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Contemporary Talents of Japan 2017

Written by
Madison Folks
Published on
July 12, 2017 at 9:42:12 AM PDT July 12, 2017 at 9:42:12 AM PDTth, July 12, 2017 at 9:42:12 AM PDT

For over 40 years, Ronin Gallery has focused on bringing the best of Japanese art to the United States. In keeping with this tradition, Ronin Gallery seeks to nurture and promote the most exciting talents in contemporary Japanese art today. From unique woodblock prints to vivacious ink paintings, the second annual Contemporary Talents of Japan exhibition explores Japan's diverse artistic vanguard. Featuring Katsutoshi Yuasa, the 2017 winner of the Ronin|Globus Artist-in-Residence Program, this exhibition considers an enduring aesthetic in the contemporary imagination.

The theme of this year's residency program is Iki: Stylish, Simple, and Sophisticated. The concept of iki defies translation, existing as a culturally embedded phenomenon in Japan. The tension between reality and unreality embodies this ethereal aesthetic concept developed by Edo's urban merchant class during the Edo period (1603-1868). From simplicity to spontaneity, originality to directness, the qualities of iki are those that defined a true edokko or "child of Edo." Iki continues to be a driving aesthetic concept, prevailing in its careful interplay between the romantic and the straightforward, the daring and the sophisticated.

Famously articulated by Kuki Shūzō in 1930, the concept of iki presents a Japanese aesthetic ideal tied to human imagination, clarity, and style. From the streets of Edo to modern Tokyo, iki inspires and instills a distinct beauty. In his treatise The Structure of Iki, Shūzō traces its origins to Edo's demimonde. He argues that the phenomenon of iki was refined and expressed through the interactions within the pleasure quarter. Over the centuries, iki has evolved as not only a powerful aesthetic concept, but also a way of being.

Ronin Gallery grew from a love for the contemporary art of a time long past. During the Edo period, woodblock print artists broke from traditional painting to portray the vibrant world around them. Ukiyo-e, or pictures of the floating world, reacted to contemporary life. While what constitutes contemporary has dramatically changed since the Edo period, Japanese artists continue to capture contemporary culture in endlessly inventive and powerful ways. Over the years, Ronin Gallery has carefully developed a collection of Japanese art that stretches from the 17th century to today's artistic vanguard. In recent years, contemporary Japanese art has captured the interest of collectors worldwide. Today's artists are pushing limits and innovating techniques across mediums and styles. The annual Contemporary Talents of Japan exhibition presents some of Japan's brightest artistic talents. Ronin Gallery is pleased to present this exhibition in conjunction with the Ronin|Globus Artist-in-Residence Program.

On May 9th, a distinguished panel of judges chose Katsutoshi Yuasa as the 2017 Ronin|Globus Artist-in-Residence from over 50 talented applicants. Nao Morigo was named first runner up, and Asako Iwasawa and Yoshihito Kawase each received honorable mentions. The program judges were enchanted by Yuasa's woodblock prints. Transforming his own digital photographs into woodblock prints, his work questions the line between the contemporaneity of photography and the tradition of woodblock printmaking.

About the Ronin | Globus Artist-in-Residence Program

The annual Ronin|Globus Artist-in- Residence Program seeks to stimulate cross-cultural dialogue through Japan's vanguard of visual art while providing an opportunity for emerging and mid-career Japanese visual artists to live, work, and exhibit in New York City. In addition to inclusion in Ronin Gallery's annual Contemporary Talents of Japan exhibition, the winner receives a three-week stay at Globus Washitsu in central Manhattan, a tatami mat studio space, a stipend, and transportation between Tokyo and NYC.

A panel consisting of museum curators, individual collectors, philanthropists, and experts on Japanese art selects the finalists. These judges possess extensive experience or education in the field paired with a sensitivity to the pulse of the contemporary Japanese art scene. A portion of the proceeds raised by this year's exhibition will go to the Japan Society Gallery to further exhibitions of Japanese art.

Many thanks this year's judges—Nachi Das, Yasuko Harris, Tan Boon Hui, Yukie Kamiya, Mary Ann Roos, Johnny Strategy, Miwako Tezuka, and Katsura Yamaguchi—for their diligent consideration and invaluable expertise. Thank you to this year's program ambassadors—Everett Brown, Kouji Hayashi, Hiroko Ishinabe, Joji Mita, Kyoko Sato, and Keisuke 'Oz' Yamaguchi—for spreading the word about this opportunity.

