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Monday, July 10, 2006

Jakuchu and the Age of Imagination

若冲と江戸絵画
Jakuchu and the Age of Imagination
A friend and I went to the ‘Jakuchu and the Age of Imagination’ painting exhibition at the ‘Heisekan’ wing of the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park.

Jakuchu Ito (1715-1800) was an eighteenth century Japanese painter who was born and lived his long, obscure, and incredibly prolific life in Kyoto.

He began to study the art of painting alone by endlessly copying Chinese classic works, and, once he had mastered the technicalities, developed his own style. His work, and that of many of his contemporaries was roundly ignored by the Japanese art world. It took an American, Joe Price, to start collecting his works after WW2 and eventually bring them back to Japan in all their glory.

And what glory! For pictures painted over 200 years ago, these have to be seen to be believed. The fact that they are beautiful goes without saying. But even more stunning than their beauty is the sensibility of the artists. Jakuchu, the star of the exhibition, stands out in particular for what to the 21st century viewer seems like an artistic touch right out of the here and now. The various qualities of his various works: the vividness, boldness, humor, abstraction, seem breathtakingly modern – truly a man before his time. In particular I found keen resemblances to the playfulness and use of bold, simple color of the work of Maurice Sendek (although rendered in an infinitely more sophisticated way than Sendak), as well as M.C. Escher in the stark, sharp almost mechanical, sensuality of some of his portrayals.

This is truly an exhibition with something for everyone: beauty portrayed in a tandem of exquisite artistry and unbridled imagination.

For details of the exhibition go to What’s on in Tokyo and Kyoto.

Ueno Park Tokyo Guide

Tokyo Tower Area Guide

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