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The Great Wave: Contemporary Talents of Japan

Written by
Madison Folks
Published on
June 11, 2016 at 1:04:11 PM PDT June 11, 2016 at 1:04:11 PM PDTth, June 11, 2016 at 1:04:11 PM PDT

"I think what happened on March 11, 2011 drastically changed how waves reverberate in the hearts of the Japanese people, now realizing the balance of mother nature's sacred beautiful, yet unforgiving force. I think what we need now is 'a spirit of tomorrow,' what we as Japanese have held dearly since long before."

-Keisuke Yamaguchi (OZ) 2016 Ronin | Globus Artist-in-Residence

Pushing the Limits: Between Tradition and Innovation

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, which at that time was a world filled with samurai, courtesans, and kabuki stars. While what constitutes contemporary has dramatically changed since the 1800s, Japanese artists have continued to respond to contemporary culture in endlessly inventive and powerful ways.

In recent years, contemporary Japanese art has captured the interest of collectors worldwide. Today's artists are pushing limits and innovating techniques to stunning effect, across mediums and styles. Ronin Gallery grew from a love for the contemporary art of a long time past and over the years we have developed a carefully curated collection stretching from Edo to Tokyo's artistic vanguard. This summer, we are pleased to present some of Japan's brightest talents in Contemporary Talents of Japan, uniting emerging and established artists working and reacting to the realities of our time.

Spanning a wide range of media and mindsets, this exhibition presents diverse reactions to defining moments in contemporary life: Japan's recent earthquakes and the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Contemporary Talents of Japan features Keisuke Yamaguchi (OZ), the winner of the Ronin | Globus Artist-in-Residence Program. Yamaguchi blends traditional techniques with thoroughly contemporary imagery, considering the power of nature and the ways that people cope with disaster. From unseen spirits to the power of human resilience, he calls upon unique and subtle qualities of Japanese culture to evoke the events of March 11, 2011, as well as Japan's recent earthquakes. This blurring of the traditional and the contemporary unites the artists in this exhibition. We are thrilled to include works by familiar Ronin Contemporary artists—Sarah Brayer, Horiyoshi III, Masato Sudo, Hideo Takeda, and Cyoko Tamai—as well as welcome some new members to the family—AgIC, Yuki Ideguchi and Everett Brown. Finally, we are pleased to present work from the finalists of the Ronin | Globus Artist-in-Residence Program: Tomomi Kamoshita, Nao Morigo, and Yuki Nishimoto. Together, these visionary artists challenge the distinction between tradition and innovation, from new-age nihonga and kintsugi, to ultra-modern, site-specific painting and prints that resound with popular manga.

Ronin Gallery is excited to present this exhibition in conjunction with the Ronin | Globus Artist-in-Residence Program. For the past 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. While many international residency programs bring artists to the United States, there are few opportunities specifically for Japanese artists. This residency seeks to stimulate cross-cultural dialogue through Japan's vanguard of visual art, providing the chosen artist with international airfare, housing, a tatami studio space, and inclusion in this exhibition. As March 2016 marked the fifth anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, our theme during this inaugural year is The Great Wave: Images to Support Japan Society's Japan Earthquake Relief Fund.

On May 10, our distinguished panel of judges chose Yamaguchi's striking paintings based on three criteria: artistic excellence, clarity of concept, and originality in interpretation of theme. Yoshihito Kawase was named first runner up, while Nao Morigo and Tomomi Kamoshita each received an honorable mention. Thank you to this year's judges—Nachi Das, Yasuko Harris, Yukie Kamiya, Mary Ann Roos, Johnny Strategy, Miwako Tezuka, and Katsura Yamaguchi—for their diligent consideration and invaluable expertise. An especially warm thank you to Steve Globus for his collaboration in making this outstanding opportunity a reality. Without his support, ideas and friendship, this would never have happened. It's been a wonderful inaugural year and we look forward to many more years to come.

Featured Artists


山口 佳祐 2016 Ronin | Globus Artist-in-Residence

Keisuke Yamaguchi's work blends traditional techniques with thoroughly modern imagery, considering the power of forces unseen, both natural and human. From gods of the sea to the emotional landscapes of the human heart, Yamaguchi calls upon unique and subtle qualities of Japanese culture and art to evoke the events of March 11, 2011. Born in Nagano Prefecture, Japan 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 throughout Japan since 2007, from group shows to ten solo exhibitions. His most recent exhibitions include the solo show Oz and the international group exhibition Common, both held in Nagano. Yamaguchi often integrates process and product in his live painting performances. From the live painting Takara Ichi at the ruins of Ueda Castle in Nagano to Geppaku at Gallery Saniwa, Yamaguchi's original technique draws and enchants crowds.

