The British Museum features new commissioned works by 3 major Japanese manga artists.
Celebrating 10 years of sponsorship by one of Japan’s leading newspapers, the Asahi Shimbun, the British Museum has commissioned 3 new works by distinguished manga artists Chiba Tetsuya, Hoshino Yukinobu and Nakamura Hikaru. Art Radar profiles the 3 artists in “Manga Now” and the new additions to the British Museum’s collection.
The British Museum‘s exhibition “Manga Now”, curated by Nicole Rousmaniere, features three never-before-seen works by celebrated manga artists Chiba Tetsuya (b. 1939), Hoshino Yukinobu (b. 1954) and Nakamura Hikaru (b. 1984). The artists, ranging between the ages of 31 and 76, represent three generations of manga artworks whose diverse collection of genres and styles illustrate the spectrum of manga found in present-day Japan.
Manga: a worldview
Roughly translated as ‘free-form pictures’ or ‘comics’, manga is part of a rich tradition of whimsically drawn characters and visual narratives found in Japanese literature, art and popular culture dating as far back as the 12th century. The founder of the term was famed artist of The Great Wave at Kanagawa, Katsushika Hokusai (1790-1849), whose volumes of “Manga”, packed into a crate of Japanese porcelains and lacquerware for French collector Félix Bracquemond, initiated the craze for all things Japanese (Japonisme) in mid-19th century Paris. Many of the 15 volumes published between 1812 and 1878 can be found in the British Museum collection.
Manga has evolved a great deal since Hokusai’s coinage of the term in the Edo period (1601 – 1868). Modern iterations of the medium feature compelling narratives rendered via vibrant and dynamic graphic sequences. While its American counterpart, the comic book, has only recently gained appreciation in the art world, Japanese manga fans have long valued the medium as a serious form of art, esteemed by children, teenagers and adults alike.
As exhibition curator Rousmaniere explains, manga is more than a series of ‘cartoons’, it is a major industry and means of relaying information:
This exhibition is incredibly important for us because […] it introduces manga as it is now. […] I think it’s really compelling, and this is something specific to Japanese manga: you’re entering a different world, a visual world where you get information, but you are actually feeling and living that information in real time. It’s used not just in books and in comics and in magazines, but it’s actually used in schools; it’s used in textbooks; it’s used in manuals. Not only is it big business and not only is it entertainment, but it’s actually part of the fabric of Japanese society and I think actually becoming more and more so externally in Europe and certainly in America.
With a vast array of genres, covering nearly every topic of interest for every demographic, manga is a vital component of Japanese visual culture. The medium’s prolific presence in virtually every corner of the country signifies its ability to critically reflect a nuanced worldview – an understanding not lost upon contemporary Japanese art stars such as Aida Makoto, Tabaimo, Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami, who incorporate the medium’s stylistic elements into their work.
In a nod to manga’s popularity among adults and children, the British Museum’s “Manga Now” departs from traditional exhibition displays with works suspended at various heights within a series of floating black frames. The result is a dynamic arrangement that captures the medium’s characteristic animation.
Three artists from “Manga Now”
Representing three generations of manga artists, Chiba, Hoshino and Nakamura’s commissions exemplify recent initiatives to expand the museum’s collection of contemporary manga. While the British Museum has collected manga for over 60 years, nearly all of the post-Showa (1926-1945) modern examples of the medium have been acquired since 2006.
1. Chiba Tetsuya
Representing the first generation of manga artists, Chiba Tetsuya (b. 1939) is highly regarded in Japan as a master of sports manga. He began working in the early 1950s creating shōnen and shōjo manga geared towards young teenage boys and girls respectively. He has since been recognised with numerous awards for his work, including the prestigious Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette award by the Japanese government in 2012. He currently acts as the Managing Director of the Japan Cartoonists Association.
Many of Chiba’s sports manga have been adapted for television and film. His most notable work, Ashita no Joe (1968), epitomizes the classic sports manga genre, featuring a young, dedicated boxer who struggles with defeat eventually to make a name for himself in the boxing ring. His work for “Manga Now”, Fair Isle Lighthouse Keeper’s Golf Course, Scotland (2015), highlights the artist’s aptitude for building tension with a young golfer crouched in contemplation as he assesses the trajectory of his next stroke. While Hoshino and Nakamura’s works will become part of the collection at the British Museum, Chiba’s Fair Isle Lighthouse Keepers Golf Course, Scotland’ is temporarily on loan by the artist.
2. Hoshino Yukinobu
Hoshino Yukinobu (b. 1954) represents the second generation of contemporary manga artists. The artist currently works out of his mountainside studio in Sapporo, the fourth largest city in Japan located in the northern-most island, Hokkaido. Hoshino is most well-known for his works of science-fiction and mystery, done in the gekiga style, a manga genre geared towards adults that typically deal with serious, complex topics.
Hoshino’s commissioned work for this exhibition, Rainman, a black and white ink portrait of the artist’s newly-developed character Rainman, compliments a series of the artist’s works acquired by the museum in 2011 for the exhibition “Manga: Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure.” The resulting one-volume work, published in English under the same title as the exhibition, features a crime-solving anthropologist that investigates a series of stolen objects from the British Museum.
Trained in traditional Japanese painting, the artist begins by hand-drawing his works and later adds to his drawings with colour and shading on the computer. Both the 2011 and 2015 works illustrate the artist’s captivating photorealist style.
3. Nakamura Hikaru
The youngest artist of the three, born in 1984, Nakamura Hikaru is currently the most popular and bestselling manga artist in Japan. She specialises in comedic, ‘slice-of-life’ manga, an episodic genre that follows the daily trials of one or more characters who live in a present-day world that either represents or mirrors our own.
For this exhibition, the artist presents the cover art for her most popular slice-of-life manga, Saint Oniisan. Emblematic of the slice-of-life genre, the comedic narrative follows the experiences and tribulations of a young Jesus and Buddha living as hypothetical flatmates in modern-day Tokyo. With allusions to ‘the god of manga’ Tezuka Osamu’s Buddha (published between 1972 and 1983) and a knack for injecting humor into the mundane, Nakamura’s Saint Oniisan has sold over ten million copies, making her the seventh best selling manga artist in Japan. Like Hoshino, Nakamura begins her works by hand and finishes them in detailed precision on the computer.
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