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Japanese art and Yuzo Saeki: the “outsider” who died in a distant land in an insane asylum

Japanese art and Yuzo Saeki: the “outsider” who died in a distant land in an insane asylum

Lee Jay Walker 

Modern Tokyo Times

The artist Yuzo Saeki gave much to the Japanese art world despite dying at the age of 30. Yuzo Saeki was born in 1898 and passed away in 1928. However, despite his time on this earth being brief he did much and left an intriguing legacy which also applies to areas outside of art. This applies to the way he was “thrown to the wolves” while feeling entrapped by health problems, cultural factors, and being abandoned by a culture which did not love him back.

In many ways, Yuzo Saeki represents the “outsider” which resides in all nations throughout the world, and within nations where the marginalized are unloved. Also, he highlights the complexity of culture and how individuals may adore aspects of a new culture – but this “new culture” isn’t able to respond in kind. Therefore, the society that abandoned him was the French culture that he admired and desired to belong. However, he always remained to be the “outsider” in a country which inspired him and pulled away at his tormented soul.

Yuzo Saeki provides a genuine glimpse into the “real separation” of “a love affair” which refused to acknowledge his deep love of Paris and France. This applies to many art pieces whereby the distance from his vantage point is noticeable by the confused lettering of certain places he depicted. Also, the manic and confused lines within some of his art may denote all the inner-confusions and utter desperation that he felt at times. Despite this, and being in extremely poor health, he could not pull himself away from a culture which inspired him to create stunning pieces of art.

Yuzo Saeki was born in the vibrant city of Osaka and from a very early age he fell in love with art. The Buddhist faith ran through his veins when a child because his father was a Buddhist priest. On top of this was the changing nature of Japanese society which also swept away many traditions and depleted many rich trades. In this sense, modernization in both France and Japan was ripping many lives apart. Yet, on the other hand both societies were providing new opportunities.

The Meiji and Taisho periods in Japan were full of mass contradictions because on the one hand a new modern dynamic was part and parcel of the “new” Japan. Opposite to this, was a new nationalist period whereby Japan would join “the Western club” and “Islamic club” of colonialism. Amidst all these contradictions was a very talented artist called Yuzo Saeki who meant no negative things towards anyone. Instead, he just wanted to focus on the vocation that he adored. Sadly, life is never that simple for some individuals and ultimately his vocation also created great suffering for Yuzo Saeki.

Western art in Japan was provided with a small “window” in Nagasaki by the Dutch during the Edo period. However, in the period of Yuzo Saeki no other city was more vibrant than Paris when it came to new art movements. The old world of influence from China and Korea was on the wane for many artists and the same applies to the rich traditions of Japanese art. Therefore, the pull of Western art was extremely strong for Yuzo Saeki and in time Paris and France would become “a love affair” with “a poison chalice.”

It must be stated that many other Japanese artists didn’t suffer the same fate in France. Given this, it is clear that the deep passion within Yuzo Saeki was extremely unique but what tipped everything in the wrong direction near the end, applies to the tragic circumstances of his life. This notably applies to poor health; poverty; alienation in a country he adored; mental exhaustion because he could feel “the gates of death beckoning;” isolation; and trapped by his own “love affair” with a culture which was alien to him despite being familiar with France.

In an earlier article I state that all “…these negatives conspired together because at the age of 30 Yuzo Saeki died in destitution in a mental hospital in France. The culmination of tuberculosis, a nervous breakdown brought on by overwork, limited means to survive, still painting outside despite worsening health conditions and other factors; all led to a very sad ending of what should have been a bright future.”

It is easy to imagine Yuzo Saeki eating inadequately based on poverty while at the same time coughing up blood because of tuberculosis. Near the end he manically painted new pieces of art because he felt “the gates of death.” Therefore, even when the weather was negative he continued to paint while bringing up blood would have interrupted him from time to time.

This meant that the reality of different thought-patterns, diverse movements within the respective art scenes of both France and Japan, and other complex factors, could easily “swallow up” individuals who were beset by various issues. Given this, when Yuzo Saeki needed guidance and support he had nobody to help him in a distant land. His “moment in time” was very different to the norms of the art scene in Paris and different cultural factors meant that he was isolated internally.

