Online Gallery for The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi

Early Work 1918 - 1938

Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s inventive, humorous early works often included subtle color harmonies, simplified shapes, oddly proportioned figures and an eccentric handling of space and scale. His work became more sensuous and worldly after two long stays in Paris, as he painted moody, reflective women and still lifes with unusual objects.

WWII Years 1939 - 1945

The years of World War II were traumatic for Kuniyoshi. Immediately after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the US government reclassified Kuniyoshi as an “enemy alien,” impounded his bank account, confiscated his camera and binoculars, and restricted his travel outside New York City. Nonetheless, he remained a fervent believer in the democratic system and a fierce opponent of Japanese militarism. He worked actively to support the Allies, recording radio broadcasts to the people of Japan for Voice of America and making propaganda drawings for the Office of War Information.

Postwar Imagery 1946 - 1953

For most Americans the end of World War II represented a great victory and triumphant confirmation of the ideals for which they had fought. Kuniyoshi’s emotions were more complicated. As an American, he shared in the joy of success, but he also felt anxiety, even despair, over the war and its aftermath. He felt empathy for his fellow Japanese immigrants who were placed in internment camps during the war but was hesitant to express his concerns overtly for fear of seeming unpatriotic. He was ashamed of the brutality of the Japanese army but also felt sympathy for the victims of the atomic bombs. On the political front, he was appalled by the postwar witch-hunts of the House Un-American Activities Committee. On the artistic front, he felt out of step with abstract expressionism, which was emerging as the dominant style of American art, at home and abroad.

Essay by Joann Moser

Curator of the exhibitions Joann Moser writes about "The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi" (April 3–August 30, 2015), the first solo exhibition of Kuniyoshi’s work presented in the United States in twenty-five years.

Kuniyoshi's Circle of Friends

“Yas,” as Kuniyoshi was affectionately known, enjoyed a large circle of friends and moved easily among artists who worked in a variety of styles. He was outgoing and congenial, whether interacting with his fellow artists professionally or socially.