Sunday, May 11, 2008

WWII Transformed the Art of Yasuo Kuniyoshi


Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Japanese-born American, 1893-1953. Photo by Arnold Newman, 1941.

Excerpt from “Japan Against Japan”: Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s War Posters for the U.S. Propaganda during World War II

by ShiPu Wang, Art History, UCSB

On December 8, 1941, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, a prominent émigré Japanese artist in New York, awoke to find himself an “enemy alien” after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. “A few short days has changed my status in this country, although I myself have not changed at all,” Kuniyoshi wrote. (see letter below)  

His statement reveals astute foresight into a new historical period in which he would have to grapple with his racial and national identity vis-à-vis Japan, the country of his birth, and the United States, his adopted home.

A social realist during much of his career, Kuniyoshi experimented with hard-edged volumetric form and distorted space as well as fluid strokes and soft edges.  

Circus performers were a major motif during the 1920s and again in the years just before his death, but the later canvases are more intense in color and sardonic in expression.  

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 was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.



Life Saver, 1924.

Self Portrait, 1927.

Circus Girl Resting, 1931.

Japanese Toy Tiger and Odd Objects, 1932.

Girl Wearing Bandana, 1936.

Photograph of Yasuo Kuniyoshi, ca. 1940, taken in his studio during his work for the Federal Art Project, NYC. Photographed by [Max] Yavno for the FAP, NYC, Photographic Division. Archives of American Art, Photographs of Artists Collection I.

Kuniyoshi's view from this window is featured in his 1951 work, Across the Street. (below)

Yasuo Kuniyoshi's letter to George Biddle, Dec. 11, 1941.

Torture, is one of two works the Office of War Information purchased from Yasuo Kuniyoshi to use in U.S. propaganda posters during World War II.

Revelation, 1949.

Fish Kite, 1950.

Fakirs, 1951.

Across the Street, 1951.

Mr. Ace, 1952.

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

Please credit your source from where you took these passages--their copyright belong to a specific author/journal:

"On December 8, 1941, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, a prominent émigré Japanese artist in New York, awoke to find himself an “enemy alien” after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

“A few short days has changed my status in this country, although I myself have not changed at all,” Kuniyoshi wrote.

His statement reveals astute foresight into a new historical period in which he would have to grapple with his racial and national identity vis-à-vis Japan, the country of his birth, and the United States, his adopted home."