Kyōsai: The Israel Goldman Collection ★★★★★ Royal Academy | Mar 19 - Jun 19, 2022


To western eyes the Japanese aesthetic can sometimes seem refined to the point of incomprehensibility. With the work of Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831-1889), we enter a world with recalling Hieronymus Bosch's phantasms, Brueghel's earthy peasants, Hogarth's satires and Beatrix Potter's animals. There is a lot here that may echo the familiar and provide a key into Kyōsai's imaginative environment, but when the door is opened, one meets a thoroughly original and utterly delightful artist. Kyōsai embraces life in all its aspects; terror, sexuality, buffoonery and whimsy are all on display. From the amazing Night Procession of One Hundred Demons (1871-1889), through the insightful portraits of his spiritual master, Daruma, to the fascinating commentary of Five Holy Men (1871-1887), the artist boldly and playfully examines humanity's spiritual aspirations while also scrutinising the joys and follies of this world. The exhibition is divided into three parts – From Tradition to Innovation, Laughing at Modernity, and The Artist meets his Public. Throughout there is an amazing skill and a craftsmanship informed by a wonderfully empathetic and humorous treatment of the subject matter. There is a free-flowing spirit in all of the pictorial narrations that are matched by a fluidity and mastery of technique which is a pleasure to behold. This well-curated exhibition is a fitting celebration of an artist whose engaging vision is as approachable as it is comprehensive.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Image: Skeleton Shamisen Player in Top–Hat with Dancing Monster, 1871 - 78. Israel Goldman Collection, London Photo: Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University.

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