The final year alone in France was a far cry from 1924 when he moved to this nation with his wife and young daughter. Then he at least had the home comforts to placate the other “love affair” which didn’t love him back.

Michael Brenson commented in the New York Times that “When European art began to question its own traditions, however, as it did increasingly during and after World War I, there was a potential for trouble. Artists could find themselves with neither a European tradition to learn from nor a Japanese tradition to hold onto. When Saeki Yuzo, who is perceived in his country as a tragic hero, the Japanese van Gogh, died at the age of 30 in an insane asylum in Paris in 1928 – perhaps a suicide – he had been trying to paint in this void. Saeki continues to be an example to Japanese artists abroad of the difficulties in reconciling East and West…His paintings reflect his isolation. His cafe windows and stores are filled with signs, some illegible. In his “Snowy Landscape,” figures are on the verge of illegibility. His signs seem like scars of an internal pressure to resolve a conflict between the independence and picturesque subject matter of Paris and a dependence upon his native calligraphic and woodcut tradition.”

The comments made by Michael Brenson are extremely illuminating because it paints a picture of an artist who is trapped by the cultural realities of both nations. At the same time, he appears to notice his isolation and withdraws from a distance whereby the signs are often illegible. However, it is not only the signs which sometimes become illegible because also the human form enters a dark and sinister world where the scars of life are all too real.

Yuzo Saeki also highlights the “outsider” who never can belong despite his love of the host nation. This shared experience can be felt by individuals throughout the world who often feel the same pressure and isolation. Often, it may not always be the host nation because much can depend on cultural differences and certain “norms” which clash strongly in some cultures.

However, with the visible signs of tuberculosis, the mental strains of creating more art pieces because of the knowledge that death was getting nearer, and the grind of daily poverty pulling away at him; it is clear that nobody stepped in . Therefore, not one single individual in Paris cared enough to help Yuzo Saeki to the full. This culminated in the sad reality that his passionate “love affair” was one way because in his “time of need” he was abandoned to the ravages that befell him.

In the end Yuzo Saeki sacrificed his life and his family because he died based on the factors that entrapped him and took away his life. This applies to tuberculosis, poverty, and suffering from a mental breakdown. Michael Brenson also hints that he may have committed suicide in the end. However, the fact that this is debatable highlights the reality that Yuzo Saeki had been “thrown to the wolves.” Therefore, near the end he was just “another number” who was unloved and who died in an insane asylum in a distant land.

 

http://www.art.com/gallery/id–a228566/yuzo-saeki-posters.htm

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/12/25/arts/when-japan-s-art-opened-to-western-winds.html

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fa20070301a1.html

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2012 in EUROPE, Japan

 

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Japanese art: Yuzo Saeki and “At Eternity’s Gate” by Van Gogh

Japanese art: Yuzo Saeki and “At Eternity’s Gate” by Van Gogh

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Shortly before Van Gogh died he painted “At Eternity’s Gate” in 1890 after doing the same image as a lithograph eight years before. The image is extremely powerful and the meaning can be transformed to mean many things. However, the initial impression during the first few moments of seeing this image conjures up thoughts related to despair, alienation, abandonment, and a person who is at the end of their rope.

This reality connects the tragic end of Yuzo Saeki but perhaps without an “Eternity’s Gate?” After all, Yuzo Saeki died in a strange land, isolated, confused, and with his mind wandering from the desire to paint more before “the gates of death” would take him from this world.

Yuzo Saeki, just like Van Gogh during his lifetime, experienced severe mental health problems during his final months on this earth. Therefore, this gifted artist from Japan died at the age of 30 because of multiple factors. This applies to having a nervous breakdown, tuberculosis which was eating away at his health, massive overwork, poverty, alienation from reality, and other factors which took away his life.

In this sense, “At Eternity’s Gate” by Van Gogh connects these two extremely gifted individuals because if you replace the image with a 30 year old man, in a room more sinister and frightening and coughing up blood; then an image into the last moments of Yuzo Saeki can be seen. However, even more disturbing is that Yuzo Saeki died in France where cultural differences in this period were enormous and when institutions were “more dark and foreboding.”

Therefore, Yuzo Saeki gradually slipped away from this world by being isolated, alienated, in destitution, and with little care from others in Paris if he died or lived. At home, he had a family which was deeply concerned but his reality in the last few months must have been like Dante’s hell.