An especially warm thank you to Stephen Globus, whose collaboration makes this outstanding opportunity a reality. As the program enters its second year, we can not wait to see what the next year has in store.


Born in Tokyo in 1978, Katsutoshi Yuasa is a contemporary woodblock print artist. His work presents a conversation between the contemporaneity of photography and the tradition of woodblock printmaking. Each work begins with his own digital photographs, which he then reinterprets as woodblock prints. In his words, the camera creates "fictional two-dimensional information in the surface...I have decided to use the woodcut technique as a way of adapting the subjective perception to the objective fiction." This interplay between the emotional and the factual is neither reality nor fiction: Yuasa creates a "neutral space...in a new dimension."

Yuasa received BA in Fine Arts from Musashino Art University in 2002, where he studied painting and printmaking. He continued his study of printmaking in London, earning a MFA from the Royal College of Art in 2005. From MI-LAB to Musashino Art University, Yuasa has taught, lectured and led workshops throughout Europe and Asia. He has received numerous awards and scholarships, most recently, Grand Prize at the 2015 CWAJ 60th Anniversary Print Show. His work is actively exhibited in solo and group shows worldwide and resides in the permanent collections of prestigious institutions such as the Victoria & Albert Museum.


Working in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture, Nao Morigo graduated from Kyoto Seika University where she majored in Western painting. She began figurative painting in 1991 before turning to more conceptual art by 1999. She melds her contemporary imagery with materials used in nihonga (Japanese-style painting), such as mineral pigments, powdered brass, pearl, and copper. As she breaks from the conventional techniques of these traditional materials, she considers the relationship between time and the concept of iki. Past and present intertwine in her most recent hanging scrolls. Challenging the dichotomy between crisp, geometrical white space and lavishly rendered paintings, Morigo walks the fine line between detail and simplicity. Following an honorable mention in the 2016, Morigo was named first runner-up in the 2017 Ronin | Globus Artist-in-Program.


Born in Tokyo in 1973, today Yoshihito Kawase splits his time between Tokyo and Ibaraki. He completed his PhD in Japanese-style painting at Tokyo University of the Arts. In his most recent work, Kawase emphasizes the relationship between the image and the texture of the underlying materials that support it. In his words, "for a simple and intelligent composition, the margin plays an important role, comparable to a semi-protagonist rather than a supportive role." The texture of the paper or silk is as important as the inks, metals, and paints that rest upon it.

Kawase's work has been feature in solo and groups shows throughout Japan and currently resides in permanent collections such as the Ibaraki Museum of Modern Art and the Tokugawa Art Museum. He is the recipient of the Yamatane Art Museum Nihonga Award and the 13th Sato International Culture Foundation Scholarship. Named first runner-up in 2016, Kawase received an honorable mention in the 2017 Ronin | Globus Artist-in-Residence Program.


Asako Iwasawa is a contemporary painter from Akabane, Tokyo. She graduated from Tama Art University's Textile Design course before managing Design Studio Himiko. She later discovered a passion for kimono design and worked at the batik studio Kimono Studio Dye Laboratory. Iwasawa spent 10 years living in the countryside, indulging her love for nature. Though she returned to the city, she brought the vivid world of insects, plants, and natural beauty back with her.

In her words, "nature is full of thrills and wonders...it impresses me to no end and fuels my imagination." Iwasawa looks beyond the physical reality of the natural world and portrays the spirit of nature in her paintings. As she treads the boundary between imagination and landscape, she challenges her viewers' sense of place. She received an honorable mention in the 2017 Ronin | Globus Artist-in-Residence program.


Keisuke 'OZ' Yamaguchi's work blends traditional techniques with thoroughly modern imagery, considering the power of forces unseen, both natural and human. Born in Nagano Prefecture in 1986, Yamaguchi attended Nagano National College of Technology for Architecture in 2003. Following his graduation in 2007, he continued his education at Nagaoka Institute of Design, where he studied Architecture and the Environment. His focus has since shifted from architecture to painting. Yamaguchi has actively exhibited internationally since 2007. Last summer, he was selected as the inaugural winner of the 2016 Ronin | Globus Artist-in-Residence Program. Yamaguchi often integrates process and product in his live painting performances. From the live painting at the ruins of Ueda Castle in Nagano to Central Park in New York City, Yamaguchi's original technique draws and enchants crowds.


