Art: Kuniyoshi Exhibition

Because I’m, like, incredibly sophisticated and stuff, I go to art galleries to see actual works of art. I’m not saying this to impress you (although that is an unfortunate side-effect), it’s just a reason to post about my trip and put up some images.

The Royal Academy of Art is hosting an exhibition of 19th-century coloured woodprints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Featuring over 150 pieces from the Arthur R Miller collection (which is over 2000-strong), it presents a great selection from this prolific and extremely talented artist (he was discovered at the age of 12). There are examples of his landscapes (which have an European influence with the use of low perspective), his humorous work (which includes a squid that looks like it was copied for a level in Super Mario Sunshine) and his prints of beautiful women that were part of an inspirational series, it is his ‘Warriors’ that really catch the eye.

There were two main themes for a lot of the warrior work – the heroes of The Water Margin and the story of the forty-seven ronin (although he did work with other heroes and stories). He did single prints but his diptychs and triptychs are particularly impressive, showing his skill imagination – the amount of detail, the dynamism, the power all come together to produce great pieces of work. The capturing of rain on the picture is incredible, and the arrows flying through different levels of graded darkness are astonishing.

I don’t know if there is an influence on manga but it’s not difficult to see some inspiration in the powerful images and the colourful and elaborate detail. I’m also curious to see if Stan Sakai has seen Kuniyoshi’s work because I get a recognisable vibe from the attack on the rooftop scene that made me think immediately of Usagi Yojimbo. You can find out more about Kuniyoshi at Wikipedia, obviously, and there is a huge collection of images at the Kuniyoshi Project. The exhibition is wonderful and I would urge anyone who can to visit it – I just wish they had used a better print to advertise the collection: the fat red man fighting the giant carp doesn’t really do him justice.

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