Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Japanese (1893 - 1953)

Yasuo Kuniyoshi was born in Okayama, Japan, where he went to elementary and technical schools, studying weaving and dyeing. He came to America in 1906 and worked first as a porter in a Seattle office building. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he studied in the public schools before going to the Los Angeles School of Art Design. During this time he supported himself by picking fruit in the summer and by working in hotels in the winter. He came to New York in 1910 and studied art when he could, first with Robert Henri, at the National Academy, and finally, from 1916 to 1920, under Kenneth Hayes Miller at the Art Students League. In 1925 Kuniyoshi made his first trip to Europe, spending most of his time in Paris and Venice but taking a motor trip in Italy as far south as Assisi. In 1927 he went to Woodstock, New York, where he helped found the Woodstock School. By 1930 his work, both as a graphic artist and as a painter in oils, was included in almost all national exhibitions of American art, and in 1935 he won a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Kuniyoshi's early work is a blend of Orientalism and modernism, characterized by an interest in life forms, a subtle humor, pictorial design based upon receding planes, and a total freedom from illusionism. After his trip to France, where he was strongly influenced by Pascin, his work became naturalistic and realistic, with a viewpoint close to that of European artists. Kuniyoshi's early color was earthy, tending to tones of brown, but after 1930 it became luminous with the addition of blues and cool colors on blank white canvas that gave translucency and brilliance. His textures vary from rich, heavy pigmentation to transparent glazes, and his brushwork is sensitive and calligraphic. He is most often thought of as a painter of landscapes and still lives in which the normal relationships of objects are completely disregarded in a symbolistic manner. But he also painted a gallery of women, each highly individualistic, silent, waiting, thoughtful, or weary; his perception of them increased with his own maturity and widening human sympathies.

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