The best artist in Japan is Yamaguchi Akira. However, while a huge number of Japan’s art viewers know him well, the fact is that in other countries he does not yet seem to be widely appreciated.
Yamaguchi possesses the most refined skill of any artist in Japan. He can, for example, accurately depict virtually any object in the world without reference to photographs, through the sheer power of his imagination and memory. While his technique is based on the traditional Oriental method of painting sharply defined outlines with the brush, having originally studied oil painting at art school he is equally in command of Western methods such as perspective and shading. There are some ‘fine artists’ in Japan who have abandoned the disciplined training of artistic skill, and who thus tend to be held in contempt by people as if they were simply manga artists or illustrators. It is Yamaguchi alone who has earned their particular respect.
So – is he simply a gifted artisan? On the contrary. Yamaguchi is also the most intellectual artist in Japan. In the various motifs he chooses to incorporate into his works, both a profound historical insight and a sharp critique of civilisation are fully discernible. While avidly directing his gaze towards the international contemporary art scene (again, often in a critical manner), he also creates work in media such as installation and video. Not only that, but in 2012 he published a book to explain the characteristics of traditional Japanese painting from a modern point of view. It was recognised with a prize for the most authoritative work of criticism in Japan (selected by a jury of well-known intellectuals).
So – is he then merely a cool-headed observer? This is not the case either. Virtually all his works are packed full of both a sense of something characteristically ‘Japanese’ (traditional) and the unique humour and esprit of Yamaguchi’s own character. They entice the viewer again and again into a mysterious kind of laughter.
A spirit of both pliability and an earnest wish to serve is a richly abundant defining characteristic, infusing Yamaguchi’s works as well as the character of the man himself. As someone with both the most genuine talent and the greatest popularity in the artworld of the Far East, Yamaguchi Akira is an artist you should know about – right now.
This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue.