Narwhal Projects is proud to present the first Canadian exhibition with Japanese master Toshio Saeki, who we just featured in our print edition of the magazine in a rare interview in the March 2014 issue. The works presented in this exhibition are comprised of original ink drawings from 1977-1983, and a rare series of fifty letterpress prints from Saeki’s 1972 publication Akai Hako (The Red Box). Presented in partnership with the Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2014.The show opened on May 8, and will run through May 24, 2014.
Celebrated as the "Godfather of Japanese Eroticism", Saeki’s artwork draws from the basement of a collective subconscious, depicting universal taboos through surreal narratives and dark humor. Filtering imagery from his photographic memory and childhood experiences through imagination and dreams, Saeki splits open a universally erotic world where iconic characters subject themselves to grotesque behaviours staged within traditional Japanese environments.
Within Saeki's drawings you may see a zen like creature calmly engaging in disembowelment while a woman romances her lover by slicing her breast into his mouth. Children interact joyfully with demons, a massage therapist performs his service using severed limbs from the patients in the next room. In one particularly iconic piece entitled Irodaruma, a gang of life size Daruma buddhist dolls seduce a woman sprawled out in a Japanese style room while in the foreground a young boy sits watching, knocking apart a toy sized version of the doll. Separating them is an open Shoji (sliding door). It's this bizarre interpretation of perspective and experience that gives Saeki's work an added level of extremeness. The portals between dreams and waking life have been left open. Nothing is quite as it should be. Pain reads as pleasure, fear as delight, sombreness as humor. Desire for the forbidden manifests itself into unfathomable formations. Further adding to the surreal quality is Saeki's often inclusion of a secret watching figure, creating the dynamic of a psychic apparatus that exposes the many sides of the human condition.
Accessing the traditional Japanese partnership employed by the Ukioy-e woodcut masters, Saeki creates his original works as black and white ink drawings which he then overlays with vellum sheets hand marked with colour plans for the visualized finished image. As an "eshi" (artist) he passes his designs to a "surishi" (printer) and they are developed into the final work. Saeki refers to his method of practice as Chinto printing. Through harmonizing provocative contemporary imagery with traditional Japanese culture, Saeki’s work transcends time, weaving fantastically grotesque and abstract narratives that are at once are at once startlingly indecorous yet remarkably alluring.