Posts tagged ‘lee jay walker and ukiyo-e’

November 6, 2012

Japanese art and Keisai Eisen: Reality and unreality and the View of Shogetsu Pond

Japanese art and Keisai Eisen: Reality and unreality and the View of Shogetsu Pond

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

If one views the stunning image of the View of Shogetsu Pond by Keisai Eisen, then only images of tranquility, order and a nation at peace comes to mind. It appears that nature, order and a majestic rural life fits smoothly together. Therefore, one can easily depict an image of idealism whereby nature and humanity blend together.

Likewise, if we take this image by itself and try to analyze the artist from such a scenic piece of art, then it would appear that the artist was at peace with himself. After all, buildings are in the background and the natural towering strength of the mountains in the distance seems to imply order and control. Also, the individuals in this piece of art seem in a natural order and the same applies to the pond, trees and every single aspect of the View of Shogetsu Pond.

However, looks can easily be deceiving because the artist Keisai Eisen faced many demons related to drink and owning a brothel. This reality seems a million miles away from the delightful scenery of the View of Shogetsu Pond.

Yet, Keisai Eisen was also known for wit and one never really knows how deep his drinking was. Likewise, was the brothel the “real deal” or something that the artist played up in order to generate rumors and whispers? In this sense, just like the image of the View of Shogetsu Pond, it is clear that many things are a mirage in life but often people change mirages and believe that they are true.

Or, it could just be that Keisai Eisen was disillusioned with the trappings of life. Therefore, this piece of art represents a distant desire within his soul. Yet, of course this is nothing more than pure speculation. In saying that, it is speculation which the artist would appreciate because he was blessed with so many talents related to art and writing.

Keisai Eisen once stated that he was “…a hard-drinking, rather dissolute artist.” This statement is clearly a mirage to reality. After all, Keisai Eisen was blessed with so many skills in the field of art and writing. He clearly knew that many individuals thought highly about his skills and this statement suits the wit of this amazing artist.

Turning back to the brothel comment then it is factual that this type of business did exist in Nezu, Tokyo. Yet, the reasons related to the usage and the role of Keisai Eisen remains debatable. Many individuals have stated various statements about the reality of this brothel. However, these comments are often conflicting. Therefore, speculation remains the order of the day with regards to the true nature of his role in this brothel.

It also could be that the View of Shogetsu Pond by Keisai Eisen lacked any real meaning to the artist. Yet, if you view this one majestic piece of art by itself, then it is nice to dream and think deeply. In this sense, the image and nature of Keisai Eisen represent the mirages of life whereby individuals try to understand the bigger picture. However, in the distance of time, then does the bigger picture mean anything?

http://www.viewingjapaneseprints.net/texts/ukiyoetexts/ukiyoe_pages/eisen3.html 

http://www.artelino.com/articles/keisai-eisen.asp 

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com 

http://moderntokyotimes.com 

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November 6, 2012

Japanese art, culture and the Yamabushi: Benkei and the loyal warrior monk

Japanese art, culture and the Yamabushi: Benkei and the loyal warrior monk

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

In Japanese culture, history and art, it is clear that Saito no Musashibo Benkei left a lasting impression and this continues today in modern culture. This legendary warrior monk belonged to the intriguing period of the 12th century. He was born in 1155 and died in 1189 after serving the famous Minamoto no Yoshitsune.  The images in this article come from the esteemed toshidama (Toshidama Gallery), whereby you can feel the power of Benkei and visually understand how he was portrayed in Japanese art.

Benkei is famous within the folklore of Japan because of his enormous strength which was matched by great loyalty. In the realm of Japanese art and the majestic ukiyo-e movement, then Benkei provides a wealth of images by many famous artists.

It is noted that he was extremely tall because by the age of seventeen Benkei had reached two meters in height. This is still very tall by the standard of today. On top of this was many other great attributes which belong to his fighting skills and the knowledge he obtained during his travels to many Buddhist monasteries.

Of course, within Japanese folklore and the mysteries of history and Shintoism, then many intriguing stories evolve around Benkei. He firmly belongs to the power and prestige of Buddhism and the warrior class that emerged during this period of Japanese history. However, just like Judaism, Christianity and Islam have all been influenced by the Pagan culture where they developed; this similarly happened to Benkei because the power of Shintoism was fused within many elements of Japanese Buddhism and folklore. Therefore, these intriguing stories about Benkei clearly have survived the test of time because he remains a potent figure today in modern Japan.

Much depends on the Benkei which appeals to the storyteller but within Japanese art and the tradition of ukiyo-e; it is clear that the term Oniwaka is merged within the nature of this famous warrior monk. Oniwaka means the “demon or ogre child.” Of course, many other fascinating stories evolve around Benkei including his deeds on the battlefield. For example, it is stated that he defeated at least 200 military men during major battles throughout his life. This of course may be exaggerated or it may not; yet the point is that his fame within the warrior class appealed greatly when judged with his great physical strength and the loyalty that bestowed him throughout his lifetime.

