• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2602

    Asian Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)

    24 May 2008, Hong Kong

  • Lot 177


    Price Realised  


    (Born in 1966)
    RX-78-2 Kabuki-mono 2005 Version
    signed 'Hisashi Tenmyouya' in Japanese (lower left)
    acrylic, gold leaf on wood diptych
    200 x 200 cm. (78 3/4 x 78 3/4 in.)
    Painted in 2005
    one seal of the artist

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    To diligently serve a traditional motif with pop cultural futuristic form, the tasteful vacuity in composition and the ostensibly flat surface is created by the simplicity in technique and medium that substrate as a precondition connotation in exhibiting Hisashi Tenmyouya's contemporary rendering of academicism. Venerating traits of traditional Japanese style painting 'nihonga', the artist self coined his works into a new genre of 'neo-nihonga' in his desire and loyalty to revive the deflated nostalgia of 'Japan-ness' that is lost in the global sociopolitical and economic dynamics of modernity.

    The quiet and yet compelling aura of his paintings speaks multivalent volumes of his societal and political concerns for contemporary Japan. The oeuvres appear obsessively clean in perfection, perhaps suggestive of the artist's conventional Shinto and Buddhist ideal in regarding neatness as ethically proper and beautiful. The impecability and cleanliness of these philosophies are intricately woven in Tenmyouya's pre-planned ordered space and outlined in crisp elegance with his ritualistic brushstrokes. His delicate sensitivity towards thin brushstroke application is not just a mere technical process but in greater sense, a reflection of his calm diligence in reverting back to his traditional roots; each brushstroke awakening his Japanese spirit. This conscious habit of persistently painting fine lines to create tonal gradation may appear stubbornly reticent as brushstrokes are habitually recognized today as the channel of communication and the source of energy of the artist. However in Tenmyouya's practice, it is logically eloquent with his sophisticated synchronism of the old and new, west and east but most significantly due to the artist's impetus of 'yamato-damashii' Japanese spirit/soul, the quintessence of Japanese culture, embedded subconsciously in the Japanese people. This mentality and dignity enables him to translate his inner soul onto paper, completely free of obstruction, exposing the utmost truthful persona of his present being; an individual inescapably influenced by current affairs and Occidentalism and also as an individual of unsupressable Japanese nationalism.

    He frugally exploits the power of parody and commemoration and processes it into his own artistic language as a statement to his awareness of globalization as an inevitable living condition. Like so, he impersonates the technical procedure and reconstructs the historical conventions with pop-cultural attributes to overall summon a phenomenal world that magnetize all viewers in universal attention, also alternatively yet inconspicuously reintegrating society back to the charisma of traditionalism. As traditional oriental art gave priority to techniques than to the conceptual aspect of the subject matter, the artist knowingly consent to this custom in patient, prodigious labor; conducing the artistic practice of layering, reproducing drawings on tracing papers and carving pencil lines on wood to physically mimic the Japanese woodblock prints 'Ukiyo-e' from the 17th century. Ukiyo-e depicted the 'floating world' of popular figures, urban entertainments and city life of Edo period. It was considered as low art due to its context and mass-produced availability. Similarly, he duplicates the drawings in systematic rigor; tracing and carving subjects of mass-produced recognition such as Gundam and samurai. These subjects have undergone an international exposure and reinterpretation, almost to the extent of fetishism, concreting their stance as a new global authority in the contemporary culture. The post-modern hybridity in popular culture has possibly diluted the initial Japanese essence of Gundam and samurais with its cross-cultural export, import, trans-lingual translation and interpretation. By lionizing these cliche icons through supplementing Japanese symbols, letters, pigments and motifs, he epitomizes its authenticity as devotedly Japanese.

