Works of Yasuo Kuniyoshi


Worksof Yasuo Kuniyoshi


YasuoKuniyoshi was a Japanese by birth. He was born in Okayama in Japan,in the year 1893. He moved to America in 1906, as a teenager of 16years, after deciding not to join military school in Japan. Hisoriginal intentions were to study English in America then return toJapan as a translator. He did not intend to become an artist though.He stayed in Seattle then enrolled for a course in Los Angeles Schoolof Art and Design. He stayed in Los Angeles for three years, where hediscovered his love for art. He therefore, decided to move to NewYork where he was supposed to pursue art as a career. Kenneth Hayeslater introduced Yasuo to a type of printmaking called intaglio. Hemade around 45 prints between the years 1916 and 1918. He alsolearned a skill called zinc plate lithography in the year 1922. Healso took part in making still life paintings such as nudes, commonobjects and circus performers. He made drawings on Japanese design,American art, European modernism and iconography. His legacy remainsfor creating a visual style that was distinctive. With time, he madeseveral changes in his artwork. In the 19thcentury, he made angular images with cubist style. He was therefore,able to make detailed images for the objects that he drew. InKuniyoshi’s early paintings, he made them from a combination ofmemory and imagination. This is considered as a Japanese method ofthinking about painting. He combined this Japanese method of thinkingwith the western painting method, because his paintings were madeusing bold colors in oil. Japanese ancient painters used ink on ricepaper or silk. In his art career, he was exposed to French modernart. He switched from painting from his memory to painting from reallife experience.

Yasuo’sartistic work touches emotionally and aesthetically by makingpaintings of outdoor subjects such as living things like people,birds, animals, insects, flowers, weeds and snakes. There were alsoyoung women who were dressed in bathing suits or were nude, which wasa sign that being a female was lifelong. These women were symbols ofsexual magnetism. His last still life was an exhibition of aestheticsbecause he created arrangement and hued color planes to show thesymbolic power of the work (Kuniyoshi, 1969). In his works such asthe Daily News, where he made paintings of full bodies women, he didnot stop painting out of memory. Besides, he did not use models inhis whole work. Instead, he drew from the models in the initialstages of his paintings then stopped and began using his memory. Hecould also make adjustments where he felt it was necessary. Paintingsomething in ideal perfection was valued in Japanese art styles. InAmerican art styles however, paintings were derived from a realobject throughout the whole process of painting. Additionally, hisworks also touches emotionally his piece of during the First WorldWar and the Second World War Yasuo Kuniyoshi faced many challenges,especially because he was Japanese. Main reason for this was therivalry between United States of America and Japan in the SecondWorld War. The challenge was that he was not allowed to attainAmerican citizenship, however, he always felt as an American. In hisartwork, his position was not affected however. He drew posters ofwar for the Office of War Information. He made drawings, which showedthe state of the world after the First World War. They showed aspectssuch as lifelessness, destruction, loneliness, death and life. Theseartwork made during this time were implications of extremely sadthings. He also tended to make drawings of cows because he feltcloser to cows than any other animal as a Japanese. In his paintings,he reflected anxiety as a Japanese American artist during the SecondWorld War. He used somber color and the faces of those in the imagesare flat and fearful. He also depicts children and babies to be lesscuddly, a sign that they were anxious and fearful. In his image of aboy stealing fruit, which was made in 1925, he shows the boy’s facewith a wary stare. He also made a sketch illustrating a woman and herchild hanging from a tree. In the same sketch is a Japanese soldierleaving the place. In this sketch, he clearly reflected ananti-Japanese attitude. This was however hard for him because of hisJapanese origin. His work that is considered the most emotionalpainting is that of a mother and daughter done 1945. It is an imageof a mother and daughter reuniting. The child exhibits the intensityof her feelings by clutching the curtain fiercely. The mother on theother hand shows anguish and her face exhibits relief after manyyears of tension. She also shows a face that is expelling sorrowabruptly. This painting was made after the Second World War. Itreflected the aftermath of the war and how they felt after the loss,they experienced. Three of his paintings, including Orange, alsodepict feelings of loss and isolation (Geldzahler, 1965). This couldmean that Yasuo was trying to show a true picture of what he wasactually going through during the World War years. His life was fullof anxiety, loneliness, uncertainty and a bleak of emotional life. Hewas also empathetic concerning the suffering of the people in Japan,his native land. Some of his paintings also demonstrated the traumain Japan after the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki andparanoia associated with the anti-communist militancy.

Ifan artist had the same level of skill, talent, insight and oropportunities as the ones possessed by Yasuo Kuniyoshi, he/she woulddo the following with it first, he/she would focus on beauty in art.He would do this by concentrating on both physical and visualtextures, repeating shapes and patterns, use colors that complementone another, proper presentation and framing and using a particularflow to guide those who view this particular piece of art. Secondly,he/she would give inherent meaning to the paintings without fear ofthe implications. Art obtains its power because it causes emotion,gives political statements and gives information about a particularscenario. He would make the artist work have inherent meaning such asworks that telling a story or provoking a particular emotion. Thiskind of artwork would make people feel more empathetic. He would alsocreate art that is unique in nature. Through this, he/she wouldexplore fields that are new, or those old fields that are not fullyexplored. Thirdly, the artist would also ensure that the intent isfulfilled. He/she would ensure that the subject or emotion beingexpressed clearly comes out of his/her piece of art (Kuramitsu,1995). The artwork should speak for itself in most cases however,he/she could include a statement that shows the intent of theartwork. The artist could also keep in touch with new styles inartwork such as surrealism, photorealism, hyperrealism and fauvism.Surrealism brings different images together to give a startling look.Photorealism gives the look that is as exact as a photograph.Hyperrealism is defined as where photographs are taken and they arepainted on material made of canvas. Fauvism gives a focus on strongcolor.

Inconclusion, in his last years, just before he died, Yasuo Kuniyoshimade disillusioned subjects with brilliant and hot color. Heconcluded his career by making black ink drawings. It is not possibleto link Kuniyoshi with a specific style of art. His works give anexpression of early American art spiced with humor, imagination,personal experience and references to his Japanese background.American writers argue that his art is oriental because he usedelements of Asian art with regard to composition, technique and themein several ways that showed how inventive he was. During hislifetime, Kuniyoshi’s work was widely spread in the United Statesof America. His name is still famous, especially to those who readthe art page in the New York newspapers and magazines, or artsperiodicals. There is always space allocated to the Japanese Americanartist who literally rose up the ladder of success. His work wasindividualized in nature and nobody can imitate his paintings andother works of art. Through out his life he acknowledged himself asan American artist but did not forget that he was of Japanese origin.He therefore fused both cultures to make unique art. He being aJapanese American artist proves that a person’s culture or originis not binding at all.


Geldzahler,H. (1965). Americanpainting in the twentieth century.Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Kuniyoshi,Y. (1969). Aspecial loan retrospective exhibition of works by Yasuo Kuniyoshi.University Gallery, University of Florida.

Kuramitsu,K. (1995). Internmentand identity in Japanese American Art.American Quarterly.