The Eyes

The Eyes

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has organized a major exhibition about Yasuo Kuniyoshi, a preeminent 20th century modernist whose talents and contributions have rivaled those of his contemporaries, including Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Stuart Davis.

Kuniyoshi emigrated to America from Japan as a teenager, rising to prominence in the New York art world during the 1920s to become one of the most esteemed artists in America between the two world wars.  He drew on American folk art, Japanese design and iconography, and European modernism to create a distinctive visual style.  Kuniyoshi defined himself as an American artist while at the same time remaining very aware that his Japanese origins played an important role in his identity and artistic practices.

His inventive, humorous early works often included subtle color harmonies, simplified shapes, oddly proportioned figures, and an eccentric handling of space and scale.  His work became more sensuous and worldly after two long stays in Paris, as he painted moody, reflective women and still lifes with unusual objects.

Kuniyoshi was thoroughly integrated into American life and the art world, but immigration law prevented him from becoming an American citizen.  Classified an "enemy alien" after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, he remained steadfastly on the side of his adopted country during the painful war years, working with the Office of War Information to create artworks indicting Japanese atrocities.  After the war, Kuniyoshi developed a compelling late style, with bitter subjects and paradoxically bright colors.

The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi is the first comprehensive overview of his work by a United States museum in more than 65 years.  The exhibition traces Kuniyoshi's career through 66 of his finest paintings and drawings, chosen from leading public and private collections in America and Japan.  The exhibition runs through August 30 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

Strong Woman and Child | 1925
Smithsonian American Art Museum

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