Narwhal is proud to present the first Canadian exhibition with Japanese master Toshio Saeki. 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.

Opening Reception:
Thursday, May 8th 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.

From May 8 – 24, 2014

Full Exhibition Info

Born in 1945 in Miyazaki, Japan, Saeki gained notoriety in the 1970’s for his avant garde approach, connecting traditional Japanese art styles such as Shunga (erotica) and Yokaiga (mythology) with postmodern radical pop art culture. Over the past 40 years Saeki has developed a dedicated cult following, which continues to expand significantly. Saeki has had solo exhibitions in Japan, Paris, London, Tel Aviv, New York and San Francisco. Over a dozen publications of his collected works have been printed including Saeki Toshio Gashu, Akai-hako (Red Box), Chimushi I, and Chimushi II, Yume Manji (Dream Swastika) and Onikage. Celebrated cross culturally, Saeki has also been immortalized in the Ju-on horror films which play homage to his child spirit and has contributed album artwork for several international musicians including John Lennon and Yoko Ono. He presently lives and works in the small town of Ichihara, Chiba, Japan.