In his exhibited works, Yamaguchi evokes the existence of things that evade the human eye. From the energy of sacred spirits to the vivid imagery of human thoughts and emotions, Yamaguchi gives form to a power quite similar to water, one without concrete form. As he states, "it inhabits everything around us, having the ability to hit us with fearful, awesome, inspiring power."



Born in Tokyo in 1977, Tomomi Kamoshita is both a potter and a ceramics teacher. She graduated from Joshibi University ceramics course in 2000. Since 2007, Kamoshita has held an exhibition every year. Lately, she has integrated the traditional Japanese technique of kintsugi into her work.

In her featured series, Gift from the Waves, she reflects on the giving and taking power of the ocean: "As every Japanese has realized, the waves can take away a great deal from us. But it is also true that we greatly benefit from it. With this work, I wanted to revive what waves have brought us." Kamoshita collected broken pieces of ceramic and glass from the beach, each beautifully weathered by the waves, and bound them together with metallic powder. "Using a skill inspired by kintsugi, which is a Japanese traditional repairing technique used to connect broken ceramic pieces together, I revive what the wave have sent us." The pink fragments that appear in each work are taken from an old piece of her own pottery. For Kamoshita, the pink represents sakura, or cherry blossoms, a symbol of revival. "No matter what happens, it blooms gracefully in spring." She unites these ideas of destruction, creation, and revival through her decision to make chopstick rests. By taking the form of daily tableware, these once lost and broken pieces experience renewed purpose and newfound vitality, blooming like a blushing sakura.



Working in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture, Nao Morigo began figurative painting in 1991 before turning to more conceptual art by 1999. In 2009, she began Trip to..., a series of world landscape paintings. While initially deterred from the Ronin | Globus Artist-in-Residence program due to the theme this year, she found herself reconsidering the subject of the wave. She states, "The sea creates rainfall and brings water to us, nourishing us with minerals and seafood...[it] supports us in many ways and we would not be able to exist without it. That same sea is what took so many lives in the tsunami. The lives washed away have now become a part of the ocean and will return to us in the cycle of nature."

Her Great Wave series is composed of foreign newspaper clippings and scenic landscapes from her 2009 trip around the world. Through these delicate collages, Morigo considers the ocean and the treasures of life that the sea holds. She melds her contemporary imagery through materials used in nihonga, or Japanese-style painting, such as mineral pigments, powdered brass, pearl and copper. As Morigo weaves snippets of popular global media into her powerful collages, she evokes the connected nature of our world, both to each other and to nature. "It was difficult to portray the "Great Wave" in a beautiful, comfortable way. Although my intent was to abstract as much as I could, the frightening images come to mind and resonate in my work."



Born in Kagoshima in 1988, Yuki Nishimoto is a contemporary Japanese artist working in Tokyo. After teaching himself sumi- e, or ink painting, Nishimoto broke away from the limitations of traditional techniques. He uses this traditional technique to capture contemporary culture, from sports icons to manga. 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 work, frequently painting 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 at OMEGA Presents Ambassador Ball in Hong Kong. This work later sold at Christie's. He has been featured on NHK and performed live painting for Kyoto's Daigoji live television show.

In 2015, he performed a painting and exhibited work at Sengoku Daimyo, Kyushu National Museum's 10th anniversary exhibition. This past August, he preformed a live painting at Saitama's Prefectural Museum of History and Folklore, where 1,200 people attended. Soon after, he preformed a painting at the Fukuoka Asia Prize's Culture Award Ceremony at Kyushu University. This past October, Nishimoto brought together the creative fields of music and visual art through a live performance with the shakuhachi player Dozan Fujiwara.



Horiyoshi III (b. 1946) is Japan's preeminent master of tebori , or hand-tattooing, 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 of Yokohama. Beginning at sixteen, he served as Shodai Horiyoshi's apprentice for ten years. By twenty-eight, 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.



