Human feelings, thoughts, and social awareness are crystallized in works of art, and art evolves via with the interweaving influences of time and place, history and geography. In recent historical periods, the spread of artistic influences has followed in the wake of trade relations, as seen in the Chinese elements that sometimes appeared in Rococo art or the Japonism popular in late 19th-century Europe.
In the early 20th century, the West's modernization and social and political reform impacted the East along with a wave of new philosophy. Eastern artists explored and took up new ideas, producing work powerfully informed by historical and national elements, with strong individual styles, while nonetheless giving expression to their own cultural traditions and spirit.
Among the many pioneers of Asian art, modern Japanese artist Zenzaburo Kojima stands out in striking fashion. As an autodidact, he neither felt obliged to take up the weight of tradition nor to move toward al lout Westernization. Tradition was there to use but not to get mired in, and Kojima's creative process borrowed both Eastern and Western aesthetic points of view. Kojima studied, reflected on and analyzed the works of previous generations while discovering an artistic vocabulary all his own. Traveling to Paris in 1925, Kojima meandered through the Louvre, Spain's Prado, and Rome and London, where the colossal Roman and Greek marble statues would become major influences. The works that established the realist style of his female nudes were created subsequent to this period of study, produced mainly in the 1920s and early 1930s, after which scenic paintings and still-lifes gradually became his dominant mode. The catalogue for Kojima's Centennial Memorial exhibition points out that there were fewer than 30 nudes in his total oeuvre , far fewer than the number of scenic paintings, yet the nudes, because of their relative rarity and their sharply distinctive style, have become Kojima's most representative works, works that symbolize his most crucial stylistic breakthrough. Kojima's 1932 Reclining Nude (Lot 1013) embraces both the European classical style while fusing it with special handling of space seen in traditional Japanese art. In it we see this artist's manner of extracting, then melding together, diverse elements of form from both the East and the West, the traditional and the innovative, to produce a uniquely personal style.
In Reclining Nude Kojima continues his early exploration of classicism, using an accretion of short brushstrokes to shape a female figure marked by a strong sense of mass and weight. Kojima deliberately lowers the saturation of her skin tones, while heightening the outlines and shadows of her figure in greys and blacks, for an intense contrast of light and shadow. Kojima's model faces the viewer directly, hand shielding her forehead as if to suggest the glare of a strong light source in the distance, and at least part of the work's visual impact derives from the sense that she seems part of a space shared with the viewer. Kojima also eschews a detailed presentation of his model: her rounded figure and breasts, her cylindrical limbs, and the round cushions on which she reclines are all reduced to near geometric simplicity, recalling the statement by Cezanne, the father of modernism, that "all natural forms can be expressed as spheres, cones, and cylinders." Kojima's solid brushstrokes build into gradually shifting color tones that create the smooth-skinned fullness of this female form. The artist transcends the pure realism of his classical models in that this work is no longer restricted to objective observation but is imbued with the artist's personal, subjective feeling and understanding; at the same time, to express the fundamental essence of his subject, he explores the physical structures that lie beneath the surface appearance in order to grasp the order from which its material form is derived.
In 1930, along with Satomi Katsuz and other artists, Kojima founded the Independent Association of Artists to promote avant-garde styles, which actively encouraged fellow young artists to move away from "the French art world which has dominated the art world for over 100 years." Reclining Nude also reflects this orientation. After its completion, it was shown in the 2nd Independent Exhibition, and was later shown in both the artist's own solo shows; that it represents a rather unique aspect of the development of modern Asian art is also shown by its inclusion in the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum's "Searching for the Independence of Japanese Oil Painting."
In the early 1930s Kojima had begun an in depth study of traditional Japanese painting, and its feeling for and close observation of nature is reflected in Reclining Nude, even in the flowered pattern of the couch on which the model reclines. Not only are the model's strongly contoured outlines straight from the Ukiyo-e prints of the Edo period, Kojima also manages to successfully meld aspects of the Rimpa style he loved with the oil medium. The Rimpa style was epitomized by Ogata Korin (1658-1716), whose late period screen Red and White Plum Blossoms treats the subjects of his painting separately, using a juxtaposition of figurative and abstract styles. The result is an exceptional contrast between the stillness of the plum branches and the movement of the river, between angular and curing lines, and between realism and graphic patterns. Kojima's grasp of this traditional Japanese aesthetic its viewpoint shows in the way his composition deliberately avoids extraneous depiction of the interior space; he uses the shadowy darkness of the background tones to point the visual focus toward the Reclining Nude figure, and explores the physical essence and weight of the human body. The three-dimensionality of the model's full figure and the flat, graphic pattern of the couch are perfect foils for each other, while the implied motion in the model's curved limbs and the stillness of the background create dramatic visual tension. Thus Kojima, in Reclining Nude, combines Cezanne's mode of shaping natural forms, a re-examination of Western classicism, and the Eastern classicism of the Ukiyo-e and Rimba styles, and in its regard for Eastern traditions, he anticipates the stylistic direction of his later still-lifes.
In the Chrysanthemum (Lot 1106) presented in this season's sale, the presentation against a background of bold, brilliant red once again inherits the emphasis on intense color contrasts of the Ukio-e print style, with a geometric shaping of the chrysanthemums and their vase. Kojima goes a step further, dispensing with details of light and shadow, in a work where the red background and the tilted tabletop indicate its departure from objective still-life realism and focuses instead on the artist's arrangement of objects and management of the picture surface according to his own subjective aesthetic judgment. From Reclining Nude to Chrysanthemum, we can see how Kojima found his own personal balance between East and West, tradition and modernity. Kojima employed pure and simple arrangements of objects to progressively explore the cultural foundations of traditional Eastern painting, and in his appropriation of its formal elements, added a new energy to the development of modern art.