Inspirations: Kawanabe Kyousai

Kawanabe Kyousai was known as the Demon of Painting in his time. The son of a samurai and born in the Edo period, his work addressed the issues of Japan’s move into a modern state at the influence of a soulless “other.”

Kawanabe Kyousai was born in the Edo period in the year
1831 as the son of a samurai. When he was 37, the Meiji era came, bringing with it the great Restoration, a (forced) opening of Japan’s doors to the West that was started by Commodore Perry. Kyousai’s artwork during this period turned increasingly to the ghoul, where skeletons in top hats and western clothing danced and defiled Japanese beauties. More than his political message, Kyousai was obsessed with painting with absolute realism for his scrolls (even though he is also known as Japan’s first caricaturist). When his wife died, he had the body kept in the room, held by an assistant, so that he could draw the expression of death truthfully.

A wonderful book to read that delves into the time period Kyousai lived in is Christopher Benfey’s The Great Wave. Though Kyousai is not mentioned explicitly, the forces that he faced during his lifetime are explained in a narrative that obliterates the stereotype of history novels as being dull.