It is also reported that Benkei in time became a yamabushi (mountain warrior monk) and for this reason he is often depicted in a cap. This fits in well with the yamabushi who had many fine qualities. After all, the yamabushi were not only mighty warriors who were blessed with respective supernatural powers. Equally important, was the ascetic nature of the yamabushi and the exemplary knowledge they held related to the Shugendo doctrine.

The Shugendo doctrine evolved around the fusions and integration of many powerful thought patterns. This applies to the school of Shingon Buddhism and the esoteric nature of this faith, the rich heritage of Shinto, the Tendai Buddhist faith and the great philosophy of Taoism. Therefore, the yamabushi were not just mysterious holy men who had mighty powers in the area of military strength; but equally powerful was the knowledge that each individual had obtained in this world and how they utilized this with the mystery of nature.

His loyalty remains famous today and the Toshidama Gallery sums up Benkei extremely well when it comes to the loyalty of this esteemed individual. Toshidama states that “…he was raised by monks who were both religious and military. As a young man he positioned himself at one end of Gojo Bridge and disarmed travelers of their swords. On reaching his 999th sword he fought with a young nobleman, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, who won the battle of the bridge and thereafter Benkei served as his principal retainer. They fought in the Gempei Wars between the Taira clan and their own Minamoto clan.”

If you are intrigued about Benkei then this article is providing just a snippet of the importance of Benkei within many aspects of Japanese culture, history and folklore.

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_473/Toshihide-Portraits-of-Sansho–Ichikawa-Danjuro-IX-as-Benkei-1893.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_391/Kunisada-Benkei-and-Yoshitsune-fighting-on-Gojo-Bridge.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_237/Kunisada-Portrait-of-Benkei.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_246/Yoshitaki-Benkei-and-Yoshitsune-at-Gojo-Bridge.htm

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

June 3, 2012

Japanese art and culture: Yoshu Chikanobu provides a rich glimpse into Japan

Japanese art and culture: Yoshu Chikanobu provides a rich glimpse into Japan

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yoshu Chikanobu (Toyohara Chikanobu) lived between 1838 and 1912 and much of his art highlights the changing nature of Japan. The opening up of Japan after the Meiji Restoration provided many new dreams for Japanese citizens but it also was the start of the death knell for many artisans. This applies to the technological changes taking place and the changing values and thinking during this period of history.

Chikanobu, like other ukiyo-e artists in the Meiji era, understood the need to adapt because many new art forms were altering the artistic landscape in Japan. Western art especially impacted on the new generation of artists and political elites wanted to encourage modernism. Therefore, the new crème de la crème of young artists mainly adopted concepts outside of the powerful ukiyo-e art form which was so potent during the Edo period.

At the same time, technological advancements and photography were impacting greatly on ukiyo-e from a virtually negative point of view. The old ways which nurtured art in the Edo period, along with other forms of art, were being challenged by many new art movements. Also, photography would eat away at the need for ukiyo-e because it could not compete on a technological level playing field.

Chikanobu highlights an array of subjects in his art and this applies to the power of the past to the changing nature of Japanese society. He also depicted powerful historical figures in Japanese history to highlighting the nationalist side of the Meiji period which applies to war. Also, when you view Chikanobu’s art you can visually witness the imperial aspects of Western powers, which were being replicated in dress styles when it applied to elites.

Cultural wise, Chikanobu also painted many adorable themes. This applies to the Japanese tea ceremony, ikebana, kabuki, fashion in the changing Japan, and a plethora of other subjects. In this sense, Chikanobu opens up many aspects of Japan related to many themes. These themes also apply to the “old world” and “new world.”

The Toshidama Gallery (http://toshidama.wordpress.comcomments that “Chikanobu is one of the giants of the Meiji era of Japanese Woodblock prints. With Kunichika and Yoshitoshi, Chikanobu distinguished the turmoil of Japanese culture as it came to terms with the new age. Like them his life and career were inextricably linked to the upheavals in Japanese history and the near civil wars that characterized the time.”

Chikanobu and the series titled A Mirror of the Ages is also a classic because of the rich cultural themes related to women and fashion throughout the changing times. The Toshidama Gallery highlights this series strongly by stating that “This whole series is one of the outstanding achievements of late nineteenth century Japanese art. One of his best series, A Mirror of the Ages showed women by fashion and hair style throughout history. There is of course the longing for the past and yet these prints are unmistakably modern and of their time….The quality of printing is outstanding, especially in Chikanobu’s use of white for the rendering of the powdered faces. It is often forgotten by art historians that this was the period about all others when the technique of woodblock printing achieved its zenith whilst at the same time there were artists of stature to execute it.”

Other adorable print series include “Chiyoda no Ooku” (Court Ladies of the Chiyoda Palace) and “Shin Bijin” (True Beauties). Of course, Chikanobu produced many amazing pieces of art but both the above named series relate to genuine aspects of female beauty in Japan. This is highlighted by traditional clothes, for example the kimono, to the changing nature of the time which applies to Western dress styles.

In a past article about Chikanobu I comment that “Chikanobu not only witnessed the new revolutionary period and how elites looked to the West but by the late 1880s and early 1890s nostalgia also returned.  Obviously for the masses they were outside both themes and the only important thing was survival and adapting.”

