Gajin Fujita and a ukiyo-e legend

Hopefully you’ve had a chance by now to enjoy the phenomenal work of Gajin Fujita in our galleries. His unique use of traditional Japanese and street art elements result in pieces with eye-popping depth. Beginning with gold- and silver-leaf panels that are subsequently tagged, Fujita painstakingly creates images with finely detailed stencils and spray paint in several layers to create these dynamic pieces.

Gajin Fujita's "Golden Boy After Kuniyoshi"

Gajin Fujita’s “Golden Boy After Kuniyoshi”

In his interview published in our exhibition brochure, Fujita described how he has been drawn to Japanese woodblock prints like those in Masterpieces of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. “The strong patterning in woodblock prints is a draw for me, like in Yoshitoshi’s series of firefighters,” he told our curator Bridget Bray. “But the whole range of time periods and woodblock print artists, like Utamaro, Kuniyoshi and Yoshitoshi, are interesting to me as well.” In fact, one of Fujita’s works directly references Yoshitoshi’s master, Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1862) (at left).

In this piece, Golden Boy After Kuniyoshi, Fujita tells the well-known tale of Kintaro (“Golden Boy”) who was raised by a hag on Mount Ashigara and possessed amazing strength. There are many conflicting stories about how Kintaro came to live in the mountains– some say his mother was forced to flee and abandoned him there to be discovered by the mountain hag, while others suggest that his mother and the hag are the same person. Legends tell of his childhood battles with demons and monsters as well as his friendships with the mountain animals.

After defeating a demon terrorizing his region, a samurai became impressed by Kintaro’s prowess and brought him to Kyoto. There, Kintaro (who had since changed his name to Kintoki) learned martial arts and eventually led the samurai’s retainers.

As Fujita references, Kintaro was popular in the time of Kuniyoshi and Yoshitoshi– both artists did several works with the character throughout their careers. In fact, you can see several examples in our Yoshitoshi exhibition! The figure remains popular today, present in manga, anime and video games, and is often identifiable by his trademark ax and clothing with the character for “gold.”

To learn more about Gajin Fujita’s work and influences, don’t miss his Artist’s Talk on Sunday, August 5 at 2 p.m.! ~CM

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