Whenever society is heading into an abyss, art comes with its unique response to comment on our state. That was the case of the Decadent artistic movement that took place during the late nineteenth century, mainly in France. Intellectuals and artists of the time saw that humanity was heading towards an inevitable doom due to their corruptive and materialistic ambitions. Moreover, everybody was so obsessed with morals that it was encouraged for art to promote those traditional and outdated values they worshiped so much. Instead, many artists decided to oppose those visions and attitudes by starting a movement that distanced itself from tradition and prioritized pleasure at all cost. Following the motto of “art for art’s sake,” they believed that there shouldn’t be any norm in art because that’s something that comes from within.
The Decadent movement didn’t happen in an organized and unified way. Artists didn’t get together to decide the path they would follow as a current. On the contrary, it wasn’t really a consensus stating what they wanted to portray, but a moment in history that coincidentally made artists react to where the world was turning. In that way, many of these artists portrayed their disgust in a more literal way. They depicted perversion and horrors of the time through nearly fantastical and crude images and characters.
This idea has influenced many artists throughout time, and that’s the case of Takato Yamamoto, a Japanese artist who creates disturbing yet beautiful images of sex and death. Having started as a commercial illustrator, Yamamoto made a shift to arts by bringing with himself all the tools he learned. In that way, his art shows a mixture of styles where low and high brow art coexist in a symbiotic and unique environment.
As it happened to Decadent art at its time, the paintings that Yamamoto creates have been the center of heated discussions concerning both his artistic vision and the themes he depicts. Now, in recent times, Japanese art has focused more on the contrasting combination of innocence and violence, but Yamamoto’s art goes far beyond that. He depicts highly controversial ideas and practices related to sexuality. By mixing the eerie atmosphere of fantastical horror creatures, he presents taboo subjects such as torture, masochism, bondage, and other violent notions.
Perhaps the controversy doesn’t fall on the themes he explores, but on the reactions it provokes. We’re presented with morbid and violent themes that attempt to shock and disturb us. However, these characters don’t really evoke that. On the contrary, their countenances and body expressions denote a sense of serenity and calmness that might confuse the spectator. It’s as if the characters were trapped in an endless moment of macabre tranquility. That idea of serenity coexisting with brutality is what makes them so unnerving at first sight.
We could describe Takato Yamamoto as a sponge artist that soaks ideas, techniques, and styles from different artists, currents, and traditions. We’ve talked about the presence of Decadent art, but he also shows his admiration for Art Nouveau and Symbolist artists. Although those influences are evident, he’s managed to create such a distinctive style that he even coined it as “Heisei Aestheticism”. It’s a mixture of movements and concepts that range from the already mentioned ones to traditional Japanese wood paintings of the seventeenth century, as well as the national Japanese pop art movement. In that way, all those elements and his own artistic visions have created this universe where horror, fantasy, and history rule.
If you’re interested in Japanese art, you’ll want to take a look at these:
Paintings That Depict The Delicate Nature Of A Girl’s Melancholy
The Artistic Movement You’ll Love If You’re Into Japanese Culture