    These symbols and letters are engraved on the skin of the protagonists to inject power and permanence to their being. The imperial and spiritual emblem of a dragon is positioned in defense for the Gundam, in which the body language exude power with tattoos etched on its large shoulder blades, conjuring a sense of antiestablishment and rebellion. Consistently rebelling on the politics of modernity that create exigencies for unique individualism, he reinvents Gundam into RX078-2 Kabuki-mono 2005 version (Lot 177). Kabuki-mono was known as master less samurais, notorious for their odd clothing, distinctive hair style and their long swords. They rebelled against local authorities and terrorized their surroundings. He stylishly utilizes analogy of tattoos as a tool for expressing strong respect for cultural identification and heritage in order to exhibit Japanese ideology and behavior. The Great wave of Kanagawa (fig.1) by Katsushika Hokusai is a collectively renowned masterpiece, implicit as specifically Japanese and also regarded as the vanguard for various Japanese inventions and needless to say, manga. This prominent emblem is inscribed on the shoulders of RX078-2 Gundam, resembling a shoulder tattoo of samurai and Kabuki-mono. Amplifying the Japanese patriotism in twofold, the samurai tattoo of the great wave of Kanagawa bestows a sense of warrior strength, sanctifying the figure against severe Occidentalism, politics, capitalism, terrorism and diplomacy in modern day Japan.

    His balance of aggressive yet passive intelligence is expressed in visual reductivity which also resides in a liminal gap between stasis and animation; heavily due to his graceful sensitivity towards space, vacancy and attention to detail. The explicitly architectural physique of the Gundam relates directly to the formal concerns explored; the color maintains a material weight and sharp outlines resemble precision of man made contrivance, in which both dictates his moral motif and style. The gold leaf as a base backdrop for his canvas illuminates further the honorable and divine existence of Gundam with light glistening off the surface in majestic scale, standing as a shrine for glorification and worship. This perhaps is deliberately yet unconsciously created by Tenmyouya himself as an 'otaku' of Mobile Suit Gundam.

    The distinctive posture stands tall in great symbolism, only comprehensible to otaku of Mobile Suit Gundam(fig.2), (fig 2-1), (fig 2-2); a Japanese science fiction animation that bred strings of robot anime. It created a new phenomenon and established a subculture of otaku, a term applied to those with fanatical interest particularly in anime and manga. The revolutionary anime bred theoretical paradigm of an otaku generation with their impressive yet startlingly omen storyline that starts in UC 0079, a Universal Century era, when overpopulation began causing famines, outbreaks of disease and wars over living space, food and resources. The unconsciously awakening prophecy of this plot is also surprisingly and subtly correlated with present reality. Most human population was forced to relocate to Space (Space Colonization Plan) whilst the wealthy and influential population (Earth Federation) was allowed to comfortably remain in Earth. As one of the colonies declared independence from Earth federation; Mobile suits, a technological contrivance were created for this war; Gundam for Earth Federation and Zaku for principality of Zeon. In this war, an Antarctic treaty was signed to prohibit the use of nuclear, biological, chemical weapons for their inhumane capability for mass killing. However, the treaty was broken many times. The intense sociopolitical dynamics within the storyline are potentially associated with the current affairs, wars and the technological revolution of today. By utilizing this fictional character, Tenymyouya imbues cinematic tradition of fetishizing the logic of war as a cultural commodity while concurrently condemning it. His concern in humanism and apocalypse surfaces within the canvas as the spectators come to empathize his assiduousness in conserving and valuing the entities and principles of the past.

    Graffiti has become a visual slang, aesthetically yet literally distinguishing complex street culture. In this way, Tenmyouya also encompass rebellion and yet the vandalism/violence that graffiti stands for in the norm. Tenmyouya's paintings become the visual slang of nihonga paintings, twisted in urban flavor, displaying complex hybridity in combining references to popular culture, cyber culture and manga. Through this convergence of cultural assortment, he questions the notions of originality, implanting deeply engaging extrinsic narratives. His Japanese spirit transpires through his conscientious technical prowess fortifying his loyalty to his traditions and principles, which lies as the core breeder in his profound artistic creation.


    Art it, Issue 8, Japan, 2005, not paginated. (illustrated)
    Gundam Generating Futures, exh. cat., Suntory Museum, Osaka, Japan, 2005, pp. 58-61. (illustrated)
    Kawade Shobo Shinsha Publishers, Tenmyouya Hisashi, Tokyo, Japan, 2006, p. 10. (illustrated)
    Sapporo Artwork, LURE Vol 18, Sapporo, Japan, 18 July, 2006, p. 13. (illustrated)


    Osaka, Japan, Suntory Musuem, 15 July - 31 August, 2005.
    Tokyo, Japan, The Ueno Royal Museum, Gundam - Generating Futures, 6 November - 25 December, 2005.
    Kyoto, Japan, Kyoto International Manga Museum, 10 February - 25 March, 2007.