Searching a grid of mailboxes for Araki’s name in the anonymous lobby of a Tokyo apartment complex felt dangerously close to trespassing. I had been invited to meet him for the first time at this address, but the beige hallway seemed an unlikely choice for an artist who has courted controversy so flamboyantly throughout his career. 

  • Through an unmarked door on the third floor, I found myself in the twilight ambience of a cavernous concrete chamber. Neon underlighting from beneath a narrow lacquer walkway guided me in. The walls were closely hung with dense constellations of photographs, broken up by towering bouquets left over from an opening night. I remembered Araki’s description of how flowers are enriched with life as they approach death, and his desire to capture their fleeting sensuality.

    • Nobuyoshi Araki, Flower Rondeau, 1997/2019
      Nobuyoshi Araki, Flower Rondeau, 1997/2019
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, "Flower Rondeau", 1997/2020
      Nobuyoshi Araki, "Flower Rondeau", 1997/2020
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, Flower Rondeau, 1997/2019
      Nobuyoshi Araki, Flower Rondeau, 1997/2019
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  • As my eyes became accustomed to the gloomy gallery — steeped in Araki’s iconography to the point of self-parody — I spotted a swinging boom microphone. I realised that I had walked onto the set of a televised interview with the artist, whose gales of laughter and entendre-laden welcome indicated that he was definitely in on the joke. Conspiratorially he drew up a chair, and we began our formal introductions as the cameras rolled.

  • TOKYO

  • By the time I met him, I had already encountered traces of Araki all over Tokyo, the city in which...

    By the time I met him, I had already encountered traces of Araki all over Tokyo, the city in which he was born and which has sustained his life and practise for eight decades.

     

     

     

    Nobuyoshi Araki
    Tokyo Comedy, 1997
    Signed by the artist on verso
    Silver gelatin print, framed in dark wood
    76.2 x 101.6 cm
    From an edition of 10

  • Bottles of whiskey bearing his signature scrawl of moustache and spectacles are displayed in bars on the shelves reserved for particularly legendary patrons. For years Araki hosted ‘salons ’in the trendy satellite suburb of Shimokitazawa, where hordes of photography enthusiasts, wannabe models and amused spectators queued for blocks to meet him. He could often be spotted combing through boxes in the antique shops of Nishi-Ogikubo, on the hunt for the dolls and tiny reptiles which feature so frequently in his compositions whilst waiting for the karaoke parlours to open.

    • Nobuyoshi Araki, Tokyo Novelle 2, 1995
      Nobuyoshi Araki, Tokyo Novelle 2, 1995
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, Tokyo Nostalgia, 1998, 1998
      Nobuyoshi Araki, Tokyo Nostalgia, 1998, 1998
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, Shikijō-kyo, 2001
      Nobuyoshi Araki, Shikijō-kyo, 2001
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  • Tokyo has been the subject of many of Araki’s books and the backdrop to nearly all of them (around 500 to date). Photographs from his student days reflect the ramshackle reality of life in Tokyo after the war. Following schoolboys around the ruined shitamachi – a tangle of old-fashioned neighbourhoods at Tokyo’s heart — these pictures already illustrate Araki’s fascination with life and aliveness, humour and human interaction, intensified by the bleakness of the postwar landscape.

    • Nobuyoshi Araki, Satchin, 1963
      Nobuyoshi Araki, Satchin, 1963
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, Satchin and His Brother Mabo, 1963
      Nobuyoshi Araki, Satchin and His Brother Mabo, 1963
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, Satchin, 1963
      Nobuyoshi Araki, Satchin, 1963
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  • Whilst still employed at an advertising agency, Araki began to dispatch random, often obscene, prints to unsuspecting addresses plucked out of the phonebook. Today these prints might be described ‘mail art’, but Araki’s increasingly audacious challenges to Japan’s obscenity laws quite literally pushed the envelope hard into the homes of ordinary citizens. He began sending in pictures to amateur camera magazines, winning the attention and respect of his peers including Tōmatsu Shōmei, Hosoe Eikoh, Moriyama Daidō, and Fukase Masahisa, with whom he led the Photo Workshop School throughout the 1970s.

