Sharaku Interpreted by Japan’s Contemporary Artists Exhibition

Pao Galleries, Hong Kong Arts Centre
Exhibition Period: From Today to March 1, 2013

(1)    About the Exhibition
This exhibition is divided into three sections, "Reproductions of Sharaku", "Sharaku in Graphic Art" and "Homage to Sharaku". It has toured many places including various cities in China, the USA, the Netherlands, Greece and Singapore, etc. About 80 portraits and installations by 39 Japanese contemporary artists, including Tadanori Yokoo, Takashi Murakami and Koichi Sato, are displayed to showcase the embodiment of their reinterpretations of Sharaku from contemporary viewpoints. 

Not only does an overview of works by Sharaku or an assembly of famous examples of ukiyo-e, the exhibition would like visitors to have more understanding in how Japan’s contemporary art, design and comics re-interpret or continue the aesthetics of Japan classical ukiyo-e paintings. This exhibition, therefore, explores the connections between ukiyo-e and the Japanese graphic arts and contemporary arts, with an attempt to reinterpret the ukiyo-e artististic features, while at the same time compare the diversity of graphic design and contemporary arts’ interpretation. This exhibition leads visitors across time boundary of two centuries to appreciate the traditional and new-styled Japan

(2)    Who is Sharaku?
Sharaku(Full name: Toshusai Sharaku)is one of the representative ukiyo-e artist of the Edo period. His works were first found in May, 1794 and kept silence in February, 1795. In approximately ten months, Sharaku produced over 140 works. The majority of these prints were portraits of actors in their kabuki roles, and others include images of sumo wrestlers and warriors. Among Sharaku's debut works, the most highly esteemed were 28 large portraits featuring close-up images of the kabuki actors’ heads. 

Sharaku was an anonymous prominent ukiyo-e painter. Neither his bio nor his face was known with any certainty. Some speculation associated Sharaku with the great ukiyo-e master Kitagawa Utamaro or Katsushika Hokusai. Some might say Sharaku was a Noh actor named Saitō Jūrōbei. But, anyway, Sharaku’s creativity makes him standing out from most ukiyo-e artists depicting the actors’ whole-length portraits. Sharaku boldly captured each actor's features and characteristics of his role through a blend of keen observation and impressively realistic expression. Therefore, when you look at Sharaku’s works, you might find the characters’ personality, actors’ expression and also background of the ukiyo-e. 

All Sharaku's works were published by the publisher Tsutaya Juzaburo. In the late 18th century, Sharaku's works became the popular entertainment and propaganda. This practice brought the art of ukiyo-e from aristocrat class to common people in society. In 1910, the German scholar Julius Kurth wrote a book "Sharaku" and created a "Sharaku boom" in the west which eventually resulted in a reevaluation of the artist in Japan. His works are scattered throughout the world, including those in The British Museum, The Art Institute of Chicago and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Comparatively few Sharaku works remain in Japan. And 27 actor bust-portraits have been designated as Important Cultural Properties in The Tokyo National Museum.
(3)    Section features 
This exhibition is divided into three sections, "Reproductions of Sharaku", "Sharaku in Graphic Art" and "Homage to Sharaku" where exhibits are interlaced in the venue. 

"Reproductions of Sharaku" section lines up recent reproductions of 28 portraits by Sharaku created by the Adachi Institute of Woodcut Prints. This series is based on the Kabuki and Kyogen  plays performed in May 1794 at the three Kabuki theaters in Edo. The portraits depict the head or the bust of the character. While these works are polychrome prints, they actually employ a relatively small number of different colors, and their compositions, made up solely of the four elements of face, hands in some pose, chest, and a black mica background, are actually quite simple. Sharaku used a new perspective to paint ukiyo-e in an impressionistic manner. He did not capture actors’ exact facial expression. Instead, he emphasized on the presentation of characters’ fluctuated inner world linking with actors’ own personality and their expression.

"Sharaku in Graphic Art" section displayed a selection of the works, particularly the striking posters related to Sharaku's bust portraits. A consideration of this group reveals that the majority of these works show the singling out of a section of an actor's face depicted by Sharaku, such as the eyes, eyebrows, mouth, hair, hands or silhouette, and the replacement of that fragment somewhere on the poster. These presented an alternative way to re-composite, re-interpret or to transform. In 1994, 67 graphic designers participated in "The 200th Anniversary of Sharaku", planned and supervised by Shigeo Fukuda and organized by the Mainichi Newspapers and others. Selected from the named exhibition, this section’s 28 works show a considerable number of similarities between today's graphic design and the ukiyo-e of the Edo period. In Sharaku’s period, Yakusha-e which refers to the ukiyo-e depicted well-known Kabuki, was widespread for the theatre promotion. The purpose is similar to nowadays poster design. Both are rooted in the everyday lives of ordinary people, and are a form of communication over the daily lives and needs of people, that exert a great influence over society.

"Homage to Sharaku" section includes works by 11 relatively contemporary artists. Their means of expression range from painting, sculpture, and ceramics etc. Almost all of the works arrayed here were new works created specifically for this exhibition. Compared to the graphic designers who had some degree of contact with Sharaku, these 11 artists formed their own world of art works from contemporary means of expression each faced Sharaku from scratch. Therefore, artists re-interpret the spirit of Sharaku art through various media. Some works make direct use of Sharaku images, while others do not visually reveal a specific connection with Sharaku. But here the important element is not whether or not they actually use a Sharaku image, but rather, the concept of these artists confronted with Sharaku’s act and his style. They pay a tribute to Sharaku by bringing new and exaggerated style into their own creation.

Exhibition Details:
Organizers: The Japan Foundation, Consulate-General of Japan in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Arts Centre
In support with : the Japan Society of Hong Kong
Date & Time:     16/2/2013 4pm – 8pm
17 – 28/2/2013 10am – 8pm
1/3/2013 10am – 6pm
Venue: Pao Galleries, Hong Kong Arts Centre
Free Admission
Programme Enquiries: 2582 0200

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