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Kenji Yoshida: A Celebration Of Life - October Gallery

La Vie by Kenji Yoshida

Exhibition preview

AS PART of Museums at Night 2010, October Gallery will host a late night opening of the exhibition Kenji Yoshida: A Celebration of Life – from 5.30pm to 9pm on Friday, May 14, 2010.

Experience magnificent forms and colours, make origami peace cranes in the garden and listen to Orsino Ensemble compose music inspired by the exhibition. Admission is free.

Previously Posted: To mark the first anniversary of his death, the October Gallery is presenting a special exhibition of Kenji Yoshida’s work that will celebrate the extraordinary life of a remarkable man and an outstanding artist.

Entitled simply Kenji Yoshida – A Celebration Of Life, it will be on display from April 15 to June 5, 2010.

The exhibition will display works from the different periods of Yoshida’s career, including the incandescent etchings he made at Stanley Heyter’s Atelier 17 in Paris in the early 60’s, inks, calligraphy and paintings on paper from the 70’s onwards, as well, as the distinctive oils on canvas that are his characteristic contribution to contemporary art, deftly-sketched portraits of the created universe itself.

As a young man growing up in Osaka, Yoshida first trained as an artist under the direction of Furukido Masaru Sensei, to whom he often later referred as his great mentor.

Yoshida was only thirteen when war broke out in 1937, beginning with the Imperial Army’s invasion of China. The following year saw further expansion of hostilities with Japanese invasions of Russia and Mongolia. The country of Yoshida’s birth would continue on an evermore frenetic war footing until the ultimate admission of defeat in 1945.

Recalling the specific admonition of the pacifist Furukido not to take up arms but to pursue painting instead, Yoshida threw himself back into his art with the passion of a man who knew how truly fortunate he was still to be able to paint.

For the next sixty-three years of his thankfully long life, he would do little else but devote himself to a sustained exploration of the life-affirming forces that he had seen so nearly extinguished. In 1964, when he left Japan to live in Paris, he took conscious aim at the grandest subject of all, a systematic approach to describing the complexities of the life-force that invigorates everything, and for many years the majority of his canvases have carried that single, most telling of all titles, whether in French, Japanese or English: La Vie, Sei-Mei, Inochi – quite simply – “Life Force”.

His experience of war and destruction on such a scale led Yoshida to become an indefatigable warrior for universal peace and throughout his life he carried that message wherever he went. The power of his art returns us to the fundamentals of life itself, but his yearning for peace is also transmitted in the magnificent, elliptical language of forms and colours that he developed in the hope of revealing the essential unity of humanity to itself.

In 1993, the quality of Yoshida’s work was recognised when he was honoured to be the first living artist ever to be given a solo exhibition at the Japanese Galleries of the British Museum. During the Festival of Canterbury in 2004, his magnificent octagonal installation, Sei-mei could be seen at Canterbury Cathedral. In 2006 the Chateau de Blois, in the Loire Valley held a major solo exhibition. His final exhibition was in the main exhibitions hall of UNESCO in Paris, in 2008.

NHK, Japan’s National Broadcasting Network, is preparing a special documentary Sei-Mei on the life, work and transcendence of Kenji Yoshida, directed by the international award winning Yoshitaka Nitta. The programme will be broadcast during prime time this coming August in Japan, a month of commemorative events to mark Memorial Day in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

A series of events, talks and films will accompany the exhibition at October Gallery. These include:

Yoshida Kenji: A talk given by Lawrence Smith, Keeper Emeritus of Japanese Antiquities at the British Museum, on Saturday, April 17 at 3pm.

Kenji Yoshida “Artist of the Soul’: A film by Ishmael Fifi Annobil, on Tuesday, April 20 at 7.30pm.

Celebration of Life: A musical tribute to Yoshida Sensei by the renowned Japanese drummer and composer, Joji Hirota and friends – to be confirmed.

Admission: Free.

Times: Tuesday to Saturday from 12.30 to 5.30pm.

October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3AL

Telephone: 020 7242 7367