Children born in a great port never forget that early relationship with the sea. They are marked, for life, by the mysteries of this unpredictable force of nature. The Japanese artist Kai Higashiyama was one of them.
Born in Yokohama in 1908, Kai Higashiyama He was the son of a wax worker on a ship, and given his continuous expeditions with his father, Kaii became familiar with foreign languages and ways, so one day he made the decision to leave to explore the lands that existed beyond what he knew.
But before doing so, the young man faithful to his father moved to Kobe, a town that was more open to Western traditions, especially British, where he began to show his qualities for drawing and painting. After studying some of the Japanese painters who had studied abroad, he adopted their techniques and themes from his Western-style painting, so he began working with oils and perfecting his promising technique.
However, despite his desire to be a painter like those on the other side of the world, his father urged him to dedicate himself to the classic forms, styles and conventional techniques known as Nihonga - the term that had just been coined to distinguish classical painters from those who work under European inspiration with foreign materials.
In this way, Higashiyama began to practice the traditional technique through paper and silk and began experimenting with his canvases with dust from rocks, shells, insects, plants and minerals, creating unusual extremely subtle dyes that are mixed with animal skin. or fish bones with pure spring water to elevate its traditional touch.
He attended traditional painting classes at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts under the guidance of a famous teacher, Yuki somei, and at the age of 21, his first work was accepted by the influential group nitten in his annual exhibition, which gave him a local blanket and a great popularity that would place the Kaii surname in the voices of the entire guild.
When he graduated in 1933, he began to realize his dream of traveling abroad and boarded a cargo ship to Europevisiting Austria, Germany, France and Italy, feeling overwhelmed by Florence and bewitched by Miguel Angel y Leonardo da Vinci, although feeling that he could never emulate them, so he returned to Japan inspired, if a little melancholic to see the art of those names of the Renacimiento.
Upon returning, he was recruited into the Pacific War, And although he faced a series of difficult tests, including the death of several relatives, these helped him open his eyes to the beautiful landscapes that he would paint, always inspired by the nostalgia that Renaissance painting caused him.
"Europe is dry and Japan is humid", it was said in 1935, during his military expeditions, and after having discovered the benefits of humid climate in the conservation of paintings on paper, the artist's path was traced. At his short 27 years, after studies, travels, tragedies and the experience of war, Kai Higashiyama he experienced his most intense years, even mounting his first solo exhibition and returning to attend his popularity in the old continent.
While various artists from Nihonga felt the need to preserve the heritage of Japanese classical painting and techniques as Western techniques grew, Kaii never wanted them to fight, but rather to get together and expand their influence, so many of his paintings could resemble those of Claude monet, for example.
fog clearing, 1911. Source: Japanese Painting Gallery.
In 1949, in his mid-thirties, he found the family business riddled with debt, mounting exhibitions and earning a living from creating children's book illustrations.
By taking nature seriously, Higashiyama created a deeply thoughtful art world, which was held in high esteem for its universal qualities, reflecting the perspective and natural spirit of the Japanese. In this way he had his first great success when his painting Zangho (Afterglow) won first prize at the fair nitten.
At the age of 40 he was already enjoying great fame and was named the most popular artist in Japan due to crowds of people from all walks of life flocking to his large-scale exhibits, thus he was recognized as the "Grand Master of Nihonga."
In 1969, after being awarded as a member of the Japan Academy of Art and have obtained the Culture Award Japanese, Kaii devoted himself to rehearsals, some that even narrated or accompanied the landscape that he used to place on his canvases. On Dialogue with landscape, a title that evokes his intimate relationship with nature, became his most famous text, as it narrates the mountains that surrounded him and explains the spiritual background of his art.
Towards the end of his life, he donated more than 600 items, drawings and paintings to the Kaii Higashiyama Museum in Shiroyama Park, the city of Nagano, where they rest to this day.
He painted several murals of Japanese and Chinese landscapes, for the temple Tōshōdai-ji, completed between 1975 and 1980, and on January 12, 1985, Higashiyama along with Andy Warhol y Joseph Beuys, participated in the Arte-Global project, started by the conceptual artist Ueli Fuchser, which consisted of sending drawings by the three artists around the world.
He died on May 6, 1999 in Tokyo, Japan.