The art of Chikanobu stands out dramatically and this not only applies to the exquisite skills that he was blessed with, but also to the themes that Chikanobu highlights. He certainly provides many glimpses into Japan which relate to the “old world,” cultural aspects of Japan, and the modernization of the Meiji period.

Overall, Chikanobu is one of the greats of the ukiyo-e art movement and given the plethora of fantastic ukiyo-e artists, this highlights his richness to the full. Therefore, if you adore Japanese art, culture, and history, then Chikanobu will appeal greatly because of the broad themes he depicted in his art.

 

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_216/Chikanobu-A-Mirror-of-the-Ages.htm

Please visit http://toshidama.wordpress.com for more articles and information.

Please visit http://toshidama-japanese-prints.com/ –   On our site you will see a wonderful selection of Japanese woodblock prints for sale. Ukiyo-e (the Japanese name for woodblock prints of the 18th and 19thcenturies) are beautiful, collectible and a sound financial investment

http://www.depauw.edu/news/index.asp?id=20942

http://moderntokyotimes.com

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

May 5, 2012

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Japanese ukiyo-e

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Japanese ukiyo-e

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) adored Japanese ukiyo-e and many famous international artists also fell in love with this art form. Toulouse-Lautrec and his lifestyle would certainly have fit in well with the environment of Yoshiwara in Tokyo, which is famous for prostitution. Indeed, several ukiyo-e artists depicted scenes in this famous district including Hiroshige and Utamaro. Therefore, Toulouse-Lautrec would have felt like being “home from home” because Yoshiwara and Montmartre shared many common features in the past.

Rene Princeteau gave art lessons to Toulouse-Lautrec when he was young and the background of his family is one of wealth. Indeed, he was born into an aristocratic family but tragedy impinged on Toulouse-Lautrec when he was a teenager because he broke both legs. The severity of the accidents meant that his legs stopped growing and this created “many internal demons.” This is based on the fact that his body continued to develop like normal therefore throughout his short life he could never fully come to terms with this situation.

The artistic turning point for Toulouse-Lautrec came in 1882 because he went to Paris in order to study conventional art. He soon met important artists like Vincent Van Gogh and the art of Edgar Degas inspired him greatly in this period. Therefore, the lore of Impressionist art enticed him greatly and because of this he gave up his studies in conventional art.

Toulouse-Lautrec who was born in the south of France now found himself in Montmartre in Paris. The environment was completely different because this area had a buzzing nightlife across the whole spectrum. This applies to cabarets, restaurants, dancing clubs with sexual connotations, cafes, brothels, and other areas of life.

The trappings of this new environment enticed Toulouse-Lautrec because he soon joined the bohemian community. During the evening period he would drink and natter with friends. However, despite enjoying himself Toulouse-Lautrec would also draw sketches and then work on altering these by turning them into lithographs and paintings. This became most rewarding for Toulouse-Lautrec because the environment created passion, innovation, and ideas, which were then expressed through his artwork.

Dieter Wanczura, www.artelino.comcomments that “The lithographs of Lautrec show the famous personalities of the French Belle Epoque. Lautrec knew them all personally- singers and dancers like Yvette Guilbert, May Belfort, Jane Avril or the poet Aristide Bruant. Many of these lithographs were commissioned by these artists for posters or theater billboards or as illustrations for magazines.”

Dieter Wanczura further comments that “The impressionists saw Ukiyo-e art (Japanese woodblock prints) and were impressed. And like so many other artists of the late nineteenth century, Lautrec had started collecting Japanese art. At that time, everything Japanese was en vogue – very fashionable.”

“Japanese printmaking had a very pervasive influence on his style. For Toulouse Lautrec movement and forms were important. His compositions, unusual perspectives and the use of large areas of flat color are undoubtedly inspired by Japanese woodblock prints.”

Western art impacted on Japanese art in the same period and likewise the Paris scene was awash with ukiyo-e prints. Therefore, new ideas were going in both directions but cultural differences meant that aspects of the cultural settings were very different. Also, individual artists, irrespective of nationality, had unique aspects which applied to their respective thought patterns and upbringings.

Artists like Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, and many others, were influenced by Japonisme (Japonism). However, Japonisme was based on the eye and not the concept or rich traditions which had evolved in Japan. Also, ukiyo-e is extremely broad when it comes to subjects that were covered and individual artists had their own unique styles and ways. Yet despite this, Japonisme certainly inspired many artists and for Toulouse-Lautrec ukiyo-e was like Montmartre. This applies to opening-up a new world of art and thought patterns, which would enhance his creativity and style.

If you visit that Van Gogh (www.vangoghgallery.com) Gallery website it is stated that “Japanese art, especially Japanese woodcuts, became a great influence on Van Gogh. When Van Gogh moved to Paris in 1886 he was introduced to impressionism and also explored Japonism. Van Gogh admired the bold designs, intense colors, and flat areas of pure color and he also appreciated the elegant and simple lines.”

