BY Oleksandra Osadcha POSTED 7th of JuLY 2018 17:00 GMT
Japanese art has been one of the major sources in the evolution of the Western modernist art. Since the mid-19th century, Europe went through the real obsession with its mysterious culture: netsukes, kimonos, and of course, prints were acquired by private collectors and artists themselves. Japanese aesthetic was one of the important factors in the development of Abstract art in general. So, the appearance of the oriental theme in the Geisha canvas of Gheorghe Virtosu is a logical manifestation of the artistic bridge that has emerged between two cultures in the contemporary world.
The artist dedicates his oil painting to one of the most widely known and surrounded by stereotypes Japanese personage - geisha. On the West, geisha is often mistakenly used as a synonym of a courtesan. But it is not completely correct. The word geisha derives from Gei, meaning ‘art,’ and Sha, meaning ‘person.’ So, it should be translated as ‘the person of art.’ The only type of geisha that were officially allowed to provide sex was oiran. Others were seen as leisure companions for men, who entertained the guests by dancing, playing musical instruments, singing, reciting poetry and keeping up an interesting conversation.
The origin of their art is traced back to the classical Japanese theater Kabuki. Even now the members of okiya (geisha house) have connections with Kabuki and form a sort of fan-clubs of this or that actor. From them, they learn all performative, dressing and makeup skills. It is the stage, where the recognizable ‘white mask’ from the lead base was born. One can see the hint at that tradition in a suggestive white shape in the upper part of the figure. Red and black brushstrokes are meant to represent red lipstick and black accents on the edges of the eyes, which also were the essential part of geishas’ makeup. Traditionally avoiding being literal in his pieces, Virtosu turns the personage into the dense and energetic flux of colors. And only some nuances provide us with the clue for reading it and reconstructing the author’s idea. The elements with ornamentation represent kimono, the yellow zigzag-like shape in the upper part can be seen both as the hair decoration geisha extensively used, or as a sitting figure of a guest.
Unlike most of the artist’s paintings, this one has a horizontal format as an homage to the Japanese woodblock printing. At the same time, the work contains a conscious or unconscious reference to the European tradition: the vertical borders bring to mind two canvases by Vincent van Gogh, namely, Oiran, the painterly version of the print after Eisen, and Flowering Plum Orchard after Hiroshige. In both of them, the painter has added decorative borders that are absent in the original.
The capacity of the Abstract painting language enables Gheorghe Virtosu to avoid the cultural appropriation: the oil painting isn’t a straightforward replica of the massively popular character in the context, which is completely detached from the original environment. The artist shows all respect to the Japanese heritage, creating an elaborated portrayal, which is as multilayered, as the dress of geisha.
Browse our collections of artworks from Gheorghe Virtosu