Osaka Brand Committee
Gaku Azuma
Gaku Azuma
Gaku Azuma
Gaku Azuma
Yasumichi Morita
Yasumichi Morita
Ken Miki
Chiaki Murakami
Ryo Yamazaki
Biolgical field
Water city
Osaka Kaleidoscope
#7 Ukiyoe Artist: Gaku Azuma

Tje Aesthetics of Gaku Azuma: "Tenyo"-Sex Sirens Rising to Heaven -Gaku Azuma

女は宇宙。 艶っぽい女人しか描かない。平成の浮世絵師、東 學。

Known for his trademark attire of samue working clothes matched with setta sandals, Gaku Azuma resides in the Minami district of Osaka, an area known for its nightlife, where he paints nothing but erotic women. "Tenyo," a long-awaited book of Azuma’s works, has just been published, and it will soon be followed by an exhibition in Osaka. Azuma’s work features a gorgeous collection of boku-ga (black water-ink paintings) that illustrate the various alluring expressions of courtesans from the former Yukaku red light district. Azuma’s “Tenyo” interpretations are of women whose self is somewhere between that of sacred tennyo (angelic feminine forms) and sex sirens. Azuma presents the dichotomy that exists between the glowing beauty lying on the surface of such feminine forms, and the poisonous characters that often lurk beneath. With a sharp and uncompromising eye, Azuma, as if attempting to peel way individual layers of the inner self, gradually reveals the distorted being that can lie deep inside such feminine forms. It is a reflection of the eroticism Azuma sees that has caused others to refer to him as a “Ukiyo-e Artist of the Heisei Era.”
"Women are ethereal," says Azuma. "I want to paint women and nothing else. I suppose it's because I like beautiful things, including those that possess dark and complicating elements within them." In Azuma's paintings, the innocent beauty and wild desire of alluring women fills the artistic space with a sense of awkward balance; this awkwardness seems to validate Azuma's creativity in itself. For Azuma, “women” personify “beauty," and this in itself delivers meaning with regard to the way Azuma leads his own life.

秘すれば花。 表現の“縛り”から花咲かせた日本的エロティシズム。
Azuma's boku-ga series of alluring women, entitled his "Oiran" series, has it’s origins from when Azuma was commissioned to produce work for "MEGU," a Japanese restaurant in New York. The theme of this restaurant was produced by the globally-recognized interior designer Yoshimichi Morita. Until this commission, Azuma had mostly painted naked women. In New York, however, the image of the naked feminine form in public places is unacceptable due to society's high level of sensitivity with regard to the issue of women's rights. Given this limitation to his artistic expression, Azuma successfully created a form of alternative eroticism by covering the feminine form in his works as much as he could. He loosened kimono off the shoulders of the women he painted and only allowed part of their bodies to be exposed to the viewer. He found that the more hidden a subject's body was, the more alluring she became. "This is what is called Japanese eroticism," smiles Azuma, as he silently praises himself for his successful discovery of a new way to express the beautiful feminine form.
Azuma does not give his figures eyebrows, nor does he color their eyes. By overlooking such elements, he aims to create feminine forms that have an unrealistic allure about them. Creating beauty by hiding it--this is an aesthetic reduction theory and is also a true component of Japanese eroticism.

花は女、女は花。 花も女やん。扇子絵師である父の呪縛からの解放。

Azuma’s ”Oiran” series also benefited him in another way. In applying patterns to the kimono that covered the feminine forms in his pictures, Azuma was able to fully leverage his talent for capturing flowers in a life-like manner. Previously, flowers were a subject that Azuma wouldn't dare try. This was because of the significant influence of his father, Shoso Azuma, a master of painting sensu (folding fans). "He only draws flowers, and I only draw women," explains Azuma. "I was better than him at drawing women, but there was no way I could become better than he was at drawing flowers. I had long searched for an avenue by which to surpass my father. But one day, I came to realize that flowers are little more than a reproductive organ. I began to think that what he draws is essentially the same as what I draw. This thinking liberated me from the spell of my father, and I have been able to draw flowers since coming to such a realization." For Azuma, flowers are women, and women are flowers. That's why his flowers are so amorous as to almost smother those who view them.

縛りが快楽になる。 ひと筆ごとに上手くなる。職人的ストイックな絵描き道。

As a painter, Azuma works in quite a stoic fashion. "When I paint, I become an absolute masochist, I literally bind myself, you know," laughs Azuma. "I require myself to draw every fine detail, even for a single set of kimono patterns. I believe such masochistic training is essential to be a true artisan. Only everyday practice makes for improvement in painting. I could not draw what I draw today ten years ago. I can draw what I draw now just because I have continued to draw up until the present time. It just shows what you can build up over time." Azuma gives an example of painting a long picture scroll, saying that it is better completed from its end than from its beginning. He describes it as a "feeling of continuously rolling forward," a feeling that you are making an improvement to your skills with every brushstroke. "A genius still requires practice to be a good painter. Genius is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration, as someone once said." Azuma believes that he can get better at the things he likes because he practices a lot. He also knows that a masterpiece cannot be completed in a single day.

螺旋のごとく無限。 デザインで学び、絵で遊び、デザインを格上げして、絵で昇華する。

Knowing that Azuma has also been a professional graphic designer makes one wonder how he manages to separate his life as painter from that of a designer. "Designing is my profession, and painting is my sanctuary," says Azuma. "I learn a lot from working as a designer, I get more inspiration and input than being just a painter. The layout techniques I use to design, for example, can actually be incorporated in my painting. On the other hand, with my painting skills, I can make a distinct choice of colors for my design work. It goes on and on." As he explains, his experiences as designer and his artistic sensibilities as a painter continuously interact and yield a synergistic effect. And with that endless spiral, Azuma continues to sharpen his unlimited creativity.

