AKIBA GIRLS / MODERN UKIYOE

Painting with oil & hand embroidery   89cm x 116cm

 

AKIBA is an abbreviation for AKIHABARA / 秋葉原 in Japan. It is the mega electronic district in the heart of Tokyo, where computer geeks find their latest gadgets and computer goods. Between these mega electronic stores, X-rated DVD shops and Anime / Manga stores are interspersed. Around 1999, maid and cosplay cafes started to appear in this area and they have created the new modern culture, Otaku-bunka, that is distinctively Japanese. This is the story of the girls who work in these cafes.

 

When I encounter these girls, I see a very particular and strange beauty in them. It is a beauty you find only in Japan, yet it is a beauty distinctively detached from our past. When I try to express this quality with words, I think of “sweet”, “fragile”, “dreamy”, “Lolita”, “Manga heroin”, and “escapism”. I seek to capture this indescribable beauty in my oil paintings and to investigate why the beauty of today so differs from that extolled by Japanese artists of the past.

 

Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese wood block prints and paintings produced between the 17th and the 20th centuries in Japan. Literal translation of Ukiyo-e is “ pictures of the floating world”, referring to a concept of an evanescent world, impermanent life, fleeting beauty, and a realm of entertainments, such as Kabuki, courtesans, geisha, all things divorced from the mundane respon- sibilities of everyday life.

 

My favorite Ukiyo-e artist is KITAGAWA UTAMARO / 喜多川歌麿 (1753 – 1806). His work reached Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, enjoying particular acclaim in France. He influenced the European Impressionists, particularly with his use of partial views and emphasis on light and shade. Reference to the “ Japanese influence” among these artists often refers to the work of Utamaro.

 

Utamaro is known especially for his masterfully composed studies of women, known as bijinga /美人画. His sensuous female beauties generally are considered the finest and most evocative bijinga in all of Ukiyo-e. He exclusively painted unknown prostitutes /遊女, luxury hostesses /花魁, and girls from the tea-houses /茶屋の娘. I have turned to the work of Utamaro repeatedly in seeking to create the modern bijinga of our generation.