ARTISTS OF “O” #4

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KANEKO Kuniyoshi, was a Japanese painter, illustrator and photographer, perhaps best known for his paintings and drawings of women in bondage and his illustrations for a Japanese edition of Louis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland. He was one of the most beloved and respected surrealist painters of Japan and sadly died of heart failure, in Tokyo, on the 16th of March 2015.

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Kaneko was born in Saitama (a region north-west of Tokyo) in 1936. He graduated in 1959 from Nihon University College of Arts where he studied under the stage designer Motohiro Nagasaka. Kaneko worked briefly for a graphic design company before going it alone as a painter. From 1964 he started drawing and finding his ‘style’ with oil paintings which drew on the inspirations of Balthus, Félix Labisse, and Western women’s fashion plates from the previous decade.

In the following year he met Ryuhio Shibusawa who was translating “Story of Ofor Japanese publication. Kaneko was charged with designing and drawing illustrations for the publication. It was a turning point for him. By way of Shibusawa’s enthusiastic introduction, Kaneko made his debut at the solo exhibition “Flower Maidens” at the Aoki Gallery in Ginza, in 1967.

[Some years previously O-translator Shibusawa produced Akutoku no sakae, a translation of de Sade’s L’Histoire de Juliette; ou, Les Prosperites du vice. The work was immediately controversial, and in 1960, he and Kyōji Ishii the publisher, were prosecuted for public obscenity. Shibusawa, although discouraged, was not deterred, and continued to write works on eroticism and to translate the works of de Sade, as well as other French authors; he also produced essays and art criticism, and became a specialist in the study of medieval demonology.]

KANEKO Kuniyoshi’s STORY OF O

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“Kuniyoshi Kaneko was
an extraordinary artist
whose comet-like rise
began with his début in 1967”


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His women of a sophisticated decadence, perhaps from a period earlier than his own, struck a chord. He went on to illustrate a number of other novels of French literature including Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye and Madam Edwarda5103727270df5f7efac99a4b7461cb90

He also received enthusiastic support for his cover illustrations for Eureka and Fujin Koron magazines. He Admired the surrealist artist Leonor Fini, and agreed with her when she remarked that “there is a white canvas which speaks to you. You don’t have to think of what to paint.”

In 1991 Kaneko provided the artwork for Alice: An Interactive Museum click-and-go adventure game. In 1992 his work was included in Adam and Eve an exhibition at the Saitama Kenritsu Kindai Bijutsukan (Museum of Modern Art) in Saitama. In his last years he contributed cover illustrations for a Japanese edition of Shakespeare, consolidating his success in his homeland.

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In addition to painting, Kaneko’s activities encompassed a broad range of genres, including woodblock printing, kimono design, and scenic art.

The latter found Kaneko assisting in 1967 with the production of a staged dance performance inspired by Story of O. It was staged by Mika Ito (1936 -1970) avant-garde dancer and leader of the Bizar Dance Group.

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The first performance of “Lady O Story” was held in October 1967 in front of a 700 strong audience – with stage design by artist Kaneko Kuniyoshi, publicity design by Aki Uno, – Yotsuya Simon, doll-maker, assisted with costume design. A performance in the December of 1967 resulted in some controversy after the audience, who had queued down the street for tickets, responded in a rather ‘hands-on’ fashion during the final scene.

‘O’ dancer Mika Ito was at this time married to Bungaku Itō, one of the founders of Japan’s first gay magazine Barazoku. He recalls Mika saying,

When I came into contact with this French female writer Pauline Rèage, I trembled with quite a lot of excitement, and it seems that such writers did not actually exist anywhere in reality, according to the translators’ postscript, it is probably someone anonymous. However, I did not care about such things, I shouted with my heart “This is it!” I thought whether there was such a suitable work for what was expressed in the form of modern dance, which is art of the body. “

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KANEKO Kuniyoshi talks about Story of O:

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