I was going to add links about this great painter, but I decided that I would do him better justice if I just write about him myself and try to show you something that most Japanese try to conceal. Leonard Foujita was first and foremost a Japanese, who later died a French.
The fatalist and pacifist were the ones responsible for stripping him of his nationality, only to reward it back to him posthumously after almost 50 years, and after he revolutionized French painting and eventually the whole art world. So many of Japan’s great men and women are the unsung heroes in this day and age whose works have been overlooked and only briefly discussed in so-called academia. Tonight I briefly discuss Mr. Foujita.
A few months ago, I visited an art gallery in Ueno with one of my Favorites for an evening out together. For me, it was absolutely essential I took her because she too is a painter with a strong penchant for fair white skin and muscles – all of which she has and all of which Mr. Foujita is famous for portraying in his art.
The exhibition that afternoon at Ueno Museum was fantastic. Hundreds of his original works were on display, but the essential ones, the ones that forced him into exile almost sixty years ago weren’t there! I was angry. The most controversial of his paintings weren’t on display and this was not fair, I said to myself. But before I go into a tangent let me briefly explain a little about his work.
It’s important to understand that Mr. Foujita first came to France when the art world was in a transitional period. Painters from all over Europe were looking for ways to refine how white skin should be portrayed on canvas. Most of the portrayals had a jaundice or a sickly pail complexion, others were just too white or were too unnatural looking to be considered art worthy.
When Mr. Foujita first arrived in France he couldn’t speak any French at all and he had very little money. He was living below the bread line for a number of years taking odd jobs here and there until his works of art started getting noticed.
He first got noticed when he started experimenting with canvas and oils and layers which led to the prevention of ink blots in his paintings. The kind of white tones that he brought to the art world was amazing! His paintings had a sort of porcelain white which was enigmatic and perplexing at the same time. No one at that time could figure out how he was able to produce this kind of white on canvas. He kept this a secret. Some sources say he used a special mixture of barium in order to produce white and then he would smooth over a canvas with a knife making it smooth and then applying this barium mixture that gave life to his paintings. Too technical for me.
Mr. Foujita’s paintings are mostly of nudes painted in fine lines and reliefs highlighting muscles and genitalia on canvas. Beautiful white; soft and alluring; expressive; emotional;passionate were his theme points.
What I love most about him is his will to do something completely out of the ordinary. He didn’t need anybody to wait on him hand and foot. He grabbed life by the balls and went for it. He took all the risks and gained respect and admiration the world over in the end.
At the height of his career Japan had just attacked Pearl Harbor. News of the Pearl Harbor sneak attack spread all across Europe causing a great stir amongst the masses because it simply was unfathomable to think that a little island nation such as Japan would launch a sneak attack that would kill thousands of Americans and sink a number of very powerful American warships technically undetected, which in turn officially plummeting the world into WW2.
Being a Japan, Mr. Foujita wanted to do something to help his country, so he flew back to Japan and began painting for the Japanese Army in order to try to lend support for the war effort. He used black paint this time, which was revolutionary in itself. A type of black paint that no one had ever used before, which too lent a type of mysticism and allure to his paintings. I have seen some of these amazingly life like paintings! Just amazing. What I also found quite intriguing about him is how patriotic he was despite being a lover of European art and society. He loved France, but he loved home more. Here are a couple of his famous quote:
Fujita wrote, "I became one of the successful painters in Paris, because I received the basic Japanese painting training in my mother country, Japan."
Fujita wrote, "I lived in Tokyo until I turned age 25. I spent next twenty years in Paris. I became a man in Japan, and I became a painter in France. I would like to live in the world as a Japanese."
These were quotes by him. He became a man in Japan! Wow. This resonates. If only modern day Japanese could embrace this notion that first and foremost you are a Japanese and then you can be whatever you want to be. The problem is that most Japanese lack not only the knowledge of what it means to be them-principly, but they also lack understanding about the world that they live in-literally, so in turn they try to abandon the ‘old way’ - which has long been established - by replacing it with excessively Western fundamentalist thinking. They don’t know how to establish a balance between the two ways because they lack a soul and a conscience; just empty hollowed out lifeless bodies, drones and puppets for the U.S. is all they’ve become. Only money, greed and selfishness make sense.
After the allies establish the IMTF court in Tokyo and all the judicial martyrs were hanged, questions were being fielded as to whether Mr. Foujita should stand trial for encouraging(aiding and abetting)his fellow countrymen through his drawings. Upon hearing this news Mr. Foujita fled back to France and officially changed his nationality to French. Eventually he was spared and became a devout Christian/Catholic(?) and went on to paint very heavy dark religious themes. He died a great man. He died French in a Japanese body then was resurrected again as a Japanese man!
I would like to thank this months blog matsuri host Loneleeplanet.