(KEY HIRAGA, 1936-2000)
signed 'Key Hiraga' in English, dated '86' (lower right); signed and titled in Japanese (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
130.5 x 161 cm. (51 3/8 x 63 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1986
Bunkyo Art, Japan
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Hito Hito Ten, exh. cat., Tokyo, Japan, 1987 (illustrated, unpaged).
Tokyo, Japan, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Hito Hito Ten, 14-24 March, 1987.
Tokyo, Japan, Bunkyo Art, Human Image, 29 June-11 July, 2009.

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Lot Essay

From the 1970s, Kei Hiraga's oeuvre blossomed with eccentric and humorous characters representative of a dandy's preference for beautiful women and liquor. Over the decades, the complexity in technique and composition morphed from the entangled figures seen in Elegant Life of Mr. H (Lot 1519), to ukiyo-e and floating world inspired scenes of Mr. Bea Waste (Lot 1520), facilitated by multilayered paint application of various tones and translucency, a clear incorporation of Eastern aesthetics. Additional inscriptions and details onto the initial paint layer in Hiraga's 1990 work similarly mimics nihonga traditions of stacking sheets of colour washed or painted paper to express depth. Hiraga's canvases are thus narratives that speak of his artistic expression, and a gradual stylistic balance between his Japanese heritage and French inspirations.

Elegant Life of Mr. H (1974) contains four 'frames' of multiple perspectives playfully interacting with one another and display endless precisely executed details. The heavy use of opaque acrylic colours reveals experimentation of new medium in this nonsensical and Dada influenced canvas. As viewers, we are engulfed in our dandy Mr. H's world of sexual fantasy, mischievously woven through the neon gender-biased figure's appendages to discover Hiraga's wondrous narrative.

Hiraga's Tsujicho (1986) (Lot 1518) draws upon the entertainment cultures prevalent in Japan; especially hostess bars, the modern era's geisha house. Hiraga's female figures confront the viewer in statuesque, pyramid positions; while individual props and gestures are rendered with purposeful clarity, allowing us to decipher the coded scene. The use of gold colour is reminiscent of Japan's famed gold screens and evokes nostalgia for the artistic traditions of decorative Edo period screens. Seated upon the familiar tatami mats, the ladies of Tsujicho entertain guests with sake drinking games, alluring outfits and the sexual yet dangerous teasing of knives. Paralleling this provocation is the large freshly caught fugu whose poisonous flesh can be served as sashimi only when sliced correctly, a skill the lingerie clad women promise with the knives they hold on their body and in the air. This careful inclusion of the overtly sexual display in a Japanese architectural atmosphere displays Hiraga's personal love of drinking and the decadent traditions of Japanese nightlife.

It is in Mr. Bea Waste (1990) however that we see the most transparent amalgamation of entertainment genres: drinking, gambling (denoted by the hanafuda cards, scattered on the floor), theater and hostess bars. A stylistic equilibrium is reached as the women exude a continental flair in their sheer lingerie combined with their markedly Japanese geisha cosmetics. The powdered faces and legs suggest a familiarity of kabuki dramas, voyeurs and past clients. By placing three identical men on a diagonal axis across our vision, Hiraga incorporates overlapping time frames and perspectives on one plane, creating compositional and narrative abstraction found in Edo period screens and Western religious paintings. In a sense Hiraga references the framing effects of his earlier oeuvres but subtly removes the restrictive four sides to create an even more cohesive work, evoking a sense of the night's progressions, from a relaxing hot bath to one of drunken bliss behind the screen.


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