It is abundantly clear that Toulouse-Lautrec would fully understand the words of Van Gogh because he was also transformed in Paris. In another article I wrote about Japanese art I comment that Ukiyo-e and western art went in both directions but the initial contact period will have been based on a mirror which can’t fully show the complexion of the individual because of all the steam. Irrespective of this, it is clear that both traditions led to new creativity.”

Sadly, for Toulouse-Lautrec, the lifestyle that altered his artistic path in Paris also became self destructive. Therefore, alcohol abuse and other negative areas all climaxed in his early death at the age of 36. In many ways Toulouse-Lautrec always had “two worlds which were pulling in opposite directions.” The first world applies to coming from a wealthy family but having poor health for the majority of his life. While the second world applies to being extremely creative because of the environment of Paris but the same environment led to his early death based on alcohol abuse and other factors.

Irrespective of everything, Toulouse-Lautrec leaves a lasting legacy because of the richness of his art and he also opens up the world of Montmartre.

 

http://www.artelino.com/articles/toulouse_lautrec.asp

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

April 27, 2012

Japanese art and Utamaro Kitagawa: striking ukiyo-e artist

Japanese art and Utamaro Kitagawa: striking ukiyo-e artist

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The exact date of the birth of Utamaro Kitagawa and strong details about his parents remain shrouded in mystery. It is known that this striking ukiyo-e artist was born in the middle of the eighteenth century and that he died in the early nineteenth century. However, while these details may remain sketchy the artistic skills of this ukiyo-e artist aren’t sketchy because he left a powerful legacy.

Utamaro was especially known for his bijin-ga (art of beautiful women) and studies of nature. In the middle of the nineteenth century his stunning ukiyo-e portraits reached many acclaimed artists in Europe, notably in France. The upshot of this was that he influenced European Impressionists because of aspects of his art related to partial views and other areas related to light and shade.

In the early art of Utamaro you can see the influence of Torii Kiyonaga and Harunobu Suzuki. Also, it is widely accepted that he studied under Toriyama Sekien and that the publisher Tsutaya Juzaburo enabled Utamaro to develop and prosper. This applies to the early part of his artistic career but in time the relationship would cease once Utamaro reached new heights in the early 1790s.

Therefore, from 1791 he concentrated on single portraits of ladies rather than women in groups, which was very popular at the time. His half-length portraits would also inspire many artists in later generations in Japan and much further afield.

It is stated that Utamaro would find models from either the streets of Tokyo or from the sexual known area called Yoshiwara, which is still known for this feature in modern day Tokyo. Also, in the streets of Harajuku, Shibuya, and Shinjuku in modern times, you will often see men asking beautiful ladies for work related to modeling and other areas. Therefore, it is easy to envisage Utamaro doing the same in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century.

Utamaro didn’t just limit himself to bijin-ga because he also did work related to nature studies, animals, insects, and shunga (erotica). Often, this side of Utamaro is overlooked but clearly he was multi-dimensional. Also, it must be stated that shunga may appear to be more sexual from the non-Japanese point of view. However, in Japan this art form was a way of focusing on the natural side of human behavior.

Dieter Wanczura on the website Artelino comments that “When reading about this artist, you will often find phrases like “No other ukiyo-e artist has painted the beauty of women as deeply as he did”. This has indeed a point. Utamaro’s women express a certain sensitivity that no ukiyo-e artist had achieved before him. He had experimented with some new techniques to display the flesh tones of his women portraits in a different and softer manner.”

“But the artist certainly did not show women in their real natural physiognomy. His women are idealized with extremely tall and slender bodies. The heads are twice longer than broad. The noses are extremely long and the eyes and the mouth are depicted as tiny little slits. His women have long necks and small shoulders.”

“The typical physiognomy of a Japanese woman of the late eighteenth century was certainly far different from the designs of Utamaro. Indeed, his women look more like the models in today’s fashion magazines. Is this the key for an explanation of the success of Utamaro prints?”

Sadly, the last few years witnessed bouts of depression after being imprisoned in 1804 because of his art. This applies to an historical print that he produced which showed Toyotomi Hideyoshi (a pre-Edo leader who helped to unify Japan) with five concubines and his wife. However, this displeased the ruling elites and for this he was put in prison for a brief period (some say 50 days others state the period was much shorter).

Irrespective of the length of time, he took this badly because he felt humiliated and clearly this incident tarnished his reputation amongst the elites. He died two years later but his legacy remains strong because of the stunning pieces of art he produced

 

http://www.artelino.com/articles/utamaro.asp

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

March 9, 2012

Japanese art and Keisai Eisen: the early life of this acclaimed ukiyo-e artist

Japanese art and Keisai Eisen: the early life of this acclaimed ukiyo-e artist

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Keisai Eisen (1790-1848) learnt to be independent from an early age and he chose a path which was fraught with economic danger. In a sense, Keisai Eisen represents aspects of “the real Edo period” for individuals who resided in big cities in this period of history. This applies to many deaths within his family, poverty, uncertainty, and amidst all this chaos you had natural raw energy which manifested itself through the arts.