  • It might seem trite to claim that the complexity and profusion of an artist’s work reflects the multi-facetted chaos of...

    It might seem trite to claim that the complexity and profusion of an artist’s work reflects the multi-facetted chaos of life itself, but the body of photography that emerges from Araki’s obsession with documenting each aspect of his every day defies easy categorisation and often beggars belief.

     

    Nobuyoshi Araki
    "PHOTOGRAPHY FOR A NEW CENTURY”, 2001
    Signed in pen on verso
    Fuji Crystal RP print
    101.6 x 152.4 cm
    From an edition of 10

  • He coined the term shi-shashin (‘I-photography’) in homage to Japan’s tradition of confessional literature, which seeks to triangulate existential experience, abstract truth and art. The photography which emerges from this volatile concoction testifies to a powerful and devoted subjectivity, focalising a kind of art which goes beyond performance or narration to express something more instinctual. Whether inviting us to join his sleeping wife aboard their honeymoon voyage or leading us through Shinjuku’s bondage clubs and love hotels, Araki’s relentless honesty can be as controversial as it is compelling.

     

    When he celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this month, I was reminded of the freshness of Araki’s unreconstructed candour, as brazen and iconoclastic on an October afternoon in 2018 as when he first burst onto the scene more than half a century ago. Long live the ‘photo-mad old man!'

  • TEXT BY  Lucy Fleming-BrowN

     

    Lucy FLEMING-BROWN is the gallery's resident Japanologist. She studied Japanese at Oxford University and travels regularly between London and Tokyo. Her research interests lie with post-war Japanese photography and experimental arts.

     

  • FEATURED WORKS BY NOBUYOSHI ARAKI

    MORE WORKS AVAILABLE
  • AVAILABLE WORKS
    • Nobuyoshi Araki, Tokyo Novelle, 1995
      Nobuyoshi Araki, Tokyo Novelle, 1995
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, Grand Diary of a Photo Maniac, 1996
      Nobuyoshi Araki, Grand Diary of a Photo Maniac, 1996
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, Tokyo Story, 1989
      Nobuyoshi Araki, Tokyo Story, 1989
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, A Sentimental Journey, 1971
      Nobuyoshi Araki, A Sentimental Journey, 1971
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, Tokyo Nude, 1989/2015 (diptych)
      Nobuyoshi Araki, Tokyo Nude, 1989/2015 (diptych)
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, Photo Maniac’s Diary, 1991
      Nobuyoshi Araki, Photo Maniac’s Diary, 1991
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  • Araki discusses 'A Sentimental Journey' (picture above)

    Video credit: SFMOMA
  • FEATURED FLOWER RONDEAU

  • AVAILABLE WORKS
    • Nobuyoshi Araki, "Feast of Angels: Sex Scenes", 1992/2020
      Nobuyoshi Araki, "Feast of Angels: Sex Scenes", 1992/2020
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, "Flower Rondeau", 1997/2020
      Nobuyoshi Araki, "Flower Rondeau", 1997/2020
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, "Flower Rondeau", 1997/2020
      Nobuyoshi Araki, "Flower Rondeau", 1997/2020
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, "Flower Rondeau", 1997/2020
      Nobuyoshi Araki, "Flower Rondeau", 1997/2020
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, "Flower Rondeau", 1997/2020
      Nobuyoshi Araki, "Flower Rondeau", 1997/2020
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    • Nobuyoshi Araki, Flower Rondeau, 1997/2019
      Nobuyoshi Araki, Flower Rondeau, 1997/2019
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  • If you would like to see more of Araki's work, please email us at

    gallery@michaelhoppengallery.com

     

    FULL PRICE LIST OF WORKS FROM THIS VIEWING ROOM: HERE 


    Header image  © Juan Jerez. Installation from Araki's 2016 Retrospective at Musée Guimet, Paris