I was fifteen years old when I first encountered a Japanese woodblock print. It wasn't an actual print, it was a reproduction of one on the cover of a book... “Utamaro: Colour Prints and Paintings” by Jack Hillier. And I was at least fifteen feet from it at the time. If books had eyes, it would most definitely have been an "eyes met across a crowded room" moment. I was instantly captivated by the striking design, and I had to know who was responsible for it. This event took place in the lobby of a museum, and I was on my way to see an exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite paintings at the time, but I couldn't tell you which paintings were on display because from the moment I saw that print - the design of a woman, set against a yellow ground, applying rouge to her lips, which is still a great favourite of mine - I could think of nothing other than Utamaro.
When I became a student at art college, my art history lecturer took an interest in my overwhelming obsession and suggested that I find someone who could offer guidance. As my copy of Jack Hillier's “Utamaro” was never far from me at the time, she suggested I contact the author via his publisher, Phaidon Press in Oxford. I was sixteen years old at the time, and rather shy, but I wrote the letter and sent it off, and much to my surprise a reply arrived only shortly after, with an invitation to visit.
Jack Hillier, who is sadly no longer with us, was, and still is, such a source of inspiration to me that any explanation of the beginnings and subsequent development of my research is inextricably linked to the history of my relationship with both he and his wife. That one visit resulted in many more, a constant exchange of correspondence, and a very special friendship. I owe Jack and Mary Hillier an incalculable debt of gratitude, for without their support I would still be fumbling around blindly in the dark, trying to find my way, and work on "Utamaro Revealed" would never have commenced, let alone reached the point of completion.
My initial admiration for Japanese prints, and of course those of Utamaro in particular, grew until it became an overwhelming passion... as it still is today.
Causes Gina Collia-Suzuki Supports
The World Wildlife Fund
Cancer Research UK