Special Exhibition “Aves Japonicae (4) – Reality Is in the Details”


This exhibition reconstructs how Japanese artists gazed at birds, based on the Japanese drawings produced by Kawabe Kakyo in the Meiji era.
When we think of birds in Japanese paintings, the impression left by schematic icons such as the pine tree and the crane, or the moon and the goose, is particularly vivid. Nevertheless, these artists did not draw from imaginary templates. The present scroll is a complete reference book for drawing birds, and it plays the role of a research specimen. Artists sketched by meticulously observing real birds in front of them, but resorted to reference books when that was not possible. This is how they attempted to reach a higher degree of realism.
Drawings made from dead birds need to reconstruct their lively postures. This is why rough sketches of live birds are also included in the reference book, which has the same function and content as character model sheets in present-day animation movies. In this exhibition, we focus on the artist’s obsession with describing the birds’ characteristics, color patterns, number of feathers and precise feet structure. His eyes are those of a scientist: he pays attention to every single detail. As a mark of respect for the painter’s obsessive passion for the detail, we also try in this exhibition to decipher the descriptions drawn on paper.

[Organization] The University Museum, the University of Tokyo

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