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Born in Chikasaki City, Tsuruya Kokei 弦屋光溪 has a unique place among Japan’s contemporary print artists. Though he hails from a family of artists, Kokei, born Gen Mitsu, did not begin printmaking until age thirty-two. Inspired by the work of the great ukiyo-e artist Sharaku, Kokei's works present masterful portraits of Kabuki actors with expressive faces and exaggerated hands. Emotionally charged, bold and vividly realistic, these prints are a fascinating mixture of traditional ukiyo-e with a distinctly modern angle. Kokei developed a large following upon partnering with Nagayama Takeomi, the director of the the Kabuki theater in Tokyo, the Kabuki-za. Echoing the ukiyo-e tradition, Kokei produced prints to be sold specifically at the theater. This decision resulted in enormous success for the artist. He worked in the spirit of sosaku hanga, designing, carving, inking and printing each block himself.
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