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Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Japanese art: Images of tranquility and landscapes

Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Japanese art: Images of tranquility and landscapes

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Utagawa Kuniyoshi depicted many images and covered various different subject matters. Therefore, the art of this stylish ukiyo-e artist in this article provides only a glimpse into the real Kuniyoshi.

Kuniyoshi was born in 1797 and died in 1861 and throughout this period many developments erupted in Japan. This applies to traditional rule in the earlier part of his life to rapid changes from the middle of the 1850s and onwards until the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

Ando Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai are the most famous ukiyo-e artists internationally but Kuniyoshi was also a crème de la crème artist along with many others. Also, the broad spectrum of many ukiyo-e artists is truly amazing and this also applies to the art of Kuniyoshi. Therefore, the art work of this wonderful artist is complex and depends on various different circumstances.

This article focuses only on the tranquil nature of his art and elegant landscapes which appealed to many Japanese people. However, it would be wrong to believe that these lovely landscapes and scenes of serenity provide the real Kuniyoshi because this would be false.

Despite this, for people who know the art work of Kuniyoshi the opposite could be said because all too often this angle of his artwork is neglected. Yet clearly Kuniyoshi’s landscape images match that of any ukiyo-e artist irrespective of people’s own preferred artist.

The Edo Period was succumbing to outside forces during the lifetime of Kuniyoshi and this must have infringed heavily on this stylish artist. However, when one door closes another opens up and this certainly applied to the later stages of his life. Therefore, new techniques, different thinking, growing outside influences, evolution within the Japanese art world, and others factors, impacted greatly on Kuniyoshi.

Images in this article by Kuniyoshi are a reminder of a world which was mainly un-spoilt before the economic, social, and political revolution which took hold in Japan and culminated with the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

In an earlier article I commented that “Kuniyoshi and other famous ukiyo-e artists also take you back to a different Japan in all its confusion.  Therefore, Kuniyoshi designed prints which covered a vast spectrum and this applies to landscapes, women, kabuki, humor, nature, satire, shunga, cats, surimono and other areas.”  

“It is apparent that Hokusai (1760-1849) had much more political and sexual freedom and this notably applies to Hokusai’s shunga which is very powerful and erotic.  However, the Tenpo reforms of the early 1840s introduced measures which banned prints of erotic women and actors who belonged to the kabuki scene.  This meant that Kuniyoshi had to focus more on warriors and legends but his historical depictions were under close scrutiny. Therefore the popular satire of shogun Tokugawa Ieyoshi and other prints led to an official reprimand and many prints were confiscated and destroyed.”

Kuniyoshi also opened up the past and this applies to the depiction of historical figures in Japanese history, brave samurai warriors, events in Japanese history, famous legends and other related areas which nurtured each new generation.  

Famous art pieces produced by Kuniyoshi include The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden All Told, At The Shore of the Sumida River, Mt. Fuji from Sumida and Pilgrims in the Waterfall. Of course you have many other famous collections and art pieces by Kuniyoshi and preferences will vary with each individual.

Pilgrims in the Waterfall is extremely beautiful because it shows and highlights important aspects of Japanese culture when it applies to religion and nature coming together.  This notably applies to Shintoism which is “the real heart of Japan” despite the influence of Buddhism within the Japanese psyche. Also, in this stunning art piece it is abundantly clear that space is very important and this applies to religion, Japanese gardens, meditation and other aspects of Japanese culture.

The serenity which can be felt by the Pilgrims in the Waterfall connects humanity, nature and religion together.  Therefore, Kuniyoshi is highlighting a powerful reality which belonged to his world.  

Kuniyoshi’s ukiyo-e is very varied and images in this article are limited to landscapes and internal tranquility in Japan.

http://www.kuniyoshiproject.com/  – Fantastic website and just click onto the section you are interested in.

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Japan

 

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Ando Hiroshige and L.S. Lowry: images of majesty and realism

Ando Hiroshige and L.S. Lowry: images of majesty and realism

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858) and L.S. Lowry (1887- 1976) come from different worlds and their styles and creativity are a million miles away. Hiroshige is internationally famous and Lowry sits rightly within his northern English roots which influenced him so much. However, Lowry is acclaimed in his own right and both artists were blessed with fine qualities and have left a rich legacy.

Lowry commented that “If people call me a Sunday painter I’m a Sunday painter who paints every day of the week!” This comment says much about his roots because pride, confidence and rebuttal, is part of a common language which seeks neither confirmation nor seeks weakness.