Van Gogh died at the age of 37 in 1890 while Yuzo Saeki was born eight years later in 1898. If “a tortured soul of a genius” could migrate and transcend itself into an equally “troubled soul” in the final year of his life, then it certainly entered Yuzo Saeki. Of course, many individuals reject heaven and hell and the transmigration of the soul. However, the utter despair of Yuzo Saeki during his remaining period on this earth in 1928 does mirror aspects of the painting “At Eternity’s Gate” by Van Gogh. The same also applies to the troubled mind of Van Gogh when “the demons of life” entered his world.

Michael Brenson stated in the New York Times in an article called “When Japan’s Art Opened to Western Winds,” that “When European art began to question its own traditions, however, as it did increasingly during and after World War I, there was a potential for trouble. Artists could find themselves with neither a European tradition to learn from nor a Japanese tradition to hold onto. When Saeki Yuzo, who is perceived in his country as a tragic hero, the Japanese van Gogh, died at the age of 30 in an insane asylum in Paris in 1928 – perhaps a suicide – he had been trying to paint in this void. Saeki continues to be an example to Japanese artists abroad of the difficulties in reconciling East and West.”

Further down in the same article Michael Brenson comments that “His cafe windows and stores are filled with signs, some illegible. In his “Snowy Landscape,” figures are on the verge of illegibility. His signs seem like scars of an internal pressure to resolve a conflict between the independence and picturesque subject matter of Paris and a dependence upon his native calligraphic and woodcut tradition.”

Striking aspects of the comments by Michael Brenson applies to “died at the age of 30 in an insane asylum in Paris – perhaps a suicide,” “his café windows and stores are filled with signs, some illegible” and“His signs seem like scars of an internal pressure.”

Therefore, according to Michael Brenson not even the death of Yuzo Saeki is one hundred per cent known and this applies to what caused his death or if he killed himself. This fact brings back the image of “At Eternity’s Gate” by Van Gogh but with the backdrop being more sinister and perhaps with Yuzo Saeki being shriveled up in the corner of a cold and dark room. After all, it appears that nobody in Paris really cared about how he died in the final moments of his life – and this is indeed sad.

Also, the image of “At Eternity’s Gate” shows an individual in despair and Yuzo Saeki certainly felt the same pains and abandonment. Not only this, were the signs illegible in some of the art work by Yuzo Saeki because he felt alienated, rejected, and because he feared about upsetting local people?  Or was it a natural sign that he felt trapped between two worlds, a natural aspect of his art, the fact that he could feel “the gates of death,” or did it signify his growing inward feeling that he didn’t belong?

In an earlier article I wrote about Yuzo Saeki I comment that “…despite all the artistic, political and cultural convulsions which befell Yuzo Saeki, along with suffering from tuberculosis, he still produced some truly amazing art. Therefore, the real tragedy of the life of Yuzo Saeki is that he didn’t have enough time to escape the trappings of two cultures which were pulling away at his artistic soul.”

Van Gogh also had an intense struggle between religion and rejection in several areas of his life which led to emotional instability. Given this, Van Gogh and Yuzo Saeki share internal convulsions because of different factors and both fully understood poverty, feeling of alienation, rejection, and the darkness of asylum institutions.

Therefore, the image of “At Eternity’s Gate” by Van Gogh enables people to enter “a small glimpse” into the world of two extremely talented individuals.

 http://www.art.com/gallery/id–a228566/yuzo-saeki-posters.htm

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/12/25/arts/when-japan-s-art-opened-to-western-winds.html

http://moderntokyotimes.com/2012/01/24/japanese-art-and-yuzo-saeki-a-stunning-flower-which-died-too-young/ Yuzo Saeki

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

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in EUROPE, Japan

 

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Japanese art and Yuzo Saeki: a stunning flower which died too young

Japanese art and Yuzo Saeki: a stunning flower which died too young

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yuzo Saeki was born in 1898 and died in 1928 at the tender age of 30 but despite his short time on this earth he left a rich legacy. He was born in Osaka which is a vibrant city in Japan and from an early age he was besotted by art. His father was a Buddhist priest and with all the changes taking place in Japan during the Meiji and Taisho era then this was a great time to experiment with different art styles.

