Thursday, October 29, 2009

Yoshitomo Nara 

Yoshitomo Nara is a contemporary Japanese pop artist, who derives his style from magna and anime, much like Takashi Murakami. His characters are often large-eyed childlike figures, but also possess dark characteristics. These children, who at first glance appear to be cute and vulnerable, sometimes brandish weapons like knives and saws. His work expresses the "alienation and fierce independence of childhood." Nara's intriguingly bizarre works have even gained him a cult following around the world. 


Light my fire, 2001

Little Ramona, 2001
Acrylic on cotton

Edo Period (1615 - 1868)

The arts began moving away from the aristocratic background and showed scenes from the life of common people. Also, new art forms like kabuki and ukiyo-e became very popular, especially among the townspeople. 

Woodblock print, 1794
Two Kabuki actors, 
Bando Zenji and Sawamura Yodogoro

Kabuki is a traditional Japanese form of theater, best known for the stylization of its drama and elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers. Kabuki plays are about historical events, moral conflicts, love relationships and the like. The actors speak in monotonous voices accompanied by traditional Japanese instruments. 

Ukiyo-e is translated as 'paintings of the floating world' in English. Ukiyo-e paintings are made by the technique of woodblock printing featuring motifs of landscapes, tales from history, kabuki actors and pleasure quarters. This form of printing was used to produce small and cheap art prints as well as books. 

Woodblock print, (1760-1849)
The Great Wave off Kanagwa by Katsushika Hokusa 
Takashi Murakami

Jellyfish Eyes - Black 4

Takashi Murakami is a contemporary Japanese artist who tries to blur the boundaries between high and low art, and uses both painting and digital techniques. He uses popular themes from mass media and pop culture, then turns them into large sculptures, "Superflat" paintings, or marketable commercial goods such as figurines or phone caddies. 

Flower Matango, Fiberglass Sculpture

Murakami has even teemed up with Louis Vuitton to create a special edition of bags. 

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Momoyama Period (1573-1615)

The decorative style that is the hallmark of Momoyama art had its inception in the early sixteenth century and lasted well into the seventeenth. The art of this period was characterized by a robust, opulent, and dynamic style, with gold lavishly applied to architecture, furnishings, paintings, and garments. 

Wine container, Momoyama period 
 Lacquered wood

However, the military elite supported rustic simplicity, most fully expressed in the form of the tea ceremony that favored weathered and imperfect settings and utensils.

Orbie Ware Ewer, Momoyama period
Stoneware with overglaze enamel 

The Kano School of Painting was the longest lived, and most influential school of painting in Japanese history, which was founded during the Momoyama period. The greatest innovation of the period was the formula, developed by Kano Eitoku, for the creation of monumental landscapes on the sliding doors enclosing a room. 

Chinese Lions, Kanyo Eitkou, At the Museum of Imperial Collections

Contemporary accounts indicate that Eitoku was one of the most highly sought-after artists of his time, and received many wealthy and powerful patrons. Eitoku was able to secure a steady stream of commissions and an efficient workshop of students and assistants. 

His signal contribution to the Kano repertoire was the so-called "monumental style" (taiga), characterized by bold, rapid brushwork, an emphasis on foreground, and motifs that are large relative to the pictorial space.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Japanese Calligraphy

Japanese calligraphy is an 
artistic form of writing that shares its roots with Chinese calligraphy, and many of its principles and techniques are very similar. It is most often written with ink on washi paper, and it recognizes the same basic writing styles. 
Japanese calligraphy has three basic styles: kaisho, gyousho and shusho. 

Kaisho - block style with few movements.
Gyousho - median style that is not as stiff as kaisho or as sweeping as sousho.
Shousho - flowing style composed with swift strokes. 

Japanese calligraphy is given merit not only for its style, beauty and meaning, but also for the character of the calligrapher. 

From the descriptions above, can you determine which one of these is kashio, gyousho and shousho?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Muromachi Period 1392-1573

From the world of passions
I return to the world beyond passions,
A moment of pause.
If the rain is to fall, let if fall;
If the wind is to blow, let it blow.
 - Ikkyu Sojun

Ants Hauling a Pumpkin | 1988.16
Shoto Bokusai Ants Hauling a Pumpkin
Hanging scroll; Ink on paper
Muromachi Period (ca. 1400)

The ants seem to be participating in a familiar kind of Japanese festival procession, complete with music, dancing, and a float - which strongly suggests a Zen parable turned into a picture. Zen emphasizes intuition over rationality in spiritual instruction. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kamakura and Nanbokucho Periods

This wooden Kongorikishi statue originally guarded the gate to Ebaradrea, a temple in Sakai, Oska. 
A notable shift in Japanese aesthetic occurred during the Kamakura and Nanbokucho periods. Patrons were no longer interested in the cultured tastes of the upper class. Instead, they began favoring artists who treated their subjects with a direct honesty and virile energy that matched their own. What followed was an age of realism unparalleled before the late eighteenth century. 

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Heian Period continued....

The Heian Period was an intermediate stage in the development of Japanese drapery for Buddhist statuary. During this period came Honpashiki Emon (rolling wave) and Renpashiki Emon (rippling wave). Both aimed to achieve a water-like pattern of regularity by alternating between deep and shallow folds that flowed down the garment in evenly spaced regular patterns, like waves breaking on the beach.