It is difficult for people in the modern world to connect with the reality of the old world. After all, infant mortality in Tokyo, Paris, Manchester, and all important cities in this period of history, was deplorable. Therefore, with the average lifespan being much shorter and the central state providing little in the way of cushions to help, then individuals had no time to dwell.

Of course, in all societies you always had “a small minority” who could enjoy the material comforts of this world. However, for individuals like Keisai Eisen, then the real world was about death, hardship, and seeing the world for what it is. Yet this didn’t mean “weakness” or “pity,” on the contrary, for Keisai Eisen this led to him being independent because he refused economic help from family relatives when he was a young man.

Keisai Eisen was born in the district of Hoshigaoka in Tokyo and today this applies to the Nagatacho area which is part of the Chiyoda district. His father, Ikeda Masabe Shigeharu, was a very interesting character. He was a low ranking warrior who enjoyed the finer parts of culture. This applies to enjoying poetry, tea ceremonies, reading, poetry, and writing. Therefore, this must have rubbed off on Keisai Eisen and indeed it was through his father’s friend that he apprenticed under Namiki Gohei.

Namiki Gohei was a kabuki/kyogen writer and when Keisai Eisen was a young adult he had hoped to become a professional kyogen writer. Kyogen applies to a form of traditional theatre in Japan. However, once more death within his family would impact on his dream and after this he focused on becoming independent and turned to the world of ukiyo-e and other means to survive.

Turning the clock back to when Keisai Eisen was a child then at the age of six he was adopted by his stepmother following the death of his mother. Therefore, when he was thinking of becoming a kyogen writer events turned against him because of death once more. This applies to the death of his father and stepmother in the same year when he had turned twenty years of age.

Given the circumstances of his reality and with having three sisters, then Keisai Eisen abandoned his dream of becoming a kyogen writer. Also, he bravely refused financial support from relatives who had wanted to help him. This indicates strongly that he was tenacious, independent, extremely determined, and pragmatic. After all, he had been dealt a difficult “deck of cards” but despite this he refused “any aces” which may help him in order that he could support himself.

Keisai Eisen distinguished himself in the field of ukiyo-e but his literature is also highly regarded. Indeed, some individuals believe that he was a ghostwriter for Tamenaga Shunsui and Yoshimi. These two writers of ninjou-bon (stories focused on ordinary people) were popular during their time but this theory is still openly debated. However, it highlights the quality of his writing to be linked with these two individuals irrespective of 100 per cent certainty.

Irrespective of what happened in the later years of his life it is clear that events during his young adulthood impacted greatly on Keisai Eisen. Also, the choices he picked when he was twenty years old, despite enormous adversity, were very admirable.

His artistic legacy is abundantly clear because he created many stunning pieces of art.

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_171/Eisen-Young-Woman-Walking-Under-an-Umbrella.htm

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com

http://toshidama.blogspot.com/

http://www.artelino.com/articles/keisai-eisen.asp

February 25, 2012

Japanese art and Meiji period ukiyo-e (1868-1912)

Japanese art and Meiji period ukiyo-e (1868-1912)

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Meiji Period (1868-1912) was very dynamic in many ways because new thinking, modernization, radical change, and a plethora of other factors, altered the cultural landscape in all major cities. However, the countryside often ticked to a different beat despite important reforms and major changes in the area of agriculture and amenities. In the field of ukiyo-e art it appears that the crème de la crème of Meiji ukiyo-e artists have been relegated or not acknowledged fully. After all, the emphasis in the past was mainly focused on Edo ukiyo-e artists.

Despite this, it is clear that you have many important Meiji ukiyo-e artists who blessed this art form. This notably applies to Chikanobu, Kawanabe Kyosai, Ogata Gekko, Yoshitoshi, Toyohara Kunichika, Utagawa Yoshifuji, Mizuno Toshikata, Kobayashi Kiyochika, and Ginko Adachi. The list could be added and for some of the above artists then clearly they began their careers during the Edo period but on each above individual the Meiji period impacted greatly on their art.

The Toshidama Gallery (http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/comments that “Whilst the date is significant, it is hard to say that prints produced before this date were ‘Edo’ and those made after were ‘Meiji’. There is however a clear trend in both subject matter, style and quality which becomes more apparent as the century progressed. Most striking is the use of colour. With progress came industrialisation and the ability to produce aniline dyes and commercial pigments. The distinctive reds, blues and violets of Meiji prints are hard to miss when compared to the vegetable and organic dyes of the early part of the century. Vibrant and sometimes harsh, only the great artists of the period such as Yoshitoshi and Kunichika were able to create subtlety or sophistication from the new colours. For an artist such as Kunichika, the new reds were the ‘colour of enlightenment’ and their use had political overtones as well as artistic purpose.”

