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AKIRA YAMAGUCHI
(B. 1969)
Shintenno (Jikokuten, Zochoten, Tamonten, Komokuten)
signed and dated in Japanese (on a label on the reverse of each work)
four oil, watercolour and ink on canvas, mounted on wood panel
each: 194 x 97 cm. (76 3/8 x 38 1/8 in.)
overall: 194 x 388 cm. (76 3/8 x 152 3/4 in.) (4)
Painted in 2006 (4)
Provenance
Private Collection, Japan
Literature
Akiyama Ryota, 'Art Review', in Asahi News , Asahi Shimbunsha, Tokyo, Japan, 2006 (illustrated, p. 28).
Seikatsu no Tomosha Publishing Co. Ltd., The Window of Arts , No. 279, Tokyo, Japan, December 2006 (Komokuten illustrated).
Kadokawa Crossmedia Co. Ltd., 'Akira Yamaguchi Exhibition - Lagrange Point', TokyoWalker , Tokyo, Japan, 6 December 2006 (Komokuten illustrated).
Magazine House, 'Mix & Mash Infotainment', in Brutus, Tokyo, Japan, 15 December 2006 (Komokuten illustrated, p. 152).
Yomiuri Shimbunsha, 'Weekend Culture', in Yomiuri News, Tokyo, Japan, 16 December 2006 (illustrated, p. 15).
Donald Eubank, 'New show offers breakthrough installation', in The Japan Times , 21 December 2006 (Zochoten illustrated).
Ueno Royal Museum, Art de Sauro: Aida Makoto Yamaguchi Akira Exhibition, exh. cat., Tokyo, Japan, 2007 (illustrated, plates 28-31, pp. 36-37).
Art It, Issue 15, Spring/Summer Issue, Tokyo, Japan, 2007 (Komokuten illustrated, p. 9).
Nagano Prefectural Shinano Art Museum, Heroes in Warrior Paintings, exh. cat., Nagano, Japan, 2007 (illustrated, p. 96).
Article Publishing Co. Ltd., 'Akira Yamaguchi Interview', in Art_icle, Vol. 2, Tokyo, Japan, 2007 (Komokuten illustrated, p. 6).
Bijutsu Shimbunsha, Art Top, Issue 213, Tokyo, Japan, January 2007 (work in progress illustrated, pp. 56-59, 61&69).
Kodansha, 'Akira Yamaguchi Review', in Huge Magazine , No. 31, Tokyo, Japan, January 2007 (Komokuten illustrated).
Pia Co. Ltd., 'Heads Up! (Interview)', 'Akira Yamaguchi Lagrange Point', in Weekly Pia, Tokyo, Japan, 11 January 2007 (Jikokuten illustrated, pp. 27&154).
Michael Balderi, 'Akira Yamaguchi Lagrange Point', in Tokyo Art Beat , Tokyo, Japan, 17 January 2007 (illustrated).
Caelum, Nylon Japan , Tokyo, Japan, February 2007 (Komokuten illustrated, p. 111).
EI Shuppansha, Real Design, Tokyo, Japan, February 2007 (illustrated, p. 165).
Gentosha Publishing Co., 'Akira Yamaguchi Exhibition - Lagrange Point', Papyrus, Tokyo, Japan, February 2007 (Komokuten illustrated, p. 300).
Shinchosha Publishing Co., Geijutsu Shincho, Tokyo, Japan, February 2007 (illustrated, p. 124).
Madra Publishing Co., Kokoku Hihyo, No. 312, Tokyo, Japan, February 2007 (illustrated, pp. 85-86).
Seikatsu no Tomosha Publishing Co. Ltd., 'Contemporary Art Preview', in The Window of Arts, No. 285, Tokyo, Japan, February 2007 (Komokuten illustrated, pp. 139-140).
Kondansha Famous Schools Co. Ltd., Famous Magazine, Vol. 40, March 2007 (illustrated, p. 5).