文化を咲かそ。 大阪の文化レベルをあげたい。だから演劇のデザインを続ける。
Currently, Azuma's design projects are mostly advertising for theatrical productions. He has been doing this since he was young and has become fascinated with the theatric world. Although his name is highly recognized in Japan's theatrical circles today, it was not something he would make money from when he first started doing such work. There were also times when many theaters shut down, and over time the number of theaters has continued to decline in the Kansai area. Azuma, however, has remained passionate in his support of local theaters and has worked hard to provide attractive advertising so as to attract more people to theatric productions. He has also made fliers for new, less established theaters, insisting that their job is to stage good quality productions; only paying him for his services on obtaining a degree of success in their business. Meanwhile, his name as an advertising artist has continued to spread among the theatric world, with the advertising art employed in theater becoming recognized as an established art genre in its own right. Thus, Azuma is credited for every work he does, major and minor. Moreover, his theatric fliers have never failed to draw an audience's attention. Among such audiences have been theater people who, on seeing Azuma’s fliers, often ask for his help in advertising their own theatrical productions. Because of this, the number of theaters enlisting Azuma’s services has snowballed over time. Many successful actors, whom Azuma worked with when they were younger, now gladly appoint him to their major productions. Katsuhisa Namase, Arata Furuta, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Hashinosuke Nakamura, Tsurube Shofukutei, Aki Hano...These big names, which were found among congratulatory messages that Azuma received for his "Tenyo" exhibition, simply indicate how popular Azuma and his work are in contemporary theatric circles.

日本の美の魂。 侘び寂びには惚れてしまう。日本人としての美の遺伝子。

Obviously, Azuma's creativity carries with it traits related to the Japanese view of what defines beauty. While seeing his Japanese identity as being somewhat coincidental, Azuma admits that there is no denying the Japanese DNA within him, and he cannot help being attracted to the Japanese construct of beauty, or the aesthetics of wabi-sabi. "Kabuki, for example, is a Japanese form of beauty," explains Azuma. "When I first saw a Kabuki performance, I felt that my Japanese DNA was finally being awakened." When he was young, Azuma was too close to his father's masterly works to truly understand what defined the Japanese construct of beauty. However, while at school in the United States as a teenager, he began to appreciate Japanese beauty. He once came across an exhibition of Ukiyo-e by an unknown artist at a small art museum and felt these works were absolutely gorgeous. After he came back to Japan, he explored and was significantly influenced by the work of well-known Japanese graphic designers including Tadanori Yokoo, Kiyoshi Awazu and Akira Uno. By starting his observations of Japanese beauty at an early age, Azuma was able to inspire his own aesthetic views of Japanese beauty as a construct, and this construct later became an invaluable asset to him.

June 26, 2008
Kana Yoshimi
Gaku Azuma Profile
Born in 1963 in Kyoto, Gaku Azuma is a painter and an art director who lives in the Minami district of Osaka City. His father, Shoso Azuma, was a master folding fan painter. Gaku Azuma started painting at an early age. At age 14, he went to the United States as an exchange student and lived there for three years. "French Doll," which he painted while in the U.S., is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as part of its permanent collection. At age 20, Azuma began to show talent as both a graphic designer and an art director. In 1997, he was appointed by Yukichi Matsumoto, director of Ishinha Theater Company, as the company’s advertising artist. Since then, Azuma has designed a number of posters for a wide range of theatrical performances including underground plays, traditional performing arts, contemporary theater performances, and classical music recitals. As a contemporary painter, Azuma’s major works include his "Tenyo-kuruwa Oiran" series (2004), a collection of boku-ga paintings created for a Japanese restaurant in New York. In 2005, Azuma received the Osaka City Mayor Award for the large boku-ga work, "Kimaira," which was a collaboration between Azuma and the painter Tesshu. His first book of boku-ga, "Tenyo" was published by PARCO Publishing in December 2007.

Gaku Azuma Boku-ga Exhibition: "Tenyo"
日時 2008年6月26日(木)~29(日) 11:00~21:00
Date & Time: Jun. 26 (Thurs.) - 29 (Sun.) 11:00 - 21:00
Venue: Umeda HEP Hall (Osaka)
Admission free
Organizer: Project 629 (188 Corporation + Asahi Seihan Printing)
Co-organizer: HEP FIVE
Sponsor: Morisawa
Special cooperation: PARCO Publishing, Poster Hari's Company

Known for its annual large-scale series of art presentations, for its 8th year exhibition, Project 629 features its top artist, Gaku Azuma. The exhibition presents over 30 original paintings by Azuma taken from his first published book of boku-ga art, entitled "Tenyo" (2007). Other highlights of the exhibition include a first public showing of Azuma’s latest works from his "Oiran" series, which he painted for a branch of the “MEGU” restaurant chain in London. Paintings from his "Shinbutsu" series will also be on display, including his "Goddess of Wind, Goddess of Thunder" and "Kishibojin” works. available in Japanese text)

Author Profile
Kana Yoshimi
Yoshimi works as a copywriter and interviewer and runs her own office, Canariya Company. In collaboration with a talent agency, Yellow Cab WEST, Yoshimi just launched a new project, "Bunkajin," to support cultural figures in the Kansai region with their activities, mainly in casting and producing.