Yoshitomo Nara - KYOBAI, Japanese Art and Culture London Wednesday, April 2, 2008 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo (publisher)

  • Catalogue Essay

    In his series entitled ‘In a floating world’ Yoshitomo Nara is ‘running wild’ with the tradition genre of Ukiyo-e which literally translates into ‘pictures of the floating world.’ Ukiyo-e describes the traditional craft of woodblock printing in Japan. Nara’s girls and figures are placed in a completely unusual scenery- devoid of the usual emptiness and instead now interacting with the mesmerizing and traditional world of Japanese culture. Ukiyo, refers to the impetuous young culture that bloomed in the urban centers of Edo (modern-dayTokyo), Osaka, and Kyoto that were a world unto themselves. It is an ironic allusion to the homophone term ‘Sorrowful World,’ the earthly plane of death and rebirth from which Buddhists sought release.The art form rose to great popularity in the metropolitan culture of Edo. Ukiyo-e were affordable because they could be mass-produced.They were meant for mainly townsmen, who were generally not wealthy enough to afford an original painting.The original subject of ukiyo-e was city life, in particular activities and scenes from the entertainment district. Beautiful courtesans, bulky sumo wrestlers and popular actors would be portrayed while engaged in appealing activities. Later on landscapes also became popular. Political subjects, and individuals above the lowest strata of society (courtesans, wrestlers and actors) were not sanctioned in these prints and very rarely appeared. Sex was not a sanctioned subject either, but continually appeared in ukiyo-e prints. Artists and publishers were sometimes punished for creating these sexually explicit shunga. Ukiyo-e can be categorized into two periods: the Edo period, which comprises ukiyo-e from its origins in the 1620s until about 1867, when the Meiji period began, lasting until 1912. The Edo period was largely a period of calm that provided an ideal environment for the development of the art in a commercial form; while the Meiji period is characterized by new influences as Japan opened up to the West.The roots of Ukiyo-e can be traced to the urbanization that took place in the late 16th century that led to the development of a class of merchants and artisans who began writing stories or novels, and painting pictures, compiled in ehon (picture books, books with stories and picture illustrations), such as the 1608 edition of Tales of Ise by Hon’ami Koetsu. Ukiyo-e were often used for illustrations in these books, but came into their own as single-sheet prints (e.g., postcards or kakemono-e) or were posters for the kabuki theater. Inspirations were initially Chinese tales and artworks. Many stories were based on urban life and culture; guidebooks were also popular; and all in all had a commercial nature and were widely available. Hishikawa Moronobu, who already used polychrome painting, became very influential after the 1670s. In the mid-18th century, techniques allowed for production of full-colour prints, called Nishiki-e, and the Ukiyo-e that are reproduced today on postcards and calendars date from this period on. During this time however pictures of courtesans, geisha and actors (e.g., onnagata) were banned as part of theTenpo¯ reforms. Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan became open to imports from the West, including photography. While Ukiyo-e, being largely replaced by photography, went out of fashion in Japan during Japan's Westernization movement in the early Meiji period. However, it became a source of inspiration in Europe for Cubist, Impressionist, and Post-Impressionist artists, such as Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, and others. An influence famously known as Japonism.


In the Floating World

1998 - 1999

Portfolio of 16 colour Xeroxes.

29.5 x 41.cm. (16 1/2 x 11 3/4 in).

Signed and dated 'Nara 1998 1999' and numbered of 50 on the margin.This work is from an edition of fifty.

£8,000 - 12,000 

Sold for £13,700

KYOBAI, Japanese Art and Culture

3 Apr 2008, 6pm