--- Go to the Opening Page of this web site ---

'Hyakunin Issho'
Newsletter for fans of David Bull's printmaking activities
Issue #19 - Spring 1995
Contents of this Issue:


Does this issue seem early? Actually, it's right on schedule! It's just that the previous few issues have been so late ...

David with hanga ...It feels good to be back on schedule, both with this newsletter, and the prints. It's something of a surprise to me that, after six full years of work on this project, I've managed to stay so close to the original plan. Way back in 1989, when I was putting this idea together, it seemed reasonable and practical, but to find that it is working out in actual practice, and that I am now making a living at this ... still seems somewhat unreal.

In this issue we'll have a report on the January exhibitions, yet another installment of the Halifax to Hamura story, and a bit about some of the craftsmen in the 'background' of this project.

Are you bored with all this yet? Not me!

From Halifax to Hamura

It is difficult for a person himself to look back on far-off years, and try and identify things that had an important influence on his character and personality. If I think I am 'such and such' a type now, is it because of events that transpired when I was a young child, or simply because of my genes? I don't know. So what I say next may or then again may not be 'true' ... But I'll try anyway ...

DavidAs I said before, our family was very mobile, moving to a new home every two years on the average. This meant of course, that I was continually in the position of losing all my friends. And every time I started to develop a feeling that 'this place' is 'home' ... that feeling was wiped out, to be started again from the beginning, somewhere else. Is it any wonder then, that the adult David Bull could so easily 'abandon' his Canadian home and his Canadian friends, to start a new life in Japan? Is it any wonder then, that the adult David Bull now has so few close friends that he can count them on less than half of one hand? Is there a connection?

Perhaps due to these things, or perhaps due to my mother's early training, books became an important part of my life, and have remained so to this day. I have an early memory of coming home from the library in the car, and knowing that if I opened the books and started to read them while we were moving I would start to feel sick ... but doing it anyway! (It is one of my few regrets about living here in such a small apartment in Tokyo, that I had to leave all my books in storage back in Canada. I dream about the day when I can live in a larger place, and can have them sent over ... You won't hear from me for months afterward!)

But I shouldn't leave this issue's story on this bit of a negative note. Those elementary and middle school years were actually jammed with activities: playing ice hockey night and day, studying astronomy at a local planetarium, becoming a fanatic stamp collector, studying to become a 'first aid' expert for the boy scouts, having a paper route and delivering right through the coldest Canadian winters (in Canada this is not work for adults, but for middle school kids), and of course playing with my younger brother and the sister who was born when I was about ten ...

I did everything ... but homework. My school grades show an absolutely straight descending line, from top levels in grade one, right down to barely passing at grade 12. Year-by-year ... down, down, down they went. I heard the same litany repeated endlessly by the teachers every time a report card came home ... "David is not performing to his potential ..."

But what on earth does that phrase mean? 'Not performing to his potential ...' Does every basically intelligent young child have to succeed at schools ... classrooms ... and tests? Why was I being judged in that way? Who decided that I 'wasn't performing ...' By what standard? It seems to me that this 43 year old David Bull is in some ways almost exactly the same person as that 12 year old boy: snooping around the universe, working like a beaver at what he finds interesting, and completely ignoring everything else. Am I thus still 'not performing to my potential ...'? What a silly thing to say to a young boy!

Luckily, I seem to have had enough common sense to ignore it!

Exhibition Wrapup

The previous couple of year's exhibitions were so wildly different, that I didn't really have any idea at all what to expect this time around. Two years ago ... a tragedy. Last year ... a wonderful success. What was it to be this time?

Well, somewhat to my surprise (and great relief), this year also was very successful, both in the number of visitors who came to enjoy Shunsho's work, and in the number of people who decided to join the project. Because last year was kind of 'special', being the half-way exhibition, the media was extremely helpful, and that was very much appreciated by me. But this of course meant that I could not expect them to do much for me this time around. I think my work is interesting and worthy of exposure, but there is no way that a newspaper or TV editor can run the same story year after year ... And they didn't.

But it didn't need a 'blizzard' of media exposure to bring in a lot of people. It simply needed one good story, in a good location, and this year the Asahi Newspaper did a bang-up job, giving me an excellent story in their national editions. And it was thanks mostly to this single write-up, that this year's exhibition was as busy and rewarding as last year's.

It was because of my concern about no media coverage that I had planned to have a Kansai exhibition this time. In that area, I am relatively unknown, and I thought that the media there would find the story interesting and worthy of exposure. But unfortunately, as you all know, nature intervened with the Kobe earthquake, and my unimportant little plans had to be set aside. The earthquake was on the 17th, and after discussion with the gallery owners, we decided to go ahead with the exhibition on the 30th, as it seemed that life in Osaka itself was pretty much back to normal.

I couldn't get a hotel of course, but the Saito family in Toyonaka City offered me a space in their home, and I had a very enjoyable, and peaceful week. My mother was in Tokyo from England to take care of my daughters, so I didn't have to worry about them ... It was actually like a good vacation! And on top of this, I got introduced to a couple of people who seem quite interested in my work, and who joined the project.

