October 13, 2016
January 08, 2017
Honolulu Museum of Art
Imayō: Japan’s New Traditionists, a two-part exhibition held at the University of Hawai‘i Art Gallery and the Honolulu Museum of Art, examines the inspirational power of historical Japanese art and craft traditions. Six contemporary artists with a shared interest in the history and technical mastery of Japan’s rich pre-20th-century art and craft traditions reveal how this heritage is transformational, with the potential to renew and reinvigorate the familiar and conventional. The art on display— including textiles, paintings, ceramics, lacquer wares, and carved wood and cast-metal sculpture—honors and transcends the confines of “tradition,” reflecting and commenting upon Japan’s own complex and often ambiguous relationship with the past.
At HoMA, work by Tōru Ishii, Ryōko Kimura, Haruo Mitsuta, Satoshi Someya, Kōji Tanada, and Tarō Yamamoto will be shown alongside pre-20th-century Japanese art from the permanent collection that inspired the artists, while works at the UH Art Gallery, on display October 2 to December 2, will include larger-scale installations.
Imayō: Japan’s New Traditionists is curated by Professor John Szostak, Department of Art and Art History at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, in partnership with the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Mahalo to the following sponsors for their generous support: the Cooke Foundation, the Hawai‘i Council for the Humanities, the Japan Foundation, the University of Hawai‘i Japan Studies Endowment, and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa SEED Program.
About the artists
Tōru Ishii is a specialist in itome (“fine-line”) yūzen, invented in the 18th century by silk producers of Kyoto’s Nishijin textile district in order to create exquisitely colorful and complex hand-painted designs of birds, flowers, figures, and landscapes on kimono robes and obi sashes. Ishii uses his technical mastery of itome yūzen to evoke colorful images of 21st century Japan, such as convenience stores, instant noodle packaging, and Tokyo Tower, spliced with traditional icons of pre-modern Japanese culture, such as samurai, Kabuki actors, and Mount Fuji. Ishii’s art sympathizes with the tendency of contemporary Japanese to view their own past with equal measures of nostalgia and alienation, and adds value and contemporary relevance to the historically rich yūzen dyeing tradition.
Ryōko Kimura is a painter with wide-ranging knowledge and interest in Japan’s pictorial heritage, including Chinese-style landscapes, Zen Buddhist ink portraiture, and Ukiyo-e paintings and woodblock prints. At the same time, her works are unmistakably contemporary due to Kimura’s subject matter of choice, namely beautiful males, especially the movie idol and pop singer types commonly reproduced in Japanese teen girl magazines. Her work recalls the Edo-period Ukiyo-e pictorial tradition, with its obsessive focus on beautiful female entertainers, courtesans, and other paragons of womanly beauty, which she substitutes with images of beautiful young males placed in fantastic settings. Kimura also inserts humor into her work, rendering her male subjects in a cartoonish manga-style, and placing them in exaggerated poses, allowing her paintings to fluctuate between the erotic and the comic.
Haruo Mitsuta produces metal sculptures of insects, crustaceans, and other “creepy-crawlies” with obsessively detailed and extraordinarily lifelike precision. His inspiration is jizai okimono, a kind of jointed, moveable metal sculpture invented in Japan in the 1700s that emphasizes careful attention to realistic detail. Mitsuta’s importance as an artist, however, does not rely only on his mastery of this traditional technique. Rather than confine his jizai okimono to museum display cases or tearoom tokonoma alcoves (the typical viewing contexts for such objects), Mitsuta creates unique situations for his creations, such as displaying a bronze spider in a web woven of fine golden thread, or placing paired metal centipedes on a pillow in an actual bed, intended to amplify viewers’ feelings of fascination, tension, or even repulsion, in effect reinventing this historical sculptural genre through his strategies of display.
The Japan Times described Satoshi Someya as “one of the most significant contemporary lacquer artists working in Japan today.” His work combines objects of daily use, such as bathing buckets, serving trays, and soup bowls, with a wide array of natural materials, including animal bones, horns and antlers, sand, stones, leaves and branches. In the process, he implements a range of traditional lacquer methods passed down from pre-modern eras, such as the kanshitsu or “dry lacquer” technique, the origins of which date to Japan’s Nara period (710–784). After creating his forms, he embellishes them with designs inspired by calligraphy, traditional Japanese textile patterns, and even contemporary manga or comic books. His work defies ordinary definitions of lacquer art and successfully challenges the perceived limits of this extremely difficult and, in some ways, most conservative of traditional Japanese art forms.
The figural artwork of sculptor Kōji Tanada may seem a world apart from the kind of traditional Buddhist icons crafted deep in Japan’s past, but in fact there are shared aspects between these two disparate types of sculpture. Tanada uses the same technique favored by Buddhist sculptors in Japan from the 6th through the 9th centuries, known as ichiboku-zukuri or “one-block carving,” and in both ancient and Tanada’s more recent examples of this methods, willowy profiles for the figures, as the sculptor follows the sinuously curving line of the natural trunks from which the sculpture is hewn. Tanada has made a long and careful study of Buddhist wooden sculpture in Japan, including its various styles as well as methods, tools, and techniques of construction. Tanada’s motivations are not religious, and he prefers to rely on a purely personal iconography tinged by the popular culture of his own time.
Tarō Yamamoto's art practice is often described as Nihonga, a modern mode of Japanese painting, yet his paintings do not fit seamlessly into this category. Instead, Yamamoto enthusiastically embraces art movements of the past, especially the Edo-period (1615–1868) style known as the Rimpa School, and it is common to find painting themes, motifs, compositions, brushwork, and pigment application techniques associated with Rimpa in Yamamoto’s work. Yet these allusions always appear alongside references to contemporary Japan and its visual, social, and popular culture. In other words, Yamamoto updates Rimpa’s rich visual code, as well as its technical artistry and exquisite design sensibility, in a manner that resonates strongly with a contemporary audience.