In the Edo period the rich traditions of art from China and Korea maintained its vitality despite major restrictions being imposed on the people of Japan during this period of history. However, influences from other nations did creep into Japan and this notably applies to art from Holland because of “a window” which was kept open in Nagasaki. Therefore, before the Meiji Restoration of 1868 many artists in Japan had been influenced by artists from Western nations and in time many European artists would become influenced by Japanese art.

Another great artist called Ito Shinsui (1898-1972) was also born in 1898 like Yuzo Saeki and both artists produced stunning art. Ironically, while poverty led to the start of a bright career for Ito Shinsui after his father became bankrupt, the other side of the coin would beset the final years of Yuzo Saeki.

Ito Shinsui had been forced to abandon school at an early age because of monetary problems but this led to his talent being unearthed after taking up an apprenticeship at a printshop. However, while poverty opened up a new world for Ito Shinsui the opposite would engulf Yuzo Saeki during a period of terrible health. Therefore, these negatives conspired together and at the age of 30 Yuzo Saeki died in destitution in a mental hospital in France. The culmination of tuberculosis, a nervous breakdown brought on by overwork, limited means to survive, still painting outside despite worsening health conditions and other factors; all led to a very sad ending of what should have been a bright future.

Yuzo Saeki died in terrible circumstances in 1928 and this was a far cry from 1917 when he moved to Tokyo and all seemed calm in his life. He had been influenced greatly in his early years by Kuroda Seiki and studied under Takeji Fujishima in the capital of Japan. Within a few years of living in Tokyo he would get married in 1921 to Yoneko Ikeda who also was a fellow artist. Therefore, this period of his life was on an upward curve and in 1924 he moved to France to further his career with his wife and young daughter.

However, while the move to France was an all too familiar path for many international artists in this period, it also could be a pitfall given the cultural differences and thought patterns of Japan and France.  Michael Brenson commented in the New York Times that “When European art began to question its own traditions, however, as it did increasingly during and after World War I, there was a potential for trouble. Artists could find themselves with neither a European tradition to learn from nor a Japanese tradition to hold onto. When Saeki Yuzo, who is perceived in his country as a tragic hero, the Japanese van Gogh, died at the age of 30 in an insane asylum in Paris in 1928 – perhaps a suicide – he had been trying to paint in this void. Saeki continues to be an example to Japanese artists abroad of the difficulties in reconciling East and West.”

Further down in the same article by Michael Brenson called “When Japan’s Art Opened to Western Winds,” he comments that “Saeki Yuzo went to Paris with his family in 1924. His paintings reflect his isolation. His cafe windows and stores are filled with signs, some illegible. In his ”Snowy Landscape,” figures are on the verge of illegibility. His signs seem like scars of an internal pressure to resolve a conflict between the independence and picturesque subject matter of Paris and a dependence upon his native calligraphic and woodcut tradition.”

These words by Michael Brenson highlight the major problems facing artists like Yuzo Saeki in this period of history. Also, given the climatic reality of worsening his tuberculosis, suffering from a mental breakdown and dying destitute in a mental hospital; then it would appear that his ultimate demise was part self-induced, part-tragedy, and fused with huge cultural differences and heavy demands which took its toll on both his body and mind.

Of course many bright moments must have happened in France because he couldn’t wait to return. However, ultimately many factors would conspire and his life would be cut short and people can only guess about what his real legacy would have been if the cards had fallen kindly.

Matthew Larking in The Japan Times comments in his final paragraph that “In France, Saeki was a progeny; in Japan, an innovator. Modernism was generally at the mercy of the culture looking at it. Saeki’s essential contribution, while very short-lived, was to usher in a period in Japanese Modernism that overthrew the pre-existing reliance on the Impressionist model and encouraged freer Fauvist Expressionism.”

However, despite all the artistic, political and cultural convulsions which befell Yuzo Saeki, along with suffering from tuberculosis, he still produced some truly amazing art. Therefore, the real tragedy of the life of Yuzo Saeki is that he didn’t have enough time to escape the trappings of two cultures which were pulling away at his artistic soul.

http://www.art.com/gallery/id–a228566/yuzo-saeki-posters.htm

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/12/25/arts/when-japan-s-art-opened-to-western-winds.html

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fa20070301a1.html

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Japan

 

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