Example: Hopna Shiki Emon Drapery  
Sitting Shaka Nyorai
Early Heian Period, Muroji Temple

Gaki Zoshi (Scroll of the Hungry Ghosts)
Heian Period - 12th century 

In the last century of the Heian Period, the horizontal, illustrated narrative handscroll, known as e-maki ("picture scroll") came to the fore. E-maki combines both text and pictures, and is drawn, painted, or stamped on handscroll. They depict battles, romance, religion, folk tales, and stories of the supernatural world. Though beginning under Chinese influence, e-maki truly developed into a vital and dynamic art form in the hands of the Japanese.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Heian Period (794-1185)

Murō-ji Temple

In reaction to the growing wealth & power of organized Buddhism, the priest Kukai, journeyed to China to study Shingon; a more rigorous form of Buddhism, which he introduced to Japan in 806. At the core of Shingon worship are mandalas, diagrams of the spiritual universe, which then began to influence temple design.

Taizokai (Womb World)
Heian Period (9th Century)

Detail from Taizokai 
(Womb World)
The oldest color mandala still 
in existence in Japan.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Asuka and Nara Periods (538-794)

In my opinion, not much changed in terms of Japanese "art evolution" during these periods. However, the earliest Japanese sculptures of the Buddha are dated to back to the Asuka and Nara periods, which coincides with the introduction of Buddhism in the country. 

Seated Buddha
Asuka Period, 7th century.
Tokyo National Museum

Here's an interesting little tidbit that I found about Buddha ("the awakened"). His birth name was Siddhartha Gautama, and at age 30 he left a life of luxury and devoted himself to years of contemplation and self-denial. According to tradition, he finally reached enlightenment while sitting beneath a pipal tree (know known as the Bohdi tree) in India. Henceforth, known as Buddha, he spent his life teaching his disciples about his beliefs and the goal of achieving the enlightened state of Nirvana, which is the perfect peace of the state of mind that is free from craving, anger and other afflictive states. He died at age 80, possibly from food poisoning.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Japonism - a french term which is used to describe the influence of the arts of Japan on those of the West, especially in impressionism. 

Van Gogh - Portrait of Père Tanguy
Example of ukiy-e (wood block prints
influence in Western art (1887-1888) 

Van Gogh only made a handful of paintings with direct Japanese influences. However, he had collected thousands of prints, from which to study. Notice the two courtesans flanking Tanguy on either side, and the image of Mt. Fuji hovering above his head. Immediately, I could see that this painting was a Van Gogh by the use of color and heavy brush strokes. 

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kofun Period (ca. 250-538 AD)

Jar Early Kofun Period, 4th century

Kofun Period - ("old tomb") this period in Japanese history takes its name from the tomb mounds, which are associated with the rich funerary rituals of the time. (See picture below.)

Daisenryo Kofun, the tomb of Emperor Nintoku, (5th century)

Sueki pottery - marks a turning point in the history of Japanese ceramics since Sueki ware was molded with aid the of the potter's wheel. The pottery was fired in a Korean-style anagma kiln, made of a single tunnel-like chamber half buried in the ground along the slope of a hill. Sueki ware was usually made of blue-gray clay and is often thin-bodied and hard. 

Decorated Sueki Jar, Kofun Period (6th century)

Haniwa - are terra cotta clay figures which were made for ritual use and buried with the dead as funerary objects. They were made in numerous forms to include domesticated animals, houses, weapons, pillows, and male and female forms. It is believed that the soul of the deceased would reside in the hawina. However, as the Kofun people became more developed, the haniwa was set towards the outside of the grave area, and it is thought that they were used as boundary markers.   

Haniwa sculpture: Bust of a Warrior
Kofun Period (ca. 3rd century - 538)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In the beginning there was pottery....

Jomon Period (ca. 11,000- ca. 300 B.C.) 
Bottle, Late Jomon period (ca. 1500–1000 B.C.) 

Jomon Period - the term 'Jomon' means "cord-patterned" in Japanese, which refers to the markings made on clay vessels and figures by using sticks with cords wrapped around them. The Jomon people created the first known pottery vessels in the world. Their pots were made by hand, without the aid of a wheel. The clay they used was mostly composed of mica, lead, fibers and crushed shells. The potter would build up the vessel from the bottom with coil upon coil of soft clay. 

Dogu (pronounced dough-goo)- these small clay figurines were made during the late Jomon period. The purpose of Dogu remains unclear, but it is theorized that these figures may of represented a Mother Goddess to whom Jomon people prayed to for health or safe childbirth. Dogu come entirely from the Jomon period and do not continue to the Yayoi period. 

Bust of a female figurine, (Dogu) Final Jomon period (ca. 1000–300 B.C.

Yayoi Period (ca. 500 B.C.-300 A.D)

Yayoi Storage Vessel, Japan, (400 BC-300 AD)

Yoyoi Period - In striking contrast to Jomon pottery, Yayoi vessels have a clean, functional shapes. The technical process of pottery making remained essentially the same, however, there are two technical differences. The surfaces of Yayoi vessels were smoothed, and clay slip was sometimes applied over the body to make it less porous. Yayoi craft specialists also made bronze ceremonial bells (Dotaku), mirrors, and weapons.  

Bell (dotaku), late Yayoi period (ca. 4th century B.C.–3rd century A.D.)

Dotaku - ceremonial bells smelted from thin bronze and richly decorated with hatched lines, spirals, and geometric patterns, although representations of nature and animals appear on some examples. Some historians believe that dotaku were used to pray for good harvests. 

Stay tuned....
Kofun Period
Asaku and Nara Period
Heian Period

Friday, September 11, 2009

What is Japanese Art?

Japanese art has an extensive history beginning as early as 10,000 BCE. Japanese art embraces a plethora of different mediums and styles to include ancient pottery, ink paintings on silk and paper, origami, calligraphy, sculpture in wood and bronze and more recently magna (cartoons) and anime (Japanese animation).  Even Japanese gardens and Samurai armor are skillfully and beautifully crafted.