BASARA

Basara is an art concept proposed by Tenmyouya Hisashi in 2010 as an extension of the lineage of exceptionally glamorous beauty that connects the basara of the Nanboku dynasty, the kabukimono of the late Sengoku era, the ukiyo-e masters of the late Edo period, and Japanese recent youth culture with its bad and decorative tastes. Tenmyouya places this culture at the opposite end of the spectrum from wabi-sabi and zen, and rather close to cool and valiant samurai mentality. Avoiding the weakness of Japanese contemporary art that tends to highlight the microcosms of individual mindsets (which is also the problem point of the Japanese modern so-called I-novel), Basara directly connects the axes of Japanese culture and history in an attempt to define a new identity of Japanese art beyond individual stories. By adopting a stance that is neither aristocratic (high) nor ordinary (low), but that reflects a samurai mentality rooted in the Japanese street, Basara avoids the Western scheme of high and low art.

Centering around splendid vital energy as exemplified by Jomon pottery, the extraordinarily glamorous basara samurai mentality born in the Sengoku era had been suppressed in the Edo period with its rehabilitation of dynastic culture, but was gradually brought to life again by the chivalrous ukiyo-e masters of the late Edo period. The street culture that embodies the spirit of basara evolved from ancient Jomon pottery into various forms of visual culture, ranging from kinpeki shouhekiga (large paintings on walls, screens or sliding doors) to kawarikabuto (decorative samurai helmets), Oribe tea bowls, ukiyo-e, floats, Nikko Toushougu shrine, tattoos, and finally, today’s decorated trucks, graffiti, cartoons, decorated cell phones, etc. Representative basara artists are Kanou Eitoku, Iwasa Matabei, Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Kawanabe Kyosai, Kanou Hougai、and Kanou Kazunobu. Without simply marking artists with such non-standard techniques and ideas as ”exceptional talents” or ”phenomena”, the aim here is to place them legitimately in the basara genealogy within the context of history.

Tenmyouya’s Basara represents an attempt to take over the two categories of Japanese art (culture) that Okamoto Taro and Hashimoto Osamu proposed as ”Yayoi-like” and “Jomon-like” – the relationship between which is like that between the moon and the sun – while expansively amplifying the “Jomon-ish” in order to establish a historical connection between ancient and modern times. Fundamentally, it raises questions about modernism and the distorted aesthetic of Japanese traditional art that tends to rate the dynamically innovative sun culture of the “Jomon-like” lower than the delicately graceful shadow culture of the ”Yayoi-like”, contraposing for that matter such visual cultural aspects as wabi-sabi and basara, symbol and line drawing, manga and cartoon, otaku and yankee culture. Regarding the difference between Japanese traditional wabi-sabi aesthetic of the shadow, and the sun aesthetic of basara, the latter prefers rusticity over elegance, novelty over grace, irregularity over harmony, stimulation over emotion, the crazy over the classy, the realistic over the refined, and the festive over the ordinary.

Until now, the evaluation of Japanese culture has been based mostly on its distance from the outside (Western culture), and the adaptation of that quality. The modern age in Japan was an age of inculturation, receiving the light of Western culture that made the moon shine. At the same time, the relativization of Japanese culture itself has become an inviolable taboo, which resulted in a loss of diversity. The best example for this is probably the self-deceiving mythification of the ”Japanese mind”. For example, the irony and humor of the Edo period ukiyo-e are normally alien to this “Japanese mind”. However it isn’t sentimentally poetic moon-viewing alone that characterizes Japanese culture, but Japanese culture is neither more nor less than an admiring cherry blossoms in full bloom, feeling enraptured by large and colorful fireworks, and being animated by the ebulliently elevating mood of gorgeous mikoshi and floats. It’s like with delicate sparklers and pompous fireworks – both of which have to be variations of the same Japanese art of fireworks. What remains unchanged though are the positions of sparklers and moon-viewing, which are ever so lovingly held as the castle keeps of Japanese art. While superficially accepting modernism, traditional Japanese culture has long been regarding the ordinary (moon) to be more precious than the festive (sun). From the modern up to the present age, Japanese cultural views have been defined by the lunar calendar. Basara aims to reverse traditional values in order to restore the fertile light of the sun that originally characterized Japanese art. It is at once an attempt to claim back through relativization within Japanese art, rather than by comparison with the outside, the diversity that it is supposed to abound in so much more.

In a nutshell, Basara is a “festivity” abstracted from modern-day Japan. Therefore, Basara assumes the character of criticism of modernism in Japan. The superficial acceptance of modernism in Japan has been deified by abstracting perspectives of human vibrancy and criticism of realism from original Japanese art. To put it plainly without fear of being misunderstood, all that came out as a result was the art form of the ”landscape painting”. Before we knew it, contemporary Japanese-style painting has become horrendously bad at portraying human life and contemporary society. Basara is at once an attempt to re-establish aspects of humanity and corporeality in contemporary Japanese-style painting and Japanese art at large.

In the art book "Basara – Japanese art theory crossing borders: from Jomon pottery to decorated trucks", Tenmyouya explains Japanese art history in Japanese and English texts, accompanied by plenty of photographs.