‘Tenmyouya Hisashi: Fighting Spirit’


Mizuma Gallery

Closes in 9 days

The painter Tenmyouya is best known for satirizing contemporary society using elements of traditional Japanese art. In “Fighting Spirit,” showing at Mizuma Art Gallery in Tokyo’s Nakameguro till Nov. 15, the artist elaborately depicts battle-themed scenes with sturdy yet supple male figures bearing medieval weapons and donning fundoshi (Japanese underwear), hachimaki (headbands) and irezumi (tattoos). Each painting presents an excerpt from an imaginary fable or an alternative version of traditional folklore in which Tenmyouya’s delicate depictions romanticize heroism and duty.

On the fifth floor, a narrative series of works on folded parchment done in Japanese ink is part of an ongoing project started in 2007. The works serve as illustrations for Kitakata Kenzo’s novel “Bokyo no Michi (Path of Nostalgia),” and the series will result in 400 sheets in which Tenmyouya renders the scenes and subtle emotions behind the novel’s characters.

From his large, lucid paintings — the show includes his largest ever at three meters — to his fine, delicate brush strokes, Tenmyouya’s works exude a historic feel that is also wholly contemporary. If there is any commentary here from the artist, then it is that the mix of the two suggests that modern Japan still enthusiastically embraces the traditional mores of the country’s past.