San Francisco

Utagawa Kuniyoshi

James G. Kelley Gallery

This 19th-century “Ukiyu-e” artist specialized in wood blocks of historical pictures: warriors in full armor mounted on frenzied steeds, in the tumult of battle, archers bending their bows, others hacking with two handed swords, all dramatically and romantically terrible. In one three-fold battle panorama, the Samurai have carried the fray to midstream and are thrashing each other while mounted on swimming and screaming horses. One less horrible, but equally frantic print, pictures richly attired and coiffured courtesans flailing some distraught ladies in pink kimono with the long sticks usually used to practice swordsmanship. And another is a delightful pun showing a horde of merry artists armed with a variety of brushes and mops, holding down an armed Samurai whom they are literally painting and splashing with ink.

Kuniyoshi was a student of Toyokuni I who was master to a large group of wood block artists, all of whom acknowledged their allegiance to him with the “Kuni” in their signatures. In this exhibition are a number of Kabuki prints depicting specific actors enacting their special roles, a preoccupation of all the Kuni family of artists, as well as the battle scenes with complex landscape backgrounds for which Kuniyoshi was particularly famous.

Knute Stiles