Ronin Gallery is exceptionally pleased to present a very special exhibition of the work of Hideo Takeda, featuring humorous and surreal hand-colored original drawings from the World Night Tours series (2012), and the bold, graphic silkscreen prints from his most well known collection, the Genpei series (1985). As one of Japan’s most important creative minds, Takeda’s art invariably speaks to audiences worldwide. Over his long career, Takeda has inhabited multiple identities and worked with innumerable media. Along with countless exhibitions worldwide, his work was featured in a one-man show at the British Museum, entitled Takeda Hideo and the Japanese Cartoon Tradition. 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 and provocateur, the only persistent qualities of Takeda’s artistic output are flexibility, adaptation and surprise.
As one of Japan’s most important creative minds, Takeda Hideo’s work invariably speaks to audiences worldwide. 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, print-maker, photographer, illustrator, comedian, and provocateur, 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. Combining the aesthetics of traditional prints, western cartoons, and textile patterns, Takeda’s work is startling, boldly graphic, often surreal, and subtly beautiful. After a career of more than forty years, his work is in the permanent collections of multiple prestigious institutions, and in addition to the one-man show at the British Museum, his work was also featured on the cover of the museum’s standalone publication on contemporary Japanese art, Contemporary Japanese Prints: Symbols of a Society in Transition (1985).
This exhibition features hand-colored original paintings from World Night Tours series (2012), and silkscreen prints from his most well known collection, the Genpei series (1985). The World Night Tours series combines humor, sex, politics, and startling graphic compositions. The Genpei series is composed of colorful silkscreens, drawing inspiration from the Minamoto-Taira clan wars depicted in the ukiyo-e tradition. All of these images, whether illustrated or printed, revel in the individual hand of the artist, in the intimacy of a recognizable style, and the combination of satire, eros, and striking aesthetics.
This combination of eroticism and social commentary is reminiscent of Edo-period masters like Kuniyoshi, and marks him as the true inheritor of the ukiyo-e tradition. And yet, 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 mangaka 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, we 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. The mastery of line in the World Night Tours transmits the complexity of intense emotion, brutal humor, and sexual innuendo in just a few strokes of a pen, revealing his holistic artistic skill. The complicated and sophisticated patterning of the Genpei series recalls both traditional kimono embroidery and the flexing, rippling tattoos of yakuza gangsters, even as each image in the series maintains a purely contemporary sense of composition and narrative.
Following a period of serious illness, Takeda’s creative will has returned stronger than ever. For the first time since the British Museum’s important exhibition, Takeda Hideo and the Japanese Cartoon Tradition, major selections from Takeda’s enormous body of work are exhibited side by side. Together, these selections create an atmosphere of surrealism, where fantasy and imagination reign supreme: a world composed of humorous, frenetic, and imaginative images that stand as some of the best and most important contemporary works on paper to come out of Japan in the last several decades.
WORLD NIGHT TOURS
World Night Tours is Takeda’s most recent series, and this exhibition marks the first show of the original hand-colored paintings in the United States. Brilliant and at times brutally humorous, satirical, and sexy, this collection of illustrations is an exultation of Takeda’s creative will and style. From Seville to Singapore, from the enormous continent of Africa to the small and shadowy nation of Transylvania, Takeda imagines the edgier qualities of the world’s metropolises as something not to ignore, but as something instead that is visually thrilling, deeply funny, and definitely enticing. The original paintings range from spare, graphic, black-and-white compositions to bright and colorful splashes of bodies, textiles, animals, and food. Conceived as a surreal collection of advertisements for a faux travel agency, the foreword to the World Night Tours publication (2012) reads as follows:
“There are many types of plans for traveling around the world, but all travel agencies are thinking of the same thing: that their clients can travel free of trouble. And because they put their safety first, all their plans are much the same. At this agency, however, we have devised a unique plan for bored or unsatisfied travelers that lets them explore the question of what a different culture is while showing them the true aspect of various places around the world. We are certain that this is the kind of trip that they would never be able to find with another agency.”
“For that reason, there may be times when travelers may feel some slight discomfort or experience some danger, but we would ask them to understand that this is a tour for adults, all participants must take full responsibility for themselves; under no condition whatsoever will this agency accept any complaints or requests for compensation for any kind of loss. Please be certain to take this into full consideration.”
THE FIRST GENPEI
In 1985, marking the 800th anniversary of the historic battle of Dan-no-ura, Takeda started his famous Genpei series. A second series of the same subject was completed in 1999. These prints, composed of graphic, colorful silkscreens, draw inspiration from the grand tradition of depicting the Minamoto-Taira clan wars. The phrase “genpei” refers to a culminating war (1180-1185) at the end of a decades-long struggle for power between two of medieval Japan’s most powerful families. At the battle of Dan-no-ura, the Minamoto clan finally emerged victorious, establishing their clan leader, Minamoto no Yoritomo, as the Shogun. Almost immediately following the end of this tumultuous period, the wars and their colorful historical figures, their victories, their sorrows, and their acts of sacrifice formed one of the most popular subjects in Japanese art and literature, persisting even to the modern era. These stories were especially popular in Edo-period ukiyo-e, favored by artists like Kuniyoshi who were famous for their legendary warriors and images of frenetic, violent battles. In Takeda’s version, these classic, iconographically powerful images are injected with his own brand of eroticism, humor, and contemporary commentary. Surreal sexuality is combined with bold patterns and graphic compositions reminiscent of kimono embroidery and Japanese tattoo design, revealing both the timeless appeal of the original stories, and the significance of Takeda’s particular creative vision. In the Genpei series, the boundaries between past and present, sexuality and violence, masculine and feminine, begin to collapse. The result is a fantastic and imaginative set of of images that revel in the combination of the strange and the beautiful.