“Subject matter for Meiji artists continued the tradition of picturing the still wildly popular kabuki theatre. In the case of artists such as Kunichika, the production of theatre prints still overwhelmingly made up the bulk of their commissions.  Historical subjects remained popular and often carried critical political undertones especially in the case of artists such as Yoshitoshi or Chikanobu who were sentimentally and politically attached to the previous administration. There was however, an increasing demand for picturing the new. In print series such as Yoshitora’s 53 Stations of the Tokaido Road of 1872, we see the use of telegraph poles as significant decorative devices – a sure reflection of the new era’s commitment to modernisation. Pictures of beautiful women had always been a staple of ukiyo-e production, but as in the case of Kunichika’s Mirror of the Flowering of Customs and Manners of 1878, these bijin pictures reflected the new western influences and stopped looking back to the dreamy floating world courtesans of Utamaro. Kunichika’s women are tougher, and have personalities and stories to tell and this is also the case in the work of Yoshitoshi, where women figure as identifiable characters for almost the first time in Japanese art.”

Obviously the dynamics of the time would inspire new thinking and creativity and the new vibrant color palette enabled new dimensions to develop. Other areas like multiple perspectival lines and detailed composition meant that times were changing. Of course, it is important to avoid generalizations because ukiyo-e artists in both periods of history, or who belonged to both the Edo period and Meiji period, had certain trademarks which belonged to each individual artist. However, the impact of modernization and the threat to ukiyo-e because of this meant that new focuses were needed in order to survive the Meiji period.

The reputation of some Meiji ukiyo-e artists is starting to grow and long may this continue. In the history of ukiyo-e the artists of the Meiji period had it hard because often the greats of the Edo period overshadowed them in popularity and international prestige. Also, unlike the ukiyo-e artists of the Edo period the changing world was challenging this art form because of multiple factors. Therefore, innovation was needed during the Meiji period because the power of photography was constantly growing and different art forms were gaining greater attention internally once Japan began to open up to the outside world.

Therefore, like I stated in an earlier article “Yoshitoshi was working against the onset of modernity because with the mass production of Western standards, for example in lithography and photography; he was fighting a losing battle.  However, he did keep the bursting dam at bay but the spark of passion could not keep the onrushing water out.  Therefore, Japanese woodblock print, which had been a beacon for Japanese art, succumbed to the onset of modernity and he, and countless others, must have felt the pain deeply.”

Yet despite everything the art work of Chikanobu, Kawanabe Kyosai, Ogata Gekko, Yoshitoshi, Toyohara Kunichika, Utagawa Yoshifuji, Mizuno Toshikata, Ginko Adachi, Kobayashi Kiyochika, and other Meiji ukiyo-e artists, was truly amazing. Therefore, each individual mentioned left behind many stunning pieces of art and they all provide a glimpse into the changing times of this period.

Meiji ukiyo-e artists just like Edo ukiyo-e artists should be judged on a case by case basis which applies to the art they produced. Of course differences will apply based on multiple factors but the issue shouldn’t be the period they belonged to. Instead, it should solely be based on the art they produced because both periods of history blessed the art world.

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/catalog.php?category=79

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/

http://www.toshidama-japanese-prints.com/item_222/Toshikata-A-Beauty-Looking-at-Autumn-Grass.htm

http://yoshitoshi.verwoerd.info/

http://www.yoshitoshi.net/

http://www.depauw.edu/news/index.asp?id=20942

http://www.ogatagekko.net/

http://www.ogatagekko.net/BMA.html – Stunning images from this website

http://www.ogatagekko.net/FFZ.html – Fantastic set of images which show the grace of Ogata Gekko

http://shogungallery.com/index.php?cPath=21_24_153

http://woodblockprint.com.au/44.html

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

February 9, 2012

Japanese art and Torii Kiyonaga: Ukiyo-e and bijinga

Japanese art and Torii Kiyonaga: Ukiyo-e and bijinga

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815) was an extremely stylish ukiyo-e artist who belonged to the Torii school. His rise to the top of this school highlights many aspects of Japanese culture within the art world because he wasn’t related to the Torii family but despite this he rose to the top after the death of Torii Kiyomitsu who was his teacher and adoptive father. Therefore, biological factors which remain powerful in modern Japan appears not to have been a hindrance in old Japan within the art world because the Torii family focused on reputation and not bloodline.

The rich tradition of the Torii family was maintained by Kiyonaga and he would supervise Torii Kiyomine who was the grandson of Kiyomitsu. In time Kiyomine would succeed Kiyonaga and clearly his teaching would prepare him fully.

Kiyonaga is famous for nishiki-e (“”brocade picture” – multi-colored woodblock printing), bijinga (beautiful women), paintings of Kabuki actors, depicting courtesans and he also produced shunga (erotic art). However, Kansei Reforms in the 1790s which were based on other edicts did try to clampdown on shunga. Yet in time shunga would naturally fall by the wayside with the emergence of erotic photography in the Meiji period (1868-1912).

Turning back to nishiki-e then this technique innovation is credited to Kinroku and this form became an important development within the ukiyo-e art world in the 1760s. Suzuki Harunobu popularized nishiki-e in the middle of the 1760s and clearly Kiyonaga understood the importance of this new technique.

Bijinga was an area where Kiyonaga would excel and clearly the utilization of nishiki-e and elegant portrayals enabled him to produce many stunning pieces of art. Other notable bijinga artists apply to Utamaro, Suzuki Harunobu, Toyohara Chikanobu, and the last greatest producer of this art form being Ito Shinsui. Ogata Gekko also produced many stunning works of beautiful women and bijinga is extremely pleasing on the eye.

