For his first UK exhibition Tokyo based artist O JUN has produced new works on paper 14 days 119 years later, in response to a series of woodblock prints from 1897, that are also on show in the gallery. The thirty Ukiyo-e prints from Jidai Kagami (Mirror of the Ages), by Toyohara Chikanobu, each portrays an imagined female ‘Beauty’. Through elaborate hairstyles, costumes and posture each Beauty is tasked with representing an era of Japanese history, while background pictorial insets show scenes from her daily life.
O JUN’s drawings and paintings employ a repertoire of figures, everyday objects, clothing and nostalgic motifs of Japan, such as crests, flags, pine trees and distant mountains. In his work, depiction, detail and narrative, while clearly evident through his bold graphic and visual fluency, are somewhat undermined, destabilised, enriched and bothered. We are left in a state of uncertainty. Wistful, poignant, poised but also confusing with a contemporary brashness, O JUN’s work appears to view Japanese culture (and humanity in general) deeply and gently from the inside, and with amused sympathy from the outside.
Notions of interpretation, representation and beauty are further troubled in O JUN’s performance video made in collaboration with Takashi Ishida. O JUN has invited Ishida to participate in the show, generously extending the relay race. In the upstairs gallery Ishida’s hand drawn animation, made over a month during a residency in the UK, translates the English day-light and street-light projected through a high window. These time-lapse drawings reminiscent of massing clouds and swirling mists, bring us back to Japan, where such abstract forms are familiar indicators of physical and temporal space.
O JUN (born 1956, Tokyo) studied for his BFA and MFA in Fine Art at Tokyo University of the Arts, going on to spend a number of years living and working as an artist in Barcelona and Dusseldorf. His time in Germany during the early 1990s (1990-1995) gave him an opportunity to consider and test out a range of perspectives on art practice and ‘Japanese-ness’ and ‘European-ness’ that he continues to explore through his painting, drawing, and performance. Since graduating O JUN has shown his work regularly in Japan as well as Internationally with major solo shows, including: MANMANCHAN AN, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre (2016); DaDa-co, Roppongi Hills A/D Gallery, Tokyo and Sannojyo’s Dream, Mizuma Art Gallery, Tokyo. O JUN has also been selected for numerous group shows and two person shows including with Imi Knoebel at Kanransha Gallery, Tokyo. Widely respected as both a leading and subversive voice in contemporary Japanese art, O JUN is currently Professor of Fine Art at Tokyo University of the Arts where he runs the O JUN graduate painting Lab.
Yōshū Chikanobu (1838-1912) studied under Kuniyoshi (1797-1861). Coming from the warrior class he was trained in martial arts and swordsmanship alongside his studies in Japanese traditional painting methods, calligraphy and print design, western shading and 1 point perspective. Following his apprenticeship under three different Ukiyo-e masters and after commencing his life as a professional artist, his samurai Father’s retirement led him to take on a leading role in the battle of Ueno among other martial activities. From 1867 to 1871 he lived a military life. As Japan went through rapid westernisation, he returned to his practice as an artist and was famed for his work both with traditional subjects and more contemporary scenes. A number of his prints depict western fashions, colours and complicated compositions that embraced western influences. He was considered a master of Bijinga (beautiful women pictures) and the late series Jidai Kagami (1897) demonstrates a return to a purely Japanese subject but with a modern inflection, appearing to reference photographs though the sepia inset scenes.
Takashi Ishida (born 1972, Tokyo) lives and works in Tokyo. Takashi Ishida is a painter and film artist. He mainly uses a technique of drawing animation, which consists in drawing lines and filming them one frame at a time. By interposing multiplying lines, moving points or some other mobile elements, Ishida’s installations produce various changes in the quality of space. He received the Most Promising Young Talent Prize of the Goto Commemorative Culture Award in 2007. His recent major exhibitions include: BILLOWING LIGHT: ISHIDA Takashi, Yokohama Museum of Art and Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum, 2015; Distilling Senses: A Journey through Art and Technology in Asian Contemporary Art, Hong Kong Art Centre, Hong Kong, 2013; Double Vision: Contemporary Art from Japan, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, 2012 and MOT Collection Silent Narrator: On Plural Stories Special Feature: Takashi Ishida, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, 2011. He is also Associate Professor at Tama Art University.