2011 / World-renowned Price Collection featuring 18th century Japanese painting on view at Bowers Museum, Santa Ana

Bowers Museum Jakuchu Tiger

Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800) Tiger (Detail) 1755, Hanging scroll, color on silk, 85.3 x 37.6 in (Courtesy of Bowers Museum)

Cultural News 2011 April Issue

Bowers Museum in Santa Ana

Masterpieces of the Price Collection

June 18 – July 10, 2011

The famous Etsuko and Joe Price Collection is one of the finest assemblages of Japanese art in the world, and on April 16, the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana will unveil the first of two exhibitions showcasing the Collection’s crown jewels.

Ito Jakuchu: A Man with No Age is on view April 16 to June 12, 2011. It is the first ever exhibit dedicated solely to Jakuchu. On June 18 through July 10, 2011, the Bowers presents Masterpieces from the Price Collection, which features the celebrated landscape, portrait and naturalistic paintings of Maruyama Okyo, Nagasawa Rosetsu, Mori Sosen and other master painters of the Edo Period (1615-1868), a remarkably creative era of eclectic diversity in Japan’s illustrious visual art history.

The distinctive and breathtaking renderings of animal life by Jakuchu relate a common theme of traditional Japanese subjects such as chickens, birds, roosters, cockatoos, parrots, tigers and phoenixes. His traditional works exhibit a fascinating degree of experimentation with perspective, and with other very modern stylistic elements.

Born in Japan in 1715, Jakuchu was a vegetable seller and a Buddhist monk, while living a life devoted to illuminating the beauty of nature with the magical stroke of the artist’s brush.

He took his brush well beyond just skill, separating him from all other artists of his era – and beyond. His works are diverse and so coupled with the heart of nature that they have an ageless quality and appeal. His paintings have left an indelible mark, a stroke far beyond the capabilities of most painters.

“Whenever I look at pieces by Ito Jakuchu,” Price says, “I remember the quote attributed to Jakuchu in a book by Professor Nobuo Sensei: ‘Many painters paint contented only by skill, and yet nobody can go beyond skill. This is why I am different from others.’”

Joe Price bought his first painting, which happened to be a Jakuchu, over a half century ago while browsing in a small store on Madison Avenue in New York City with his close friend, Frank Lloyd Wright.

From the moment Price saw his first painting, he fell for the technical skill of Jakuchu, who could eloquently depict an animal’s form and expression with a single line and paint decidedly detailed images with overlapping shapes, accomplished without a single line of ink crossing another.

“Ito Jakuchu was unique and unbounded, uninhibited by regulation or instruction,” Price says. “He goes beyond skill with his resultant shapes of leaves, figures, animals, and objects. The empty spaces in his works are as important to the scroll as the painted objects themselves.  It is hard to believe that there is usually only one layer of paint on a scroll or even on a screen.”

Museum goers will share the same sense of wonder and amazement that Price experienced upon seeing his first Jakuchu paintings as they view these extravagant works with an unexpectedly modern appearance.

Jakuchu’s paintings are unique in that when lighting or shadows pass behind his silk screen canvas, it projects a different perspective of the work, almost like an illusion. His works attest to the liveliness and diversity that characterize Japanese art during the prosperous Edo period. His technique, along with the eccentric personalities of his subjects, secured his position as one of finest individualist Edo Period master painters in history.

Of his world-famous Collection and the specific paintings that will exhibit at Bowers Museum, Joe Price says: “The collection was quite random and had no purpose in the early years since there was little knowledge to guide it. Almost nothing had been written about Edo art in English, and no one, at least in central Oklahoma [where he previously lived before moving to Corona Del Mar, Calif.], appreciated these strange objects I was bringing home. Even after I first arrived in Japan in 1963, I was amazed that no one seemed to care about this art that was so abundant.  Since there was no hype concerning these paintings, I never truly felt that I was collecting art.  Instead, I was just buying what pleased me.  Compared to building pipelines, searching for Edo paintings was heavenly.”

Paintings of this genre were the beginning of a wondrous journey through Japanese history, culture, and art that will be recorded in this exhibition.

“What may have started out as an insignificant hobby has now turned into something much more meaningful to me,” Price says. “My collection gave my life a new purpose, for I wanted the public to experience for themselves the same immense joy that this art has brought to me. I hope people can see my collection as much more than an accumulation of scrolls and screens. It is like an album of images to be compared side by side to not just look at the different works, but to learn from them as well.  I want everyone to examine the differences between the great masters, their gifted students, and those that, in the process of learning, attempted to copy their works. The Etsuko and Joe Price Collection is not intended to be seen as just a collection – it hopefully should be an experience.”

Bowers Museum is located at 2002 North Main Street. Santa Ana, CA 92706. Open hours are Tuesday – Sunday, 10 am – 4 pm. Admission is $12 adults; $9 students and seniors over 62; and children under 6 are free. Under the Target Free First Sunday program, all visitor will be granted free access to the museum on the first Sunday of each month.

For more information, call (714) 567-3600 or log on to www.bowers.org.