Yorozu Tetsugoro and Japanese Art: independent artistic soul
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
The Japanese artist Yorozu Tetsugoro was born in 1885 and died of tuberculosis in 1927 after severe complications from pneumonia that finally took its toll. Sadly, all too often many artists in this period died young and the same fate awaited this genius from Iwate. However, despite his limited years on this earth, Yorozu Tetsugoro leaves behind a lasting legacy because of his rich artistic skills.
Art became very important to Yorozu Tetsugoro at an early age. Therefore, he read Suisaiga no Shiori (A Guide to Watercolors) by Oshita Tojiro. This book inspired Yorozu Tetsugoro because he began to paint with great passion.
In 1903, the “search” within his soul led him to Tokyo because this inquisitive young man knew that art was part and parcel of who he was. Prior to moving to Tokyo, he studied Japanese art with “great abandon” because his studies were independent. Hence, the passion that this freedom created inspired Yorozu Tetsugoro to the full.
The year1906 proved to be pivotal for this developing artist because he ventured to America as part of a Buddhist Zen mission. This relates to studying Zen meditation under Taninaka Ryoboan who was a Zen priest. Therefore, the mission would have been a natural correlation for Yorozu Tetsugoro. Also, on his return in the same year, he was accepted on a Preliminary Course at Tokyo Fine Arts School and this applies to the Faculty of Western Painting.
Yorozu Tetsugoro finally graduated in 1911 and his art continued to develop in several directions. The Iwate Prefecture website comments, “His graduation art piece, Nude Beauty, won much acclaim. It is considered to be a pioneering work of Japanese Fauvism. In the same year he participated in a Fyuzankai with Saito Yori and Kishida Ryusei. In the first exhibition he displayed his artwork, including, among others, Head of a Woman (Woman with a Boa).”
During this period of his life, the Avant-garde Movement in Europe influenced Yorozu Tetsugoro greatly. However, just like he studied Japanese art independently during his early years, the free spirit remained. Hence, he desired to create his own unique style rather than follow any particular art theme. Therefore, his paintings of landscapes, still-life art, and various self-portraits, highlight the inner thinking of this man of creativity.
It is also noticeable that in 1914 he returned to Iwate Prefecture. Therefore, the soothing environment connected to his past must have liberated Yorozu Tetsugoro. This does not imply any negativity to his time in Tokyo because clearly his studies, connections with other artists, new thinking, and other vital areas, all enhanced his creativity and growing reputation. However, in order for Yorozu Tetsugoro to apply his art completely then the freedom of Iwate Prefecture was needed at this moment in his life.
Yorozu Tetsugoro fused many aspects of different art concepts from within Japan and internationally. Artistic styles – and movements – are highlighted by art elites but the countless definitions of various art movements often confuse non-artistic people. Therefore, from a lay perspective, the art of Yorozu Tetsugoro represents a time when new cultural perspectives were impacting greatly on individuals in the art world of Japan.
However, the serenity of Iwate Prefecture and his own individualism means that while Yorozu Tetsugoro may have lived in “the new world,” he equally belonged to the “old world” that remained within his soul. Also, individual creativity enabled him to break free and create stunning art because he refused to be typecast.
The solitary nature of many images by Yorozu Tetsugoro is truly striking based on originality and deeper meanings. Not surprisingly, his rich artistic talent continues to inspire vast numbers of people in the modern period.
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Some Japanese art and cultural articles by Modern Tokyo Times are republished in order to inform our growing international readership about the unique reality of Japan.