Kokei (1946 - Present)

Kokei Tsuruya holds a unique place among Japan’s contemporary woodblock print artists. Emotionally charged, bold and vividly rendered, his kabuki portraits blend the spirit of ukiyo-e with a distinctly modern angle. With expressive faces and exaggerated gestures, contemporary stars of the kabuki stage spring from the artist’s imagination, bold against delicate sheets of ganpi paper. As Kokei found inspiration in the actor prints of the Edo period, he also reinvigorated the symbiotic relationship between the woodblock print and the kabuki theater through his twenty-two year partnership with the Kabuki-za, Tokyo’s premier kabuki theater.

Born in 1946 in Chigasaki, Kanagawa prefecture as Mitsui Gen, Kokei Tsuruya was raised in Shinjuku ward of Tokyo. Both his father and grandfather worked as professional artists, yet Kokei set off on a different path. Kokei explored woodblock carving as a pastime and collected ukiyo-e, but spent his early adulthood pursuing a corporate career. That is, until the mid-1970s. Profoundly inspired by a Kabuki performance, he soon traded office life for the artist’s workshop and began to design actor portraits. Around this time, Kokei's work caught the eye of Takeomi Nagayama, the president of the Shochiku Company, which owned the Kabuki-za, and a symbiotic relationship between artist and theater blossomed. Between 1978 and 2000, Kokei produced around 12 limited edition designs annually, each of which was sold during the production of the play depicted. Kokei completed each print from start to finish – designing, carving, inking, printing, and, ultimately, destroying each block himself. These limited-edition prints were to be sold specifically at the theater. Beginning in May of 1985, members of the “Kokei-kai,” could sign up to purchase his designs for two year, and later, 15-month periods.

In 2000, after twenty-two years of actor prints, Kokei looked beyond the stage and the woodblock print. Over the next two decades, he developed a robust portfolio of self-portraits across different mediums. In 2017, Kokei returned to the woodblock print with his ongoing project Banzai Ukiyoe-ha Gosugata (Long Live the Five Figures of Ukiyo-e). These portraits breathe life into the ukiyo-e masters that inspired Kokei’s passion for the art form. Kokei Tsuruya’s work can be found in numerous institutions such as the British Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Pacific Asia Museum, Yale University Art Gallery, and the Honolulu Museum of Art. In 2019, the Pacific Asia Museum at the University of Southern California held the retrospective Tsuruya Kokei: Modern Kabuki Prints Revised & Revisited.

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Flowers

Kokei

Flowers

JP-208111

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Snow

Kokei

Snow

JP-208110

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Ugly Girl and Young Man

Kokei

Ugly Girl and Young Man

JP-208109

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Woman Approaching Middle Age

Kokei

Woman Approaching Middle Age

JP-208106

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The Tayu (High-ranking Courtesan)

Kokei

The Tayu (High-ranking Courtesan)

JP-208105

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Ichikawa Danjuro XII as Soga no Goro

Kokei

Ichikawa Danjuro XII as Soga no Goro

JP-208104

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Ichikawa Danjuro XII as Akushichibyoe Kagekiyo

Kokei

Ichikawa Danjuro XII as Akushichibyoe Kagekiyo

JP-208103

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Ichikawa Danjuro XII as Musashibo Benkei

Kokei

Ichikawa Danjuro XII as Musashibo Benkei

JP-208102

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Nakamura Ganjiro III as Kamiya Jihei

Kokei

Nakamura Ganjiro III as Kamiya Jihei

JP-208101

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Kataoka Takao I as Fireman Matsukichi

Kokei

Kataoka Takao I as Fireman Matsukichi

JP-208100

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Nakamura Tomijuro V as Tominomori Sukeemon

Kokei

Nakamura Tomijuro V as Tominomori Sukeemon

JP-208099

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Nakamura Kichiemon II as Matsuomaru

Kokei

Nakamura Kichiemon II as Matsuomaru

JP-208098

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Jitsukawa Enjaku III as Farmer Kyusaku

Kokei

Jitsukawa Enjaku III as Farmer Kyusaku

JP-208096

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Ichikawa Danjuro XII Performing Nirami (Glaring) Pose

Kokei

Ichikawa Danjuro XII Performing Nirami (Glaring) Pose

JP-208095

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Ichikawa Danjuro XII as Musashibo Benkei

Kokei

Ichikawa Danjuro XII as Musashibo Benkei

JP-208094

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Kataoka Takao I as Hayano Kanpei

Kokei

Kataoka Takao I as Hayano Kanpei

JP-208093

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Ichikawa Danjuro XII as Hanakawado Sukeroku

Kokei

Ichikawa Danjuro XII as Hanakawado Sukeroku

JP-208092

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Ichimura Uzaemon XVII as Musashibo Benkei

Kokei

Ichimura Uzaemon XVII as Musashibo Benkei

JP-208091

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Kataoka Nizaemon XIII as Ishikawa Goemon

Kokei

Kataoka Nizaemon XIII as Ishikawa Goemon

JP-208090

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Onoe Kikugoro VII as Benten Kozo

Kokei

Onoe Kikugoro VII as Benten Kozo

JP-208089

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Nakamura Kichiemon II as Keyamura Rokusuke

Kokei

Nakamura Kichiemon II as Keyamura Rokusuke

JP-208088

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Ichikawa Monnosuke VIII as Omon of the Jumonjiya

Kokei

Ichikawa Monnosuke VIII as Omon of the Jumonjiya

JP-208087

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Ichikawa Danshiro IV as Akushichibyoe Kagekiyo

Kokei

Ichikawa Danshiro IV as Akushichibyoe Kagekiyo

JP-208086

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Matsumoto Koshiro IX as Matsuomaru

Kokei

Matsumoto Koshiro IX as Matsuomaru

JP-208085

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