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S#d#my, sake, murderous monsters & sketches straight from Hell: The art of Kawanabe Kyōsai

Born 1831 in Koga, Japan, artist Kawanabe Kyōsai (sometimes noted as Kawanabe Gyosai) had the distinction of being a highly influential artist during both the Edo period (1603-1867) and the Meiji period (1868-1912). Another distinction Kyōsai earned during his career was being known as “the demon of painting” most likely a nod to the volume and diversity of work Kyōsai produced which was admired by influential creatives not only in Japan but in France and the UK while he was active. His work during the Meiji period was known for its infusion of politics and satire as well as his use of caricature which got him in trouble with the authorities. 
What exactly ticked the cops off is a bit murky. Some cite following a night of pounding sake with his fellow artists and writers, Kyōsai was arrested for creating works which were critical of Japanese political figures and the police. One of Kyōsai’s paintings “Instructions for Drinking Parties” (1870) has also been named as a culprit in this caper as it was suspected of portraying Westerners and Japanese engaged in acts of “sodomy” and sent him to the slammer. Kyōsai spent three months in jail and received 50 lashes just for creating art.

“At about 11 o’clock in the morning on 30 June 1880, the renowned Japanese painter Kawanabe Kyōsai started work on his great curtain for the Shintomi theatre. It was to be a version of the classic subject the One Hundred Demons, and as Kyōsai wielded his huge painting broom, their faces began to take shape. But there was something different about them. These were not the elegant forms of the Ukiyo-e painters. They were wild-eyed, manic creatures who moved across the picture in a frenzy of diabolical abomination. This was Kyōsai “crazy painting.”


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