Monday, 1 September 2008

Leonard Foujita

Man, I love it when I got into a coffee shop, order a coffee, and while I'm sitting drinking that coffee, they bring me more coffee for free. That's the kinda thing that'll make you love a place, and they've done that three times now when I've been in the Japanese coffee chain Tully's in Odori. On one level Tully's is just another chain coffee store, but their coffee is better than Starbucks, and I find it much less objectionable going there when I'm in one of the big shopping areas. Plus, y'know, free coffee.

This weekend I went to see the Leonard Foujita retrospective at Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art. I love modern art, and I love art galleries, but with the best will in the world Sapporo is not well served for them. Oh well, I guess the general awesomeness makes up for it.

Foujita seems to have been a prolific and interesting artist. He moved from Japan to France in the 20s and hung out with Modigliani (I would say, with my professional art-critic's gaze, that the examples of his early work here did look like Modigliani) and became an established and respected figure in the European art community. He later travelled all over the world, married several times, and at some point changed his name to Leonard and converted to Christianity.

From a quick browse on the web it looks like Foujita painted many, many pictures, and moved through quite a few phases in his career which made the retrospective very interesting, even if at times I plain didn't like his paintings. The exhibition's centrepiece was a massive piece recently discovered and restored from his... I guess middle period. It's a fun story, it was considered lost for many years but found in a Paris warehouse and restored. However that period, and earlier in what seems to have been the period when he made his name... really not to my tastes:

I am unmoved by the pearlescent luminosity of their skin. There was one mural that I felt was really pretty terrible. However the earlier pictures when he was finding his way were interesting, and he seems to have painted the only interesting pictures of cats I've ever seen. Paintings of cats are usually a pet hate of mine, but these were great. And later in his career I would say he was a hell of a painter no matter what your tastes, his faces became deliberately stylised in a really interesting way, and he started using these eerie children that look both fully-formed and painted from memory at the same time. His paintings started exploding with colour and he really started pursuing his Christian faith through painting, decorating a chapel and making paintings of the adoration, the apocalypse, the descent from the cross and so on.

It's great to see an artist's career like this, and considering I couldn't read any of the information boards (which were helpfully in Japanese and French) it all came across pretty clearly. I didn't know anything about him before, but I'd recommend the exhibition if you can make it to Sapporo Japan before it finishes on... um... Thursday.

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