Japanese Cool

Japanese Cool is inspired by Japan’s reinvention through its urban culture.  As far as we are concerned here at Lesley Kehoe Galleries, Japanese design has always had an air of ‘cool’ about it – be it 17th century or 21st century.  Current contemporary works speak to a truly international contemporary aesthetic.

“Why do Westerners insist that Japanese artists remain ‘quaint’ and  ‘traditional’ in order to fit their image of artistry in Japan?Ikeda Masuo 1967 Time Magazine

This quote from one of the feature artists of Japanese Cool Zero 8 addresses many issues:  the globalization of art; the breaking down of cultural and geographical barriers; the definition of authenticity, originality and of ‘contemporary’; ideas of cultural exclusivity and perhaps artistic ‘racism’; the defining of some cultures as ‘exotic’ (both internal and external processes), and the concomitant relegation of these to ‘non mainstream’, with consequences both artistic and financial.

World -renowned print artist Ikeda Masuo was the first Japanese artist to be given a solo show at MOMA New York (1965).  Unable to gain success and recognition in Japan, he went to live in America from where he gained international fame and recognition.  He was perhaps the one of the first 20th century examples of ‘gyaku yuunyuu’ or ‘reverse export’.  This is the phenomenon of initial recognition of a Japanese artist or art form from outside of Japan, and its subsequent success back home.

It applies also to the genre of ‘ukiyoe’, first recognized in Paris in the late 19th century.

In 1966 Ikeda was the winner of Grand Prix (Print Section) of the Venice Biennale.  In 1980 he returned to Japan, continuing his success with further prizes and extending his talents to literature and film.

Ikeda’s prints show elements of Pop Art and Surrealism with suggestions of Dali, Magritte, Mondrian, Picasso, Warhol – but the Japan of his time was one responding to the tensions between tradition and modernity, and as he said “ We dress just as Americans do; we drink Coca Cola just as they do.  An artist’s work is composed of various sources.  They include tradition, but they must also include the manner of life of man today.”  Time Magazine July 1967

Ikeda’s prints are complemented by a selection of  ShinHanga artists

(New Print Movement ) focusing on ‘bijin’ – beautiful women. The Shin Hanga Movement evoked the traditional in Japan.  Its artists looked back nostalgically and tried to recreate the Japan that was no longer.  In pictures of beautiful women and lyrical landscapes and using traditional techniques of woodblock printing, their work was in contrast to that of Ikeda and his peers.  Ito Shinsui, Natori Shunsen and Yamakawa Shuho are leading proponents of the Shin Hanga genre and each is represented at Japanese Cool Zero 8.

Lacquer master Unryuan Kitamura Tatsuo’s works are represented in the V&A London and LACMA, Los Angeles County Museum, NGV and AGNSW, and in many private collections in Australia, USA, Europe and Japan, including that of HIH Princess Takamado.  Kitamura’s latest works include a superb cased set of red lacquer sake cups featuring the Seven Treasures.  Rich gold lacquer dragon designs grace a lustrous red lidded container comprising different sized sake cups used in a traditional drinking game.

Direct from Tokyo and Paris, Australia has the opportunity to view the extraordinary art jewelry of NIshiyama Yoshikatsu. Nishiyama and Unryuan collaborate in the design and creation of one only works of art using lacquer and precious stones to illustrate the aesthetic soul of Japan:  Zen stone gardens, white and red plum blossoms – themes that have informed Japanese art for centuries.  Transcending accepted standards and definitions of jewelry, these works of art astound and bewitch.  Viewing by appointment only.

Japanese Cool proudly features the latest works by dynamic contemporary screen artist Maio Motoko.  Maio has enjoyed major success in New York and recently in Dubai and is represented in private collections in Australia, Japan, United States and Europe.  A magnificent pair of gold screens echoes the power and ‘cool’ design of 16th century Rinpa in an extraordinarily contemporary interpretation.  A pair of asymmetrically aligned ( 8 fold and 5 fold ) screens will have their debut in the Sydney show.

Contemporary metalwork is best represented by the Japanese who have centuries of tradition in this field.  Unique alloys and surface finishes in conjunction with an unerring sense of design have established them as world leaders in this field.  Associate Professor Kaneko Toru is a leading contemporary metal work artist and teacher.   His work is internationally exhibited and he has won several prizes at international shows.

Emerging artist Mitsumoto Takeshi works in industrial architectural design and creates smaller works for personal and artistic enjoyment. Cutting and welding iron pipes he creates lyrical sculptures with a rusted iron finish.  ( Broneks pictures )

Young artist Kise Hiroshi, had the first ever professional showing of his work in Melbourne during Aus-Japan Year 2006 and sold over 90% of exhibited works on opening night.  The burst of confidence that accompanied this success has seen him since win major prizes in Japanese art shows every year since.  Working with copper and with a natural lacquer finish, Kise’s latest work is also a part of Japanese Cool Zero 8.


Japanese Cool
Lesley Kehoe