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The Shinto Art Work

The book collecting Rei Torii’s art has an official English title: The Shinto Art Work. I was given a copy by one of my students, so I’ve been able to look through it.

I still like the art a great deal, and even the “Dances of the Land of Eternal Youth” series, which is in a very different style from the others, has grown on me. There is a significant amount of Japanese commentary, explaining the background to the pictures, and saying something about Mr Torii’s artistic development, but even if you do not read Japanese, the book may well be worth it for the pictures. They are, after all, the main point.

His most recent output is dominated by pictures connected to Jingū, and to the Grand Renewal, because he was officially asked to produce a kind of record. The originals of a number of these pictures are, according to the book, displayed at Isë, so next time I am there, I will keep an eye open for them.

One interesting feature of the works is that, although he has produced a series of images of kami, they are in a small minority. Most of the pictures are of jinja, or of ceremonies at jinja.

His recent work manages to be both realistic and abstract at the same time, thus giving an otherworldly aura to the scenes. This is, according to the text, an important aim of the style. He wants to capture the essence of Shinto in the pictures, not just paint things that are connected to Shinto. He also sees himself as standing within a tradition, rather than as trying to be original. These are not his ideas, but rather the ideas of Shinto and art that have been passed down in Japan for generations. Indeed, he is quite forthright in his opinion that the desire to be original is the bane of contemporary art. I don’t think I entirely agree, but I can certainly see his point.

The collection in the book is not complete (it is missing one of my favourite pieces of his), but it is extensive and wide-ranging. I recommend it.

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