The Asian Art Museum, in San Francisco is sponsoring an extraordinary collection of Yoshitoshi wood-block prints entitled "Strange Tales." The show consisted of wood-block prints of Yoshitoshi that comprise images of the supernatural world.
As I perused the exhibition, images of dragons, demons, ghosts and warrior devils leaped from the walls in subdued glimmering colors. Because the prints are so light sensitive, the lighting in the room was subdued casting a dark amber spell. These particular wood-block prints will only be shown for a month due to their light sensitivity and different ones will be hung for the second month of the exhibition. It was a privilege and honor to be able to see these delicate masterpieces.
What was apparent to me was the struggle that, Yoshitoshi had known in his life. Several of these images were painted by him when he was mentally and physically devastated due to unrelenting poverty. One in particular held me spellbound by its sheer mastery of human pain and transcendence via watery realms. This is the wood-block print of the boy riding the fish featured on the flags inside the Museum. When I stood before this print, the suffering of Yoshitoshi was made visceral in the form of the fish, upon which the youth plunged into the symbolic depths of sea and wave.
When you think about the international art world; the sophistication, the money, the power and privilege levied by those who own and broker great art, it is easy to forget what creates it. It is born of blood and tears that mix with paint, sediments, tinctures and strokes that follow, the footsteps of those who sacrifice their lives to serve art.
Great art is rarely trendy in its lifetime. It isn't born "uptown" in glittering high heels and arched feet, but in neighborhoods and terrains of those who struggle. In San Francisco the next generation of great artists are gone because unless they are born with trust funds or have high tech jobs they can't afford to live there. As I left the museum I observed some moments of silence for the gift of Yoshitoshi's alchemy.