Yomiuri Shimbunsha, 'Art', in Yomiuri News, Tokyo, Japan, 7 June 2007 (Komokuten illustrated, p. 19).
Bijutsu Shimbunsha, Art Top, Issue 216, Tokyo, Japan, July 2007 (Komokuten illustrated, pp. 99&103).
Bijutsu Shuppansha, BT Magazine, Vol. 59, No. 896, Tokyo, Japan, July 2007 (illustrated, pp. 106-107).
Tomosha Publishing Co. Ltd., Art Collector, Tokyo, Japan, January 2008 (Komokuten illustrated, p. 128).
Pia Co. Ltd., 'The Practical Guide to Appreciating Contemporary Chinese Art', in Pia Mook Magazine, Tokyo, Japan, 2008 (Komokuten and Jikokuten illustrated, p. 75).
'Neo-Nihonga artists of contemporary Japanese art of today - Makoto Aida, Hisashi Tenmyouya, and Akira Yamaguchi', in Talking Heads, 2008 (Zochoten illustrated, cover & pp. 88-90).
'Design Event Ace', in Japan Design Net (illustrated).
Exhibited
Aichi, Japan, Chukyo University Art Gallery, C. Square, Lagrange Point , 30 October-25 November 2006.
Tokyo, Japan, Mizuma Art Gallery, Lagrange Point , 5 December 2006-20 January 2007 (work in progress exhibited).
Tokyo, Japan, The Ueno Royal Museum, Art de Sauro: Aida Makoto Yamaguchi Akira Exhibition , 20 May-19 June 2007 (Jikokuten exhibited).
Nagano, Japan, Nagano Prefectural Shinano Art Museum, Heroes in Warrior Paintings , 28 July-26 August 2007.

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Lot Essay

Akira Yamaguchi, known for his intricate landscapes of Tokyo landmarks, is widely recognized as one of the pre-eminent neo-nihonga artists in Japan. His celebrated work Shintenno (Lot 1034) is a blend of subtle Western influence and Japanese essence, a perfectly balanced composition of oils, ink and calligraphy, like an extended visual poem. The Four Heavenly Kings of Shintenno (Tamonten, Jikokuten, Zochoten and Komokuten) are popular iconography for Chinese, Indian, Korean and Japanese Buddhists; they preach the universal message of Buddhism. As governors of the North, East, South and West of the Buddhist world, they are traditionally depicted in paintings and sculptures as figures that are heavily armed, fierce and foreboding in order to impose a fearsome respect. Yamaguchi's rendition, however, inserts a divine grace to the figures while nonetheless maintaining their commanding and breathtaking presence. Visually blending the customary characteristics of the four kings with signs of the 21st Century, Yamaguchi reinvents ancient Buddhist figures into relevant icons for contemporary viewers..
An admirer of 15th Century artists Jan Van Eyck and Fra Angelico, Yamaguchi's early work similarly dazzled the viewer with intricate symbols and an exploration of oil paints in which realistic representation is fused with nihonga. Only after several formative years do we notice a refined equilibrium of ambient ink, oils, distinctive calligraphic strokes and dramatic yet soft colour washes as seen in Shintenno. In concentrating the colours purely on the figures, Yamaguchi executes the painting with confident, precise brushwork and spontaneous spirit that conveys breathtaking ethereality. Even while using the same materials as his predecessors, Yamaguchi's careful consideration of colours and brushstrokes revives Shintenno with a three dimensionality and illusion of movement as though the four kings were swiftly floating down towards the viewer. Yamaguchi's use of a human model for each king and their integration as legendary characters also cleverly converts the Buddhist subject into reflective form of contemporary portraiture, as if each sitter possesses some attribute of the king.
