I saw the show not too long ago and will admit to never hearing about this artist. Strolling through the exhibition halls I was drawn to both the art and Kuniyoshi's life story. A lot of his works reflect his quest to investigate the concept of identity. Kuniyoshi defined himself as an American artist while remaining aware that his Japanese origins played an important role in his artistry. As an immigrant to the U.S., I am daily considering how I view my own identity.
Kuniyoshi rose to prominence in the New York art world during the 1920s. He was inspired by American folk art, Japanese design and iconography and European modernism. His art can be linked to stages of his life. For instance, he started with portraits of oddly proportioned figures, but his long stays in Paris resulted in painting of reflective women.
His earlier pieces are wonderful - they are full of color and his lifestyles drawn attention as they display odd objects. However, the part of this exhibition that most caught my attention - as it highlights the concept of identity - are Kuniyoshi's works created during the Second World War.
While Kuniyoshi was integrated into American life, immigration laws prevented him from becoming an American citizen. Classified an “enemy alien” after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he remained steadfastly on the side of his adopted country during the painful war years, working with the Office of War Information to create artworks indicting Japanese atrocities. After the war, Kuniyoshi developed a compelling late style, with bitter subjects and paradoxically bright colors.
If you just stop at the Museum during your lunch break or spend a long time studying the pieces and their stories, this show is well worth your attention. It is on display until August 30, 2015, on the 1st floor West, American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, N.W.).