All in all, I couldn't have asked for a better result from the two shows. I'm certainly not 'sold out' yet (100 collectors), but again this year, it seems like there will be no financial stress. To all of you who helped in this success, my most sincere 'thank you'!

And now, with all the 'noise and stress' behind me, it's time to settle down and get back to what I do best ... carving, carving and more carving!

Visit to a Craftsman

It was years, years, years ago in this newsletter that I introduced Matsuzaki Keizaburo san, the printer who has been giving me advice on printing techniques, but why haven't I also introduced a carver ...?

As you all know, in the traditional printmaking field, printing and carving are always done by separate people. 20th century artist-type printmakers of course 'do it all' themselves, from 'design' to 'sign', but members of that group of craftsmen still living in the 18th century are not willing to spread themselves quite so thinly. They do one thing, and one thing only, and they do it well. Printers print, and carvers carve.

But over and above that simple statement of difference, there is another thing that seems to differentiate printers and carvers, and I suspect it has been so ever since Edo times. Printers (as a group) seem to be gregarious, open, cheerful fellows, always eager to talk about their work, willing to share techniques, and interested in what their fellow workers are doing ... very unsecretive.

Carvers (again, as a group) are quite different people. Although each carver I have met has always been willing to answer any particular question I pose, none of them have seemed over-eager to share their knowledge. I do not think this is connected in any way with my being a foreigner, but simply comes from the history of their craft. Back in the 'old days', different schools of carving existed, and each of these groups presumably considered their particular way of carving superior to the others, and something that should be 'protected'. Over the years they thus developed fairly secretive habits, which persist even today, when any such feeling is actually counterproductive to maintenance of traditions.

Another aspect of this (and one on which my printer friends will disagree with me most vehemently!), is that carving is quite a bit more difficult than printing. I have been told that a standard printer's apprenticeship was about ten years, but that carvers took up to fifteen years to 'earn their stripes'. Even a young printer can produce quite attractive work (on simple projects), but a young carver's handiwork is not so acceptable ... It takes many years of training indeed before even 'simple' work can be carved attractively. Carvers feel 'superior' to printers (at least David the carver feels superior to David the printer!).

As printing requires much more physical strength than carving, perhaps it attracts (or produces?) a different kind of person. Am I wrong in seeing printers as 'jolly' and gregarious workmen, and carvers as fairly 'solitary' and intense types? Traditional lore has it that printers were at their best in their 40's and 50's, by which age they were well-trained, but before their physical strength had started to give out. Carvers on the other hand, could (and do) continue to put out excellent work right up until they drop at the bench. And indeed, their last work would be among their finest work.

So why hasn't there been a 'Visit to a carver' in this series yet? Simply because there haven't been any visits to carvers yet! I did have a chance to visit Mr. Susumu Ito one day, but that was at the request of a TV crew, and didn't allow much personal communication. And I did 'drop in' unannounced on one of the other older carvers one afternoon a few years ago, but he was quite busy, I was perhaps not polite enough, and communication was not warm ...

But now I'm getting a bit desperate. I came to Japan expressly for the purpose of spending time with these people! Nearly nine years ago! When ... when am I going to get a chance to sit down beside one of these men and watch him work? But they are all very busy, and don't want to be disturbed. Perhaps they think I will pester them with a million questions. But I won't, I promise! I just want to sit ... and watch ... and listen ... And of course, I want to absorb what I can of their skills.

The best among them are getting older year by year ... Am I selfish in wanting to 'steal' their secrets? Or perhaps I haven't yet earned their respect?

Maybe this year will be my chance ...


Just at the end of an interview I was giving recently, the young girl who was asking me all the questions made the comment that I was very 'lucky', having such an enjoyable lifestyle: making a living at the work I love, having so many people supporting me, and being surrounded by the beautiful things I have made.

At the time of that interview, I guess I must have been in a bit of an emotional mood, because my response to her casual comment surprised me (and perhaps her, too ...). Instead of just shrugging it off and making some innocuous comment, I started to tell her a story. In a soft, low voice, I described some of the events of the past fourteen years ... of working as a 'salaryman' in Canada, but having a dream of becoming a printmaker ... of saving and saving from my salary, living as frugally as possible ... of then leaving that safe, secure job, and the country where I grew up ... of taking my wife and two little babies to a new, strange country, where I didn't speak the language, where I didn't have a job, where I didn't even have a visa ... of then working day and night for years at teaching English, making toys, re-writing translations ... of seeing my printmaking dream fade farther and farther away ... of seeing my wife leave for another country, because she couldn't see what I could see, that it was possible to attain the dream, if only we worked just a bit harder, and waited just a bit longer ... of then taking the biggest plunge, quitting all the other work and trying to fly on my printmaking wings (at the time, still very, very undeveloped) ... of falling lower and lower, coming so close to losing everything ... and then finally, finally getting enough support to sustain my work and life ...

Was I wrong in telling her of these things? Was it wrong for my eyes to fill up as I then quietly said to her, "And now, a young girl sits in my room ... and says 'You are so lucky!'"? Was this wrong ...?

Yes, my life does seem peaceful, interesting and enjoyable just now. It's not without stresses, most of which I stupidly create for myself, but overall, it seems almost perfect to me. I must be such a lucky guy!