As an art student, Masato Sudo (b. 1955) concentrated his photographic work on long haul trucks lavishly decorated by their drivers. While working on one of these studies, Sudo encountered a driver with designs on his body that outdid those of his truck. Enamored by such individualized bodily expression, Sudo built his career capturing the beauty of the Japanese tattoo and its dynamic human canvas. In 1985, Sudo released Ransho: Japanese Tattooing, a 143-page photographic exploration of tebori, or hand tattooing, done by Horiyoshi III, Horijin, and Horikin. In 2010, his work was featured in the exhibition Seeing Beauty at Balboa Park's Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego and resides in collections worldwide, including that of the Muscarelle Museum and Morikami Museum of Art.

Combining large format photography with the cutting edge archival fresco pigment printing process, Sudo generates not only stunning, but also long lasting studies of the inked form. Originating in Japan, this new printing technology draws upon ancient innovation to create photographic images that are heat, light and moisture resistant. Just as the traditional fresco technique preserves Michelangelo's pigments in the Sistine Chapel, the archival fresco pigment printing process captures Sudo's photographs within a soft layer of plaster, guarding his photographs for centuries to come.



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. He blends traditional Japanese techniques with contemporary imagery and themes. Yet, even the traditional techniques become his own, adapted to the contemporary climate. For example, he applies silver leaf to canvas, yet rather than prepare the canvas with the undercoat of blue paint, he uses a deep red to trade the cool quality of traditional silver leaf for a palpable warmth. He has exhibited his work throughout Japan since 2008. In 2011, he participated in The Asian Students and Young Artists Art Fair, held in Seoul, Korea, and was featured in 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 exhibitions, including the India- Japan Associate Art Exhibition in New Delhi, and the Exhibition of S elected Japanese Artists held in Paris. That same year, Ideguchi moved to New York and became an active member of the city's artistic vanguard. This past year, Ideguchi held his first solo exhibition in Tokyo, titled Somewhere Hasn't Been Here Will Be Here. As well as producing his own work, he has also curated exhibitions in Japan and the United States and earned mention in the Japanese art magazine M.G.


Born in Rochester, New York, Sarah Brayer is an international artist who has exhibited in Japan, Hong Kong, United States, and Europe. Brayer is known for her aquatints, woodblock prints and poured washi paper works. She received her BA in studio arts from Connecticut College in 1978. Two years later, she moved to Kyoto to study etching from Yoshiko Fukuda and traditional woodblock printing with the renowned Toshi Yoshida. She opened her first studio in 1986 in an old kimono weaving loft in northern Kyoto.

Brayer was the first artist to be honored by Japan with an exhibition of her washi paper works at Byodoin Temple, a World Heritage site that dates from the Heian period, as part of Kyoto's 1200 year celebration in 1992. Brayer was again honored in 2007 as the first foreign woman in over half a century to be named cover artist for the CWAJ Contemporary Print Show in Tokyo. In 2012, Brayer discussed her unique explorations in Japanese paper and light in a TED talk in Tokyo. Today, she continues to exhibit her work internationally and her pieces can be found in the permanent collections of museums such as the British Museum, the Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian and the American Embassy, Tokyo.

In her most recent series, Luminosity: Night Paperworks, Brayer infuses her washi with photo-luminescent pigments. Powered by light exposure, these provoking and mysterious works reveal a different image at night than that seen during the day. In Brayer's words, "these images show us the place where something appears out of nothing and then returns to it; taking us to the edge of visual perception."


玉井 祥子

Cyoko Tamai (b. 1987) was born in Kochi prefecture, graduating 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 works 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 it 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. Her work can be found in the permanent collection of the Muscarelle Museum of Art in Williamsburg, Virginia. She is the recipient of several grants from the Sato International Cultural Foundation and the recipient of the Ataka Award.

Most recently she was selected at the 2014 Summer Artist-in-Residence at the Japan Society, an honor she shares with luminaries of Japanese artists such as Shiko Munakata and Yayoi Kusama. Since her October exhibition at the Ronin Gallery, Against Gravity, Cyoko has moved away from sumi and closer to architectural forms. Through the use of Japanese glue, she freezes the fibers in midair, pulled and stretched from the washi paper with the delicacy integral to her work. She mixes traditional mineral pigments with the glue for color.



