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When worlds collide

The ancient craft of screen printing, a form of stenciling, first appeared in a recognisable form in China during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD). Adapted and refined by the Japanese, it was largely introduced to Western Europe from Asia in the late 18th century. Fast forward to the 1960s, a decade known for expression of creativity and artistic vision, screen printing became the norm in underground settings and subcultures; credit is widely given to the pop artists Andy Warhol, renowned for his vibrant and garish depiction of actress Marilyn Monroe (1962) and Roy Lichtenstein known for his iconic diptych painting “Whaam!” (1963).

These acclaimed artists popularised screen printing as an artistic technique and more than half a century on, screen printing remains as ever popular, so much so that its usage in the commercial printing industry to create mass produced graphics such as movie posters and album covers continues to thrive.

There remains, however, a distinct difference between the artisanal application of screen printing from the industrial use of the process, and whilst its use in mainstream arts may be at risk of decline, screen printing continues to be creatively applied by prominent ateliers and artisans alike. Take Hermès, for example, and its coveted silk scarf. A mainstay of the luxury goods company, it is famed for adorning the décolletage of countless sophisticated celebrities. Limited edition fine and decorative serigraphs are highly collectible and can command hundreds of thousands of pounds.

In my quest to learn more about this ancient art, I was excited to discover Shogun Designs, a new Japanese textile screen-printing company, and the first to unveil the ancient ‘Katazome’ screen-printing method (a technique which creates a uniquely beautiful multi-layered effect, combining depth, texture and colour) to the modern day UK market.

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Andre Benis, founder of Shogun Designs, was born in Yokohama, Japan, and has lived and worked in London most of his life. Textiles have been a key aspect of Andre’s life; going back eight generations in the Japanese line of his family, his Senzawa ancestors were renowned for their heritage in traditional printing, dyeing, manufacture and retail businesses supplying hand-crafted silk kimono to the Imperial and noble classes. Still today, his family continues to refine their craft, creating and sharing their exquisite fabrics across Japan.

Being of Eurasian descent and unphased by competition posed by the commercial print industry, Andre felt a sense of duty to bring beautiful, high quality but affordable Japanese textile screen prints to the western world. “Sadly the appetite for high quality products from the Japanese textile industry is waning as the world is constantly looking for cheaper alternative, but by launching Shogun Designs, I hope to provide an outlet in preserving longstanding traditional methods and beautiful artisanal skills,” Andre explained when I recently met him at his London studio. “Japan is a country renowned for its love of beauty, design and aesthetics.  It has a long and rich history in producing high quality textiles, from the fine kimonos silks at the upper end of the scale to more affordable everyday cottons pieces. The ancient ‘Katazome’ screen-printing method creates vibrant colours and a unique texture and depth, not prevalent in other mediums.”

These culturally stimulating and stylish prints can be enjoyed in the comfort of your home. Shogun Designs features three distinct collections: the unframed classic ‘Icons’ range, which encompasses well-known and globally recognised Japanese ‘Ukiyoe’ wood block prints; ‘Legends’ which celebrates the beloved myths and folklore of Japanese culture and finally the limited edition ‘Festivals’ range of which there only 100 editions.  Prices are affordable, ranging from £90-£295 and, in my view, worth every penny.

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Each piece in the Shogun Designs collection has been personally chosen, hand-designed and screen-printed onto high quality woven cotton.  Combining ancient techniques with modern technology, Shogun Design screen prints use contemporary but traditional screen-printing stencil-templates, layering different colour upon different colour.  They are not computer-generated, identikit digital printouts prevalent in the mass market. All Shogun Designs’ textile screen prints are fabricated using the Japanese ‘Katazome’ method.

The pieces are 100% “Made in Japan”, a country famous for its excellent quality, precision, attention to detail, perfection and love of beauty. The high quality cotton is loomed in Japanese mills and the ‘Katazome’ technique even uses indigenous natural materials such as bamboo, persimmon and glutinous rice. Once hand-crafted in Japan, these textile screen prints are carefully transported to the UK where they are all lovingly hand-finished here.

In a world where everything is being automated, digitalised and technologised, we should embrace and support those who strive to nurture and protect historic practices wherever possible. I for one have got my eye on “Tales of Genji“…

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You can read more about Shogun Designs on its website: http://www.shogun-designs.com.