Born in Kagoshima in 1988, Yuki Nishimoto is a contemporary Japanese artist working in Tokyo. After teaching himself sumi-e painting, Nishimoto broke away from the limitations of traditional techniques. He uses sumi-e technique to capture contemporary Japanese culture. He states, "my work reflects the 'lively movements' of the unique world of black and white sumi-e, incorporating bold, fine, and delicate lines." Nishimoto also brings an element of performance to his paintings, frequently creating his bold works in front of an audience. Nishimoto's work has earned him wide acclaim. In 2012, he received the World's Best Piece Award at Florida's Embracing Our Differences contest. Two years later, he performed a live painting in Hong Kong that later sold at Christie's. In 2015, he exhibited his work at the Kyushu National Museum's 10th anniversary exhibition.


Horiyoshi (b. 1946) is Japan's preeminent tebori master, whose work is indebted to traditions of apprenticeship and skill. While the world of tattoo remains one of secrecy and exclusivity in Japan, Horiyoshi III has transcended taboo, achieving national and international fame. Born Yoshihito Nakano, Horiyoshi III received his title from the late tebori master Yoshitsugu Muramatsu, known as Shodai Horiyoshi's apprentice for ten years. By 28, Horiyoshi III's bodysuit was complete, hand-tattooed by Shodai Horiyoshi. Though ukiyo-e officially ended in 1868, Horiyoshi III carries on the spirit of Edo's "pictures of the floating world" in his work, all the while incorporating his own style and a contemporary perspective. This sensitivity to tradition extends beyond his tebori. In recent years, he has focused on traditional kakejiku (scroll paintings). Rendering Japanese folktales, calligraphy and religious subjects in sumi (black ink) and traditional mineral pigments, Horiyoshi III interweaves past, present and future.

In addition, Horiyoshi III tattoos full time, publishes books of his drawings, and is the founder of Japan's only tattoo museum with his wife in Yokohama. His work can be found in the permanent collection of the Morikami Museum of Art. With over forty years of experience, he is the foremost authority on traditional Japanese tattooing.


Born in Fukuoka prefecture in 1986, Yuki Ideguchi received both a BFA (2007) and MFA (2013) in Japanese Painting from Tokyo University of the Arts. In his work, he blends traditional Japanese techniques with contemporary imagery and themes. Take, for example, his use of silver leaf. Rather than prepare the canvas with the expected blue undercoat, he paints the canvas a deep red, trading the coolness of traditional silver leaf for a palpable warmth.

Ideguchi has exhibited his work throughout Japan since 2008. In 2011, he participated in The Asian Students and Young Artists Art Fair, held in Seoul, and was featured in the Asahi Shimbun's Exhibition of Next Art. The following year, he received the Mitsubishi Corporation Art Gate Program scholarship. By 2014, Ideguchi became active in the international art scene, presenting his works in numerous international exhibitions, including the Exhibition of Selected Japanese Artists held in Paris. That same year, Ideguchi moved to New York and became an active member of the city's artistic vanguard.


Cyoko Tamai was born in Kochi Prefecture. She graduated from Tokyo University of the Arts with a BFA in Music and an MFA in Japanese Painting. Her work combines unique techniques, a musical sensibility, and traditional Japanese materials, resulting in ethereal and compelling images. Using a fine-pointed steel pen, Cyoko deconstructs and rebuilds: she tears, scratches, and rips incredibly strong Japanese washi paper made by National Living Treasure Sajio Hamada and his wife Setsuko. Breaks and incisions leap beyond the paper's surface, while choice individual fibers defy gravity, coaxed from the paper to form an ephemeral gauze. "The major theme of my work is to capture life that is unexplained and invisible, working under the hypothesis that each space has a certain life to it. Gravity is a basic element in the world, yet is still remains mysterious. I believe that this mystery in the everyday hints that there is life in things unseen, even if it is invisible yet."

Tamai's work has been featured in over a dozen solo and group exhibitions in Japan. She was the 2014 Japan Society Artist-in-Residence and featured in multiple one-woman shows at Ronin Gallery. She is the recipient of several grants from the Sato International Cultural Foundation and the recipient of the Ataka Award. Her work can be found in the permanent collection of the Muscarelle Museum of Art and the Morikami Museum.