Perhaps it won’t be wrong to say that even to this day, the free-flowing breeze in the midst of Montparnasse carries a whisk of confusion: what happened to one of its most intriguing figure who added to the Parisian allure? Did indifference define him more than his timeless work?
More acclaimed than Matisse, more revered than even Picasso and yet you may not know who is this bloke named Tsuguharu Foujita or Leonard Foujita as we know him. While there may only be one way to describe one of Japan’s finest presents to the wide word, Leonard Foujita also happens to be a subject of such incredible albeit pitiable intrigue that it may bring a retired intelligence vet into full-on action to mount an investigation into his undefinable absence from public memory.
While you may not instantly know who on earth Leonard Foujita is, what might suffice would be to understand the name as being a burgeoning adjective for the times we are in. This being an age of oblivion, obscurities and, lapse in public memory with profundity of focus resting with things that stand the power and talent of being magnified as hype.
Perhaps it won’t be wrong to suggest that one of the most glaring surprises in the modern art world has been the rather sedate following a true master from the east received. Even when he bore a melange of both Eastern and the Western cultures both in genetic make-up and by virtue of demise; born in Tokyo, passing away in Zurich, admired even in Latin-America; in a field that today amplifies artists at the stroke of a single paintbrush genius.
Chances are that even today, as you type in the phrase Leonard, the remainder would be instantly filled by an autosuggestion stating Cohen. It may not necessarily be Foujita, arguably a great shape-shifter in the realm of art-world and the first of his kind artist to introduce Japanese ink techniques to Western style paintings.
But on the lighter side, in times marked by incessant social media hyperactivity there’s little surprise that Foujita is occasionally remembered this being an era that breeds on instant gratification. Appreciation for art, concentrated that its fan-base may be in different clusters of the world is often subdued by a continuing culture that marketers define as ‘niche’. Even though this is an anomaly in the system where specialisations are forged not merely in endeavours of medicine and engineering alone but steadily in the ambit of art, cinema appreciation and, music. No other artist from the land of the rising sun exemplified- even though without bitterness- the Japanese propaganda ideologies pertaining to Second World War through his work of art and no other may conceive similar ideations in the course of future.
Yet, why the man often described by the world as “the most important Japanese artist working in the west in 20th century” is often reduced to Google searches and bookshelf-bound art archives, not so much about decking coffee table reading material is something that even Picasso may not approve of or particularly support. Perhaps no other iconic figure in modern Japanese art, one who amplified, popularised what is now known as the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music may have been responsible for producing the most captivating art-book- a bestseller- on a subject as peculiar as that of felines. When Foujita published the ever-revered “Book of cats” published in 1930, it was felt that he’d turned a corner in his fortune as an artist.
But sadly, most of his landmark successes, whether it was selling out all 110 watercolours in his very first exhibit at Gallery Cheron or the $1,205,000 worth nude masterstroke featuring legendary Man Ray’s girlfriend (against an ivory-white background) have been subdued in the changing vagaries of time. Now, as part of an earnest Parisian attempt to reintroduce this ephemeral object of any artist’s envy back to public gaze, the Maillol Museum is attempting to capture Foujita’s most absorbing pieces of work between 1913-31.
Going as far as being awarded the legendary Legion of Order- France’s highest decoration for recognising artistic excellence- it is both surprising and perplexing that a lot about Leonard Foujita was known for his private liaisons with women than for his wonderful exhibits that weren’t only restricted to women, but about cats, war and, conflicting human emotions.
He lived to astonishing success a life of great luxury despite early musings with art with Paris, being among the rare artists to afford a house with hot running water in bathtub. While love tied him to a realm of boundless creativity as much affording of many a heartbreak, the often under-appreciated artist experienced equal pain as much as successes, perishing to cancer. In the end, the mind still attempts to construe whether what exactly defined one of Japan’s most unforgettable artists of any era. Was Foujita an astonishing attempter at eschewing gaps between the traditions of East and the West or is he a bookmark in a page-turning account of magnanimous artists that just can’t be turned away without multiple reads?