Lowry studied at the Manchester Academy of Fine Art and at Salford Royal Technical College. His knowledge of French Impressionism and the influence of Ford Madox Brown and Rossetti on his thinking played an important role.  However, Lowry was not interested in following or painting within constraints, therefore, he created a style which was unique and the subject matter of his famous art is a reminder of the real England.

Hiroshige was born in Japan and despite his paintings contrasting greatly with Lowry both artists did share common themes because neither was born into real privilege. Also, both artists painted striking images despite the subject theme being very different.

In an earlier article I comment that Ando Hiroshige is deemed to be one of the finest artists to bless the country of Japan and his art influenced famous artists like Van Gogh.  Hiroshige leaves a lasting impression on the imagination and Katsushika Hokusai clearly influenced Hiroshige and was an inspirational figure even if from afar.”

“Within the visions of serenity, sublime nature and stunning landscapes you have multi-dimensional realities which may clash in other cultures, irrespective if “Eastern” or “Western” thought patterns; however, open sexuality and conservatism within the same “inner-self” is based on thought patterns that are difficult to grasp from a non-Japanese point of view.”

Therefore, just like Hiroshige and other ukiyo-e artists who depicted stunning nature and tranquility alongside shunga and explicit sexual images, which renders confusion within the thought patterns of famous Western artists. Images by Lowry can lead to confusion for people outside of a working class environment and who don’t understand the real power and energy of industrial landscapes.

Also, just like Hiroshige had many dimensions to his art the same applies to Lowry but from afar both artists are known for a particular style.  However, this is misleading because Hiroshige and Lowry had many styles and while art lovers will know about this the general public may be surprised by the diversity of both artists.

Lowry and the power of the industrial theme really hit home because he states that “One day I missed a train from Pendlebury – (a place) I had ignored for seven years – and as I left the station I saw the Acme Spinning Company’s mill … The huge black framework of rows of yellow-lit windows standing up against the sad, damp charged afternoon sky. The mill was turning out… I watched this scene – which I’d looked at many times without seeing – with rapture…”

If we compare this statement by Lowry with the importance of time, space, nature, color schemes and symbolism for Hiroshige, then it is abundantly clear that their passion and influence was extremely different. In part, Lowry stands out because of what made him tick but Hiroshige followed a traditional route and his themes were not unique when compared with the style of Lowry who was truly independent.

This does not negate anything about Hiroshige because cultural factors, environment and other aspects of both cultures are bound to clash and in truth Lowry had a distinctive style which would render other artists less unique.  However, being unique by itself means little if the art form can’t reach the soul and express something deep or attract based on countless factors. 

Hiroshige is one of the finest artists to grace Japan but the overwhelming majority of British people would not put Lowry on the same pedestal which regards to being amongst the crème de la crème of British art.

The Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido Road, the Eight Views of Lake Biwa, and the Hundred Views of Edo are not only reminders of the genius of Hiroshige but many images are known throughout the world. On the other hand, Lowry used basic colors and he commented that “I am a simple man, and I use simple materials: ivory, black, vermilion (red), Prussian blue, yellow ochre, flake white and no medium (e.g. linseed oil). That’s all I’ve ever used in my paintings. I like oils… I like a medium you can work into over a period of time.”

Lowry also felt a deep connection with solitary figures and people who struggled to cope with life. He stated that “I feel more strongly about these people than I ever did about the industrial scene. They are real people, sad people. I’m attracted to sadness and there are some very sad things. I feel like them.”

Hiroshige and Lowry have both left deep impressions on countless numbers of people and it matters not whose legacy is the richest or who impacted the most.  After all, art is not constrained by thought patterns, style, meaning or anything. Therefore, Hiroshige and Lowry will mean many things to different people who love art.

However, both individuals blessed the art world and their power remains potent in the modern period and long may it continue to do so because Hiroshige and Lowry shared their gifts and their artistic talents.

http://www.hiroshige.org.uk/hiroshige/main/main.htm

http://library.thinkquest.org/trio/TTQ05064/Templates/hiroshige.htm

http://www.thelowry.com/ls-lowry/the-ls-lowry-collection/

http://www.clark-art.co.uk/

http://www.lowry.co.uk/

http://www.worldgallery.co.uk/gallery/LS-Lowry-1.html 

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 

 
 
 
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Posted by on September 24, 2011 in Japan

 

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Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Tranquil art and natural beauty! Part One

Utagawa Kuniyoshi: Tranquil art and natural beauty!  Part One

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

 

Utagawa Kuniyoshi is amongst the crème de la crème of ukiyo-e because his art work was truly amazing and so powerful.  Kuniyoshi, just like other famous Japanese artists like Ando Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai, was very diverse and the window of the new Japan was on its way.

