at Takehisa Yumeji Museum
in the Ueno, Yanaka area
This event has ended - (2007-01-03 - 2007-04-01)
This exhibit, made up of a an assortment of works including painted scrolls, watercolors, pen, ink, and charcoal drawings, and illustrations for children’s books, also contains exhibition cases featuring sketches, postcards, books, and other documentary materials. The organizers are obviously concerned with showing the breadth of his work, as opposed to focusing on a particular time period, genre, or medium. While not a carefully crafted selection of his best work, the exhibition instead is an overview revealing the artist’s interest in everyday life and his desire to combine elements of traditional Japanese style with aspects of early European modernism.
Comprising work shown in two rather small rooms, the exhibition starts on the second floor. Initially, the impression is of a great deal of work placed together in a fairly confined space, and the pieces themselves don’t have much room to breathe. Some quick sketches, which remain in sketchbooks opened to a representative page, provide a nice window into Takehisa’s working process and show a keen mastery of drawing where minimal lines easily suggest volume and perspective. Subject matter in the collection includes women at pedestrian tasks or in contemplative poses, children, and a smattering of landscapes. The abundant exhibition text and supporting documents are all in Japanese; unfortunately because I don’t read Japanese, I feel I missed out on a deeper understanding of the artist and his background.
Stylistically, Takehisa’s work is generally created through simple, strong lines and, in most cases there is minimal color, with a notable exception being the illustrations, which are striking in their bright colors. A quiet, yet strong work at the start of the exhibit is a charcoal drawing of a woman kneeling beside four large jugs. The graceful, balanced composition is masterfully simple and the hint of color in the muted, green jugs and touch of pink in the subject’s lips and belt reveal the work of an artist who understands the idea of ‘less is more’. In the scrolls and many of the paintings on the second floor the focus is on beautiful women in introspective poses. The faces – longish, with delicate features – of many of the women are similar and the text suggests his wife may have served as a model.
In my view, the strongest works are the illustrations on the first floor, at the end of the exhibition and closest to the exit. This section includes a series of small paintings hung above a case of illustrated books highlighting children’s new year. One larger piece appears to be a game of some kind and jumps out at the viewer with its bright colors and black outlines. The numbered panels, at varying orientations, look like sections in a comic book. This work is striking in contrast to the subtlety of much of Takehisa’s other work, and it showcases a simplified, linear style and a whimsical, more child-like approach to subject matter. Another nearby painting of a woman playing cards beautifully marries the artist’s strength as an illustrator with his interests in women as subject matter. While the composition is simple and lovely, the bold color and the resigned, yet direct gaze of the central figure works almost as a challenge to the viewer, revealing a successful melding of Takehisa’s Japanese roots and his explorations of Western modernism. Taken as a whole, this exhibition is a mixed bag, a smorgasbord of Takehisa’s work, but thinking particularly of the illustrations, it left me hungry for more.