By the late 17th century, the city of Edo, (modern day Tokyo), had developed from a small town into a metropolis of over 1 million people. In direct response to a growing audience and middle-class collector base, publishers and impresarios fought to engage some of Japan’s greatest artists to work on exquisitely seductive scenarios that in turn became testimonials to the carnal activities that flourished within the specific confines of the “night-less cities” like Yoshiwara. The result was an art industry that provided affordable and accessible images of erotic beauty to the new ‘chonin’ or “city man”.
Traditionally Western culture has taken a more chaste approach to the depiction of erotic engagement. Still, it is undeniable that many artists outside Japan have drawn inspiration from the mastery of the Japanese print; the precise use of fluid line, the command of composition and the sumptuous complexity of the textiles intertwined amongst the reclining figures.
What began as a dialogue regarding the undeniable aesthetic connections between John Wesley and the tradition of the Japanese erotic prints, morphed into the concept for an exhibition that would include a wide range of modern and contemporary artists as catalysts and/or touchstones for the very comparisons and contradictions that were under initial discussion. This exhibition does not pretend to be an academic exercise, but rather it presented the curators with an opportunity to experiment with these references, relationships and at times, amusing associations.