This article is based on three tranquil art pieces by Kuniyoshi. However, just like life these three glimpses into Kuniyoshi and his style are misleading. Nevertheless, given the amount of art that Kuniyoshi produced then a more tranquil based article suits the introduction for lay people who only know snippets about this talented artist.

Also, human nature is complex and the outside persona and internal reality is often very different.  Therefore, by providing a glimpse into the natural aspect of Kuniyoshi’s art I hope to relate this with the calm before the storm.

After all, Kuniyoshi was born in 1798 and died in 1861 and he belonged to a world of continuity during the Edo Period but when his life was nearing the end, the Edo Period was also succumbing to outside forces and internal power issues.

By showing only three art pieces of Kuniyoshi I hope to transform these three images into a different meaning.  This applies to the safety of the past irrespective if our recollections of our early years are often clouded by nostalgia and a yearning of the dead souls which have become mere memories.

Kuniyoshi and other famous ukiyo-e artists also take you back to a different Japan in all its confusion.  Therefore, Kuniyoshi designed prints which covered a vast spectrum and this applies to landscapes, women, kabuki, humor, nature, satire, shunga, cats, surimono and other areas.  

His legacy and style especially applies to depicting historical figures, warriors, events in history and legends which helped to inspire and open-up the viewer to the past.

It is apparent that Hokusai (1760-1849) had much more political and sexual freedom and this notably applies to Hokusai’s shunga which is very powerful and erotic.  However, the Tenpo reforms of the early 1840s introduced measures which banned prints of erotic women and actors who belonged to the kabuki scene.  This meant that Kuniyoshi had to focus more on warriors and legends but his historical depictions were under close scrutiny. Therefore the popular satire of shogun Tokugawa Ieyoshi and other prints led to an official reprimand and many prints were confiscated and destroyed.

Kuniyoshi was influenced to some extent by Katsukawa Shuntei (1770-1820) and this applies to warrior prints that he produced and not to other areas of his artwork. However, the early period for Kuniyoshi was not easy and it wasn’t until 1827 that he made a major breakthrough.  This applies to The 108 Heroes of the Popular Suikoden All Told.

The three art pieces in this article depict a natural and cultural aspect of Japan.  At The Shore of the Sumida River shows the power of nature and the reality of everyday life.  The only individual face that you can see is in a natural state and he looks worn out and battling against the elements and fatigue. 

However, the Mt. Fuji from Sumida shows a breathtaking landscape and two people are in awe of the stunning beauty and another individual is walking blissfully alone.  The image also shows you a child who is enjoying life with his mother and playing. Also, unlike the older individuals the child is in a dream world because of natural joy and the energy of childhood can be seen.

The serenity of the image and exquisite color scheme alongside the backdrop of Mount Fuji is a beautiful illustration of Kuniyoshi’s art. 

Pilgrims in the Waterfall depicts the unity of faith and nature and while Buddhism was powerful in this period in Japan the indigenous faith of Shinto is “the real faith of Japan.” This applies to the power of ancestors, the spirit world, nature and humanity being in co-existence and other aspects that run through the veins of Japan’s history.

It would not really matter if the image was a pilgrimage to Buddhism or Shintoism because the natural image of nature and the power of the waterfall could only connect you with Shintoism.  Therefore, despite the power of Buddhism in this period in Japan the old world survived and this applies to the world of Shintoism and the mystery of gods within nature.

These three images depict a natural Japan and show a world which was far from the political intrigues of the day.  The serenity which can be felt by the Pilgrims in the Waterfall is a stunning image which connects humanity with nature but in a natural and simplistic way.  Therefore, no religious building is needed and instead the pilgrimage at its heart is interwoven with the power of nature. 

Similarly, Mt. Fuji from Sumida shows the stunning beauty of Japan and the scene highlights natural beauty and everyday life and thought patterns.  Older individuals are in awe while the child is blissfully happy irrespective of the stunning background.

Therefore, the three images of Kuniyoshi in this article are focused on only one side of his art work but Kuniyoshi was very diverse and during the reforms of the early 1840s he did not remain placid.

 

http://www.kuniyoshiproject.com/  – Fantastic website and just click onto the section you are interested in.

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Posted by on July 4, 2011 in Japan

 

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