Tamonten 's (North) trident marks his triumph over austerities while the shimmering golden stupa in his left hand represents the wealth rewarded to him for his suffering. To further accentuate the renowned wealth of Tamonten , Yamaguchi employs silvery white paint to form the body which shimmers with phosphorescence. Blue-faced Jikokuten (East), the king of celestial musicians, commands his army with his sword while his ears lightly turned outwardly towards the viewer seeks music. Symbolic Japanese cranes and miniature elephants double as moving accessories on his animal-metal hybrid suit while his coiffed hair provides striking imagery for the power he commands. Standing towards the South, Zochoten , instantaneously recognizable for his striking red visage holds the Halberd and serves as a catalyst for spiritual growth. Over his chest is a futuristic contraption that seemingly cages his heart within, protecting its spirituality and purity. Lastly, Komokuten (West), notoriously the most ferocious, tenderly clasps a scroll and brush signifying the power of Buddhist teachings to overcome ignorance and to grant enlightenment. The fire traditionally crowning him is transferred to the fiery ends of his attire, gently smoldering despite the wave-like water that meanders around him.
In manipulating the conventional representation of the four kings, with a fantastical integration of machinery, Yamaguchi purposefully seeks to astonish and inspire awe in contemporary viewers: "When the Buddhist statues in armor were introduced to Japan, that armor was the most advanced armor of the time. It was like the U.S. army's high-tech arming of today. In that sense, I thought adding machinery would create a more appropriate feeling for the people of those days encountering the statues of Four Heavenly Kings for the first time, despite the apparent bizarreness. I attempted to trace the feeling of the people at the time when I first portrayed the armor piece." (Akira Yamaguchi as quoted in Junichi Yamashiro "Mitate in Oyamazaki" in Now, Oyamazaki YAMAGUCHI Akira, Mitsumura suiko Shoin Publishing Co. Ltd, Japan, p.79). Perhaps even more striking is how each historical male king gently floats above defeated Japanese demons in an oddly feminine stance. Coupled with alluring shapely faces, elongated fingers and pursed lips, they generate close visual associations with kawaii girls or beauty-conscious males prevalent in Japan today. Portraying the kings with distinctive features of the youth of Japan with the careful incorporation of futuristic accessories already familiar to us in sci-fi novels, the image magnetically draws the audience and the subject closer, making this ancient subject exceedingly and surprisingly relevant in today's contemporary world.
Yamaguchi's refreshing portrayal of Shintenno is calculated to allure contemporary viewers with its religious, moral tales and remarkable contemporary features. As a result, the warriors instill a meditative calmness and cool admiration rather than a crushing power and terror. Traversing generations and borders, Yamaguchi's Shintenno perhaps advocates Buddhist teachings and ideals, but more importantly persuades viewers across the world to recognize how Yamaguchi has captured the gentle spirits of these cross-cultural religious icons. Tracing from his earlier works, we can see Yamaguchi's exploration of portraiture in a self portrait (Self Portrait With Rude Eyes, Contrary to My Expectation, 2001, Fig. 1) and through the replication of famous portraits in Japanese tradition (Portrait of Yoritomo, from a Distance/Concurrence, 2000, Fig 2). The resulting images, however, lacked the flawless assimilation of Yamaguchi's subjective perspective and signature details. It is as if only upon the encounter of Shintenno as a subject did Yamaguchi find the perfect subject with which to confidently paint a portrait while articulating the contemporary visual desires and cultural associations of Japan through traditional representation. These four kings are the only example of life-size figurative portraiture painted by Yamaguchi with such vibrant colours and fine details, and thus are recognized as one of his most iconic creations in his career. Shintenno is not merely a painting but equally a sculptural installation as his custom designed frames are fashioned to allow each figure to stand like temple guardians. This work represents the culmination of numerous years in painterly exploration, now displayed in a rich layering of emotional, historical and cultural factors. Its rarity, not only in the artist's career, but also in contemporary art, marks Yamaguchi as a truly rare treasure in contemporary Japanese art.

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