In 1603, it was a road improvement throughout Japan that Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first Shogun of Edo shogunate, undertook first. Nihonbashi was built as the first step of the undertaking. Since then, its environs prospered apace with development of Edo. The prosperity was depicted in many ukiyo-es such as The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido, created by Hiroshige. Having been in great bustle ever since the Meiji Restoration, the area is the capital of Japanese finance where the Bank of Japan, the head offices of megabanks and Tokyo Stock Exchange are clustered.
Besides, nearby Nihonbashi, there are the oldest and most popular department stores in Japan; Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya. Especially, the former has flourished with the neighborhood since 1673 when it was established as a draper named Echigoya. It was reborn as the first department store in Japanin the beginning of 20 century, and they started to deal in art works at the suggestion of Taikan Yokoyama. They have held many exhibition noted in art history of modern age for this 100 years, such as the Exhibition of the Japan Fine Arts Academy and Tsuguharu Fujita Exhibition. Art business section became indispensable even for other department stores, and Japanese people became esteem artists holding solo exhibition in Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi or Takashimaya as authoritative masters. We cannot talk about Japanese art history of 20th century without department stores.
August 1, I went to Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi through Nihonbashi and its neighborhood with old townscape. To appreciate the TEWAZA Exhibition in which Ikuyo Yasuda showed her work.
TEWAZA means the technique of manual labour. It is aggressive as a title of art exhibition because of implication to criticize art works created only by concepts and easy ideas but technics. Though we can see various kinds of art works; oil painting, Japanese painting, pencil drawing, and sculpture, artists have technics on high level in common. Moreover, oil painters,Yasuhiro Ogawa, Osamu Obi, Nobuyuki Shimamura, and Japanese painters, Shinji Nakabori and Ikuyo Yasuda are experts of figure painting. It was a very interesting exhibition to understand each individuality and common point and to grasp trends of figure representation in today’s Japanese art.
I perceived the intensive concern and obsession with living bodies in the tableaux of Takahiro Hara, a promising artist, who studied under Antonio López García. In contrast, Shimamura tried to give his work symbols and formative beauty like hieroglyphs or pictographs though he depicted a model realistic. We can find two different directions in their art works created by employment of same technics; realism to extract the physical beauty as a substance from a model, and a kind of symbolism to represent metaphysical ideas by utilization of a model. I think that the latter is the majority, including Yasuda, in this exhibition.
When I told such an impression, Yasuda answered.
“I don’t want to paint portraits. But models often make my works portraits. Because the living body has very strong power to pull tableaux into the real.”
“But pictures and memories will often make your works empty symbols like a traffic sign. To utilize the intensity of human body, will you get the inherent actuality in your works?”
“That’s right. We depict just like walking on a thin tightrope between the real and symbols. To rise the higher place than both side.”
Yasuda always mentions a Madonna and Child by Simone Martini or Fra Filipo Lippi as her favorite art works, which she appreciated in her journey to Italy of her student days. While she wasn’t able to accept human bodies created by Sandro Botticelli, Tiziano Vecellio, and Michelangelo, repleted with enough erotism and vividness to choke her, though they impressed and overpowered her. Probably, many Japanese artists will empathize with her impression of Uffizi and Louvre. In the basis of Japanese art, there are memories of Buddhist art since 6th century and history of stylization to elevate art works to metaphysical dimension, which had been refined through thorough observation and confrontation to the real. This direction percolates through today’s Japanese artists. That’s the reason that many artists refuse realism and matter-of-fact representation, and that they take Western Christian art before 15th century for a standard , filled with beauty of refined style and sublimity.
In this exhibition, it was tableau of a Mother and Child which Yasuda showed. It was typical of her work; the form created by the union of two human bodies, guidance of eyes by accessories and ornament of cloth, peaceful looks, strong will concentrated on mother’s hand, and gracility of lines which compose the frame works of tableau. Yasuda perfectly represents women’s life force, motherhood, and eternal working of lives which will go on beyond the limits of individual.