The Art Institute of Chicago comments on their website that “The artist Torii Kiyonaga has been described as the preeminent leader in…the golden age of ukiyo-e prints.” This comment is followed by a quote from Chie Hirano who stated that “He understood the human body much more thoroughly than other ukiyo-e artists, and by beautifying it he created a healthy and noble type of his own.”

On the Van Gogh Gallery it is stated that His work is less stilted and formal than that found in prints from earlier periods, and he presents female figures and their male admirers and suitors in outdoor and indoor scenes. These scenes offer distant landscapes, views of houses and roofs in diagonal patterns, and river and boating scenes. Kiyonaga was a great master of color, and he liked to paint diptychs and triptychs, which were printed on separate sheets of paper. Whether he used deep, sensuous tones or more delicate pastels and shades of gray and black, he applied the color freshly and with great taste. His delicate line delineated graceful and appealing women.”

“Kiyonaga’s work makes use of genre objects and architectural detail, and depicts what must have been for the people of Tokyo, a series of familiar places and activities. Unlike other Ukiyo-e artists, he also offered the general public a series of prints, depicting court ladies of the tenth and eleventh centuries, dressed in their stiff brocaded kimonos, with elaborate coiffures.”

Kiyonaga left behind a rich legacy in several areas of ukiyo-e because he clearly responded to changing techniques by utilizing nishiki-e. Also, the elegance of many art pieces by Kiyonaga means that aspects of high culture and changing styles can easily be imagined.

http://www.art.com/gallery/id–a8195/torii-kiyonaga-posters.htm

http://www.vangoghgallery.com/artistbios/Torii_Kiyonaga.html

http://www.artic.edu/aic/exhibitions/exhibition/toriikiyonaga

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

 

http://moderntokyotimes.com

December 31, 2011

Japanese culture & Chikanobu: ukiyo-e and East, West or a Japanese identity?

Japanese culture & Chikanobu: ukiyo-e and East, West or a Japanese identity?

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yoshu Chikanobu (Chikanobu Toyohara) was a Meiji artist who highlighted many aspects of this revolutionary period in Japan. Chikanobu, like other Meiji artists, was often overlooked in the past but today the art world is changing. Therefore, artists who belonged to this period are now being recognized for the talents they had in abundance.

Chikanobu provides images which show the many faces of Japan and just like the modern period in Japan in the twenty-first century, it is obvious that this nation is still caught between many worlds. The old world of Shintoism and Buddhism survives powerfully during major festivals and when important events occur in the lifetime of individuals. Of course, the degree of influence will depend on the importance of these faiths within the family but even if distant, they still exist and temples and shrines dot the landscape throughout Japan.

Therefore, irrespective if individuals have rejected religion or adopted a new faith, for example converted to Christianity, the power of the old world can be felt within the culture of Japan. Chikanobu, therefore, would probably feel the same forces pulling away at the soul of Japan in the modern period. This applies to Western influence and the role of Chinese culture and where Japan truly belongs – if, indeed, Japan belongs to any single camp. 

This is not unique to Japan because nations like the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan also have complex histories. Therefore, do these nations belong to Asia, Europe or Eurasia? Or, like Japan, does much depend on each individual because no clear answer can be given – it would appear so!

Chikanobu, therefore, lived in a period of real revolution in Japan because he was born in 1838 and died in 1912. Therefore, he witnessed the ending of Edo and the start of the Meiji period in 1868. This period in Japanese history laid the foundation stone for much of the upheavals of the 1930s and the remarkable recovery which was in full swing in the 1960s.

In an earlier article about Chikanobu it was stated that “Chikanobu not only witnessed the new revolutionary period and how elites looked to the West – but by the late 1880s and early 1890s nostalgia also returned.  Obviously for the masses they were outside both themes and the only important thing was survival and adapting.”

“Chikanobu’s famous print series called “Chiyoda no Ooku” (Court Ladies of the Chiyoda Palace) and “Shin Bijin” (True Beauties) highlight stunning colors and show the complexity of this period. This applies to images which show Japanese ladies dressed in exquisite traditional clothes like the kimono and Chikanobu also depicts women in Western clothes.” 

Therefore, by focusing on aspects of his artwork then you can feel the power of “ideas” colliding, sometimes working collectively or a fusion is starting to happen. This means that the Meiji period is also the start of a new complex cultural norm in the body politic of Japan. After all, in the past the role of China is clear for all too see when it applies to kanji, Buddhism, Confucianism, architecture, literature, and so forth. Also, Korea must not be overlooked because important interaction took place and it also must be stated that great thinkers from Japan also spread their ideas in China.

Given this, the rise of Western power would create a new dimension in the Meiji period and even today you can still feel the power of this collision. After all, in modern day Japan the influence of all these factors can be felt. Also, while the power of China appeared to be on the wane the same can’t be said in the modern period because China’s economy is now ticking loudly and Korean culture is spreading once more because of K-pop and the film industry.

