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collections > permanent collection > prints > yasuo kuniyoshi

Yasuo Kuniyoshi
(American, b. Japan, 1889 -1953)
Carnival, 1949
Lithograph, edition of 235, 15 5/8" x 9 3/4"

Gift of Gerald P. and Aline D. Wolf (2006.125)

Yasuo Kuniyoshi developed a unique style based on European modernism, American realism, and his own sense of whimsy.  The spriteliness of his earlier work is largely absent in Carnival, however, which was made in the years following World War II.  Dispirited by the conflict in which his adopted country defeated his native land, Kuniyoshi turned to darker and more expressively contorted subjects.  In Carnival, the somber tones of the print counter the festive images evoked by the title.  Wearing a grotesque, almost anguished mask, an anonymous figure raises its arms in what could be read as either a gesture of joy or surrender.  Reflecting the artist’s own inner turmoil, Carnival is ultimately a picture of deep ambiguity.

Born in the city of Okayama in 1889, Kuniyoshi left Japan as a teenager.  Arriving in Los Angeles, he studied painting there and in New York City.  In New York, Kuniyoshi continued his training with Robert Henri, Homer Boss, and Kenneth Hayes Miller.  Through Hamilton Easter Field, an early promoter of modern art, Kuniyoshi became acquainted with the work of Paul Cézanne and other seminal avant-garde painters.  By the early 1920s, he had arrived at his own synthesis of modern style, and had begun to attract attention in the New York art world.  Trips to Paris kept him abreast of the latest developments, and on one such visit in 1928, he learned lithography.  Thereafter, printmaking became a major element of the artist’s oeuvre.  Kuniyoshi later taught at the Art Students League of New York, and during the 1930s, he participated in the WPA’s graphics division.  The artist died in New York in 1953.