Hideo Takeda's work invariably speaks both to the past and the present, and to audiences globally. Over his long career, Takeda has inhabited multiple identities and worked with innumerable media. His art is firmly rooted in the creative potential inherent in crossing boundaries and the freedom that comes with the refusal to be categorized. As a satirist, cartoonist, printmaker, photographer, illustrator, comedian, provocateur, and as both a citizen of Japan and a citizen of the world at large, the only persistent qualities of Takeda's artistic output are flexibility, adaptation, and surprise. Born in Osaka in 1948, Takeda was accepted to the prestigious Tama Art University, where he completed his degree in sculpture. It was his drawings and works on paper, however, that propelled Takeda into the spotlight, and shortly after graduation he received the prestigious Bungei-Shunju Cartoon Award in 1976. After a career of more than forty years, Takeda enjoyed a one-man show at the British Museum and his work can be found in the permanent collections of multiple prestigious institutions.

Combining the aesthetics of traditional prints, western cartoons, and textile patterns, Takeda's work is startling, boldly graphic, often surreal, and subtly beautiful. Takeda rarely chooses to be identified as an "artist," preferring instead to think of himself as a "cartoonist," a poor English translation of the Japanese manga-ka. The manga-ka has a rich heritage and significance in Japan, related both to contemporary popular culture and certain facets of historical visual expression dating back to the Edo period. In this sense, one can begin to see the power and significance of Takeda's creative vision and artistic choices. Takeda faces the challenges inherent in the genre of illustration or cartoon and meets them head on, just as he fearlessly tackles the elusive balance between contemporary global culture and Japanese history.


Taking its name from the chemical symbol for silver, AgIC (Silver Ink Circuits) created the technology to print and draw electric circuits through silver conductive ink. These tools, whether the pen or the printer cartridge, allow unprecedented accessibility to electrical circuit for people of all ages and skill levels. Beyond access, AgIC infuses its inventive equipment with ample creativity, encouraging the intersection of art and technology.

With the guidance of technology advisors from the University of Tokyo, Microsoft Research Cambridge and Georgia Institute of Technology, AgIC began development of its innovative circuit technology in 2011. By 2014, AgIC launched as a startup in Tokyo, composed of designers, entrepreneurs, and electrical engineers. With the help of two successful kickstarter campaigns, the company released the Circuit Printer and Circuit Pen in the fall, followed by an Erasable Circuit Marker in January 2015. Partnering with #Beige, Cupworks, and Hana Lab, AgIC revealed the creative potential of the technology at the Milan Furniture Fair in 2015. This groundbreaking technology has garnered international mention, from the TechCrunch Tokyo Start-up Battle to the Editor's Choice Award at Maker Faire Bay Area.


Born in Washington D.C. in 1959, Everett Brown is a photographer working in Japan for the past 27 years. He is a recipient of the Japanese Government's Cultural Commissioner's Award for promoting Japanese culture through his work as a photographic artist and author on cultural theory in Japanese. Brown graduated from Antioch College with a degree in Foreign Civilizations and Literatures in 1982. Following graduation, he traveled and lived throughout Asia before settling in Japan in 1988. In 1999, he and his wife Deco Nakajima established Brown's Field, a prototypical farm, located an hour east of Tokyo. His photographic work focuses on the culture of a Japan long past. In his words, "my work explores the undercurrents of Japanese hereditary memory as it exists today. I call this Modern Classic. All over Japan, people are beginning to tap into old cultural currents and breathing new life into them. By participating as an artist...I am attempting to awaken memory." He prints these works with mineral inks on washi, evoking a rare beauty through subtle manipulation of the photographic negatives shot on glass.

Brown has enjoyed solo exhibitions in galleries and museum since 1988, most recently Nihon no Takumi at the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum and Nihon no Omokage at Sankei-en Museum, both in 2015. He has delivered lectures, made regular television appearances, written essays and books, and received many international awards and honors throughout his prominent career. Brown's photography has been featured in major media worldwide, including National Geographic, New York Times, Geo, Time, Newsweek, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and Kateigaho International. He has completed commissions for museums and corporations alike to document historic sites, from the art of Japanese craftsmanship in 2012, to island culture in Shodoshima in 2014. "For me," Brown states, "life in Japan is a long and ever-deepening love affair with place and culture. Through my imagery, honoring the use of Japanese classical techniques and traditional materials, I wish to share my vision of the deep currents of Japanese culture that I encounter on my journeys."