Of course, these competing forces don’t have to be negative and often all these complex factors have helped to create new ideas and styles. Therefore, the world of Chikanobu was very complex and he highlights aspects of the changing nature of Japan which was based on modernization. However, true to the nature of Japan, the old world still remained potent and this applied to the role of the Tenno (heavenly
sovereign) in this period.

In a sense, Japanese modernization in the Meiji period was based on the foundation of strong cultural norms which would enable conservatism to remain powerful. This means that modernization was based on traditionalism in order to implement rapid changes.

Chikanobu provides a glimpse into this changing world and his art is highly valued because of many factors. Of course, the main single factor is his fabulous artwork but from an historical point of view and analyzing sociology, it is clear that Chikanobu helps in these important fields to a certain degree.

However, the answer of Japan being based firmly in the Western camp or Eastern camp, or being a bridge between both worlds or belonging to just Japanese culture, remains unanswered.  After all, much will depend on how people see the world and clearly you don’t have one answer or one vision which is binding. Therefore, if Chikanobu was alive in modern Japan he could also highlight the many dimensions of this unique nation.

http://www.depauw.edu/news/index.asp?id=20942

http://moderntokyotimes.com

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

November 30, 2011

Isoda Koryusai: man of mystery in the ukiyo-e art world

Isoda Koryusai: man of mystery in the ukiyo-e art world

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Isoda Koryusai is a man of mystery even today because much remains up in the air about important aspects of his life. Koryusai was born in 1735 and died in 1790 and he was active during the 1760s and until a few years before his death. However, major aspects remain debatable but despite this he was a fine artist who graced ukiyo-e and Japanese art.

Unlike the vast majority of ukiyo-e artists Koryusai was born into an elite samurai family and he was one of only a few who entered the ukiyo-e art world from such a lofty background. This meant that he saw aspects of Japanese society and culture from a different way to the majority of ukiyo-e artists.

Koryusai understood the importance of stratification and Confucian thinking because his early life was based on conformity and not upsetting the applecart. However, either he turned to the art “within him” or he was forced to enter the world of ukiyo-e because of financial factors. Sadly, this area is disputed by many scholars of ukiyo-e and much is open to interpretation.

Therefore, some scholars claim that he became a ronin and because of this he took to art in order to survive financially. Others, however, claim that he voluntary entered the art world and gave up being a samurai because art was embedded in his soul. This area is very important because in order to feel the passion and soul of Koryusai a great deal relies on this.

Of course, nothing can take anything away from the art of Koryusai irrespective of the real reasons behind changing his lifestyle. However, the vagueness of knowledge means that it is difficult to get close to the “real” Koryusai.

On the website Artelino (http://www.artelino.comit gives a lot of information about Koryusai and Dan McKee comments about the background and influence of this overlooked artist. This applies to the background and influence behind Koryusai and if he was a pupil of Harunobu Suzuki.

Dan McKee comments that “There is no certain evidence to prove this fact, but it is often assumed that Koryusai began his printmaking work as a pupil of Harunobu Suzuki, whose style can indeed be seen in Koryusai’s early work, though also in the work of some other print artists (Shunsho, Shiba Kokan) whose connection to Harunobu seems even less direct. The same can be said for Koryusai’s early signature, Haruhiro, under which he designed his first prints at around the time of Harunobu’s demise (1769-1770), for use of the “haru” prefix may imply only an effort to appear in the Harunobu line, rather than an actual master-disciple relationship (ala Harushige).”

“Similarly, the inscription on one 1770 print, claiming it to be a design by Harunobu, for which Koryusai was asked to add color, could as easily represent an attempt to place Koryusai as the direct descendant of Harunobu for commercial reasons, to fill the void left by the death of the first nishiki-e master. It is notable that Koryusai states in this inscription that he “does not know Harunobu’s way but have finished the print with his [Koryusai’s] own brushwork.”

Robyn Buntin (http://www.robynbuntin.com) on the other hand comments that “Though possibly a pupil of Shigenaga, Koryusai was influenced most by his friend Harunobu whose style can be seen in Koryusai’s early work. His most original work, in which he excelled, was in pillar prints, bird-and-flower prints, and shunga.”  

Jack Hillier concludes that “There is always, especially among collectors, a tendency to make comparison between artist and artist, and with Koryusai it is perhaps a case of we look before and after and pine for what is not.”

Koryusai remains a man of mystery but he produced stunning art and gave much to the ukiyo-e art world. Therefore, it is best to let the man of mystery remain to be this, rather than creating or trying to formulate conclusions which are incorrect.

Another mystery about Koryusai is why his art appears to be overlooked and the same applies to the individuality of his work. After all, he did produce art which carried his own individual style and the spectrum he focused on was very intriguing.

The final years of his life appear to be based on focusing on his roots because many designs had Chinese connotations and based on typical pillars of samurai elites. Therefore, the foundation laid down in Koryusai’s early life remained deeply within his soul.

 http://www.artelino.com/articles/isoda-koryusai.asp

http://www.robynbuntin.com/ukiyo-e/MorebyArtist.asp?ArtistID=353

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com