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Contemporary Japonisme

  • 4 min read

The culture of Japan has had a profound influence on British art since the second half of the 19th century. For a long time only the Dutch had been allowed to trade with Japan, but in the 1850s the country opened her ports to other foreign powers, including Britain. The large number of Japanese objects which were subsequently imported were very different from anything being produced in this country and provided a major source of inspiration for many artists and designers from the period from 1850 to 1900.

From the mid 19th century Japanese wood-block prints and paintings known as ukiyo-e, by artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai, became a major source of inspiration for many European Impressionist painters. The term ‘Japonism’ was coined at this time to refer to the Japanese motifs and style found in Western works like Toulouse-Lautrec posters and Van Gogh paintings such as ‘Le Père Tanguy’ and Almond Blossom .The characteristic lack of perspective and shadow, the areas of flat colour, asymmetry and compositional freedom found in ukiyo-e went on to be a major influence on the development of Art Nouveau and Cubism.

The international influence of Japanese culture continues and our collection of art includes some beautiful examples of contemporary ‘Japonism’...

Copyright

Contemporary street artist Copyright had a solo show, ‘Fight of the Paper Tiger’, in Japan in 2009. The exhibition poster and the screenprint Copyright created exclusively for the show both featured the striking image of a tiger. The tiger has been a favourite subject for Japanese painters since the beginning of the seventeenth century, having spread from Buddhist temple carvings. Copyright’s tiger and the palette of the painting were undoubtedly inspired by Japanese culture.

Copyright’s visit to Japan had a lasting impact on his art. Japanese imagery appeared in his work again this year when he created a pair of contemporary depictions of the Greek goddess Amphitrite, ‘Amphitrite – Sunrise’ and ‘Amphitrite – Sunset.’ The distinctive street art pieces depicted the sea-goddess ascending from waves which were created from a collage of the Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave of Kanagawa.’

Pure Evil

Urban artist Pure Evil was similarly inspired by Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ to create his print ‘Hokusai Tsunami print for Japan’. The monochrome signed open edition was created by Pure Evil specifically to raise money for the Japanese Red Cross to be distributed among the earthquake and tsunami affected Japanese population, following the natural disasters of 2011.

Pure Evil’s re-interpretation of ‘The Great Wave’ is a dynamic acknowledgement of not only the physical power of crashing waves but also the great strength and influence of Japanese culture. In the print he combines the classic 19th century imagery with a ‘LIVE’ logo in the bottom left hand corner, no doubt referring to the mass media coverage of the tsunami and possibly to Japan’s prominent position at the forefront of technology.

Hush

Hush’s graphic design and art career has taken him around the world; however, it was the opportunity to work as a toy designer in Japan that proved most influential. Hush has drawn significantly upon his experience of Japan’s culture. He has long been fascinated by Japanese culture, which is at once deeply entwined in history and at the forefront of the modern world. His art has attempted to capture the beauty and intricacy of this fusion.

Geishas as well as anime and manga-style characters feature heavily in Hush’s celebrated street art. By confronting both historic geishas and the contemporary female characters in Japanese animation, in prints such as 'G-Girl', Hush explores the contrasting depictions and constructions of women in Japan and Japanese culture. He describes his street art as “the escape from the constraints of traditions, the contrasts between old and new, the past meeting the future and the fusion of Eastern and Western culture.”

Kozyndan

Kozyndan are awe-inspiring husband-and-wife artists who work collaboratively to create highly detailed paintings and illustrations. Kozy is Japanese and left Japan to study art in California, where she met Dan and the two have been together ever since. Their work is very personal in the sense that it’s specifically about the interests and values they share together as a couple, one of these being Kozy’s heritage.

Kozyndan are probably most known for their bunny filled wave inspired by Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave’. It is part of a series called ‘Seasons of the Bunny’ which was inspired by traditional Japanese art. The last print in the series ‘Gray Hares (Winter Bunnies)’ is taken from ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshge’s ‘Evening Shnow Kanbara’. The idea for the work came to them after thinking of Kozy’s grandparents who live up in the mountains in Yamanshi, Japan. In their characteristically adorable style, the couple painted themselves in the picture because “it’s a bit of a love letter to ourselves telling each other we’d like to grow old together’ (Dan).

Traditionally it was Japanese printmaking that was most influential on European art. Now these cutting edge contemporary prints reveal the continuing impact and significance of Japanese culture on Western design. This influence continues to produce beautiful artworks which fuse a Western perspective with the fascinating history, imagery and art of Japan.

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