more biased towards work where the “artist’s hand” is apparent.)
*Here’s a comparison for you, Giclee print on the left, woodblock on the right… you can try clicking the image to make it bigger, but really I recommend seeing it in person anyway.
"Rickshaw Cart" woodblock print
Also during the opening, Jed Henry was there talking to the crowd. He was very friendly and a big “Hello my name is: Jed” sticker on his shirt made it easy to approach him. I got to ask him a few questions myself, one being what other subject matter he’d be interested in exploring with this style and medium. His answer: Studio Ghibli and Kurosawa, though he recognized the challenges in attempting that what with Disney now owning the rights to Ghibli films (Disney is notorious for being sticklers for using their characters… even if they are parody) and Kurosawa films already being based in historical periods kinda leaves a big question as to what exactly is being parodied.
*The artist with his work and fans who drove all the way up from San Diego to see the work… one actually being from Sweden!
I didn’t stay too long at the opening (I had actually spent the whole day in LA with my sister, we were beat from the 105+ degree temps) so sadly, I missed out on seeing anyone in costume… although I did see one girl in a pretty sweet kimono. If you’re interested in Henry and Bull’s “Ukiyo-e Heroes” project, you can learn more at the website where you can also view videos about the process and purchase the prints (Giclee or Woodblock) and even a coloring book pdf. Also, this video here will give you an idea of the next phase of the project, now that the Kickstarter is over. If you’re a local to the SGV, the show will be up only until September 18th, so hurry up and see it while you can!