5 Year Print Market Review 2023


Stik's Onbu print series, produced in 2013 in collaboration with Tokyo's Adachi Institute, shows two of his classic stick figures in a piggyback. Stik recreates a detail from Utagawa Hiroshige's series of woodcut prints, “The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido”, transforming Hiroshige's impressively intricate imagery with his signature simplicity.

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Meaning & Analysis

The Onbu print series was produced in 2013 in collaboration with Tokyo’s Adachi Institute, and depicts a piggyback in signature Stik style. Depicting a piggyback, the series was printed using traditional pigments against block tones of blue, grey, green and pink. The Japanese influence which permeates the entirety of the artist’s oeuvre is perhaps at its height in Onbu.

STIK’s six-line stickman figures were inspired by the emotive, sparing and deliberate mark-making of Kanji - a group of logographic characters with Chinese origins which plays a key role in the Japanese writing system. The artist has noted that his shorthand, emotive style of drawing was inspired by his year spent in Japan as a teenager.

In this series of prints, STIK recreates a detail from Utagawa Hiroshige’s series of woodcut prints entitled The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido, which depicts the historic Tokaido road that connected shogun Japan’s capital, Edo, to Kyoto, the imperial capital. The intricate detail of Hiroshige’s prints starkly contrasts against STIK’s characteristically minimalistic interpretation of the historical scene.

STIK adhered to the processes associated with the traditional Japanese woodcut genre 0f ‘ukiyo-e’ (‘pictures of a floating world’) in creating the works, which are complementary to STIK’s typically minimalistic colour scheme. Ukiyo-e, which reached its peak of popularity in 19th century Japan, tended to depict everyday life in Japan’s major cities, with a particular focus on the ‘floating world’ of brothel and theatre districts. More affordable than the paintings of the day enjoyed by the rich, the comparatively inexpensive ukiyo-e were bought and enjoyed by a wide spectrum of the population.

The production of ukiyo-e prints involves the drawing of the design on paper, prior to its placement on a cherry wood block. The design is then carved into the block, which can be used to make initial monochromatic prints before layers of additional colour are added as required with the carving of additional blocks.

While STIK’s inspiration for the series is plain to see, the image also appears entirely at home in the artist’s catalogue, recalling other images of reliance and physical support such as Big Mother, where STIK depicts a mother carrying her young child at her side, with each figure looking vulnerably in opposite directions.

10 Facts About Stik's Onbu

Onbu (grey) by Stik

Onbu (grey) © Stik, 2013

1. The series flaunts the influence of Japanese ukiyo-e prints on Stik's oeuvre.

When creating his Onbu series, Stik adhered to the style underpinning the traditional genre of 'ukiyo-e'. Translated as 'pictures in a floating world', ukiyo-e woodcuts are characterised flat colour and bold line. In this, the traditioanl Japanese style aligned perfectly with Stik's simple and graphic approach.

Lovers (blue) by Stik

Lovers (blue) © Stik, 2011

2. The principle of ukiyo-e aligns with Stik's typical subject matter.

The subject of the series, two embracing figures, is something which appears again and again in Stik's oeuvre. His works which focus on more than one of his iconic six-line figures are about togetherness and the power of human relationships. Stik explained his work as an attempt to "articulate the persistence of community, but also its frailty. I think that comes across in a lot of my pieces: the persistence of the vulnerable, and the melancholy of hope and tenacity."

Onbu (pink) by Stik

Onbu (pink) © Stik, 2013

3. The series was produced in the Adachi Institute in Tokyo.

The series was printed at the Adachi Institute in Tokyo, which was founded to preserve the Japanese tradition of woodcut printing. Stik's Onbu therefore marries new and old, and expresses Stik's respect for the tradition of printmaking.

Deep (teal) by Stik

Deep (teal) © Stik, 2011