On the 8th of May the Toronto-based gallery Narwhal opened an extensive solo exhition of The Godfather of Japanese Eroticism, Toshio Saeki. His beautiful but at the same time sometimes repulsive artwork draws from the basement of a collective subconscious, depicting universal taboos through surreal narratives and dark humor. Filtering imagery from his photographic memory and childhood experiences through imagination and dreams, Saeki splits open a universally erotic world where iconic characters subject themselves to grotesque behaviors staged within traditional Japanese environments.
Within Saeki’s drawings you may see a zen like creature calmly engaging in disembowelment while a woman romances her lover by slicing her breast into his mouth. Children interact joyfully with demons, a massage therapist performs his service using severed limbs from the patients in the next room. In one particularly iconic piece entitled Irodaruma, a gang of life size Daruma buddhist dolls seduce a woman sprawled out in a Japanese style room while in the foreground a young boy sits watching, knocking apart a toy sized version of the doll.
The portals between dreams and waking life have been left open. Nothing is quite as it should be. Pain reads as pleasure, fear as delight, sombreness as humor.
Accessing the traditional Japanese partnership employed by the Ukioy-e woodcut masters, Saeki creates his original works as black and white ink drawings which he then overlays with vellum sheets hand marked with color plans for the visualized finished image. As an eshi, the artist, he passes his designs to a surishi, the printer, and they are developed into the final work. Saeki refers to his method of practice as Chinto printing. “Through harmonizing provocative contemporary imagery with traditional Japanese culture, Saeki’s work transcends time, weaving fantastically grotesque and abstract narratives that are at once are at once startlingly indecorous yet remarkably alluring.”
Born in 1945 in Miyazaki, Japan, Toshio Saeki gained notoriety in the 1970’s for his avant garde approach, connecting traditional Japanese art styles such as Shunga (erotica) and Yokaiga (mythology) with postmodern radical pop art culture. Over the past 40 years Saeki has developed a dedicated cult following, which continues to expand significantly. Saeki has had solo exhibitions in Japan, Paris, London, Tel Aviv, New York and San Francisco. Over a dozen publications of his collected works have been printed including Saeki Toshio Gashu, Akai-hako (Red Box), Chimushi I and Onikage. Celebrated cross culturally, Saeki has also been immortalized in the Ju-on horror films which play homage to his child spirit and has contributed album artwork for several international musicians including John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He presently lives and works in the small town of Ichihara, Chiba, Japan.
The exhibition in the Narwhal Gallery is presented in a partnership with the Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2014. The exhibition runs until the 24th of May. For more information see here.