Last night, I was tipped off on Instagram by cultured rikishi and occasional GQ model Ishiura that an exhibition of paintings from 21st century artists was currently taking place in Sumida. The exhibition lasts until the 12th of May at the Free Space Ryokuichi, a small gallery not far from Kokugikan. Miyagino-beya’s resident gym enthusiast implored his followers to check it out thusly:
So with these details in mind, I headed over to Ryogoku today. The gallery is easily missable, however there was a sign out front welcoming visitors. The official name of the exhibit is “Sumo-e Artists of the 21st Century,” and the handout at the door touted it as “a collection of sumo illustrations, created by diverse sumo-lovers in Japan, ranging from a high-school student to professional painters.”
When I arrived, the friendly folks looking after the exhibit handed me a cup of tea and asked how I found out about it. When I mentioned that I had seen Ishiura’s post, they directed me to a sketchbook of Ishiura’s own work. It contained a number of his own drawings of his stablemates and stylised slogans in English. I did quite like his rendering of stablemaster Migayino (ex-Chikubayama):
And Ishiura wasn’t the only rikishi to flex his artistic pedigree. Herouth noted Terutsuyoshi’s entrance into the world of sumi-e inkwork earlier in the week:
Terutsuyoshi has taken up sumi-e.
(He… needs some more practice) pic.twitter.com/AcTK0JHEul
— ヘルット (@SumoFollower) May 2, 2019
One of the great features of the event is that it not only credits the artists traditionally, but allows punters to also find new artists to follow on Instagram. Artist @oekaki_paradise created this beautiful set of Russian Dolls, and a bewitching Takayasu mobile which spins the hirsute Ozeki and his sagari as you pull the string:
Many of our followers will be familiar with Twitter’s @color_sumo, and will be happy to know that their highly evocative work was also represented here. The incredible diversity of the styles and techniques meant that even though the gallery is quite small, it was easy to spend quite a bit of time studying various pieces. A collage of Hakuho, including kensho envelopes, hung over this painting of everyone’s favourite Mongolian horse-wrangler Ichinojo, which had one guest screaming “sugoi! sugoi!”:
Twitter user @changasano, meanwhile, had two excellent works on display. One was a piece featuring all of the sekitori in various themed costumes, and I quite enjoyed this rendering of a sleepy Kaisei being covered in a blanket by Tomozuna-oyakata while he dreams of his stablemates and the media (presumably after winning a yusho?!):
I always enjoy the work of instagrammer and artist @doskoikumasan whenever it pops into my feed, and they had an entire book of their work on display. Clearly they’ve been inspired by the latest wave of sumo elders, as Araiso and Oshiogawa were already well represented:
All in all, it was a fantastic way to spend a half hour on a Saturday afternoon in Tokyo, and the curators handed me a small cake on the way out, along with some postcards, as a gift of appreciation for my attendance. If you’re in Tokyo this week, be sure to check it out! If there are additional sumo artists whose you enjoy, feel free to share them in the comments section.
Sumo-e Artists of the 21st Century Exhibition runs until May 12 at the Ryokuichi Free Space in Ryogoku. It will be closed on May 7th and 8th, but otherwise is open between 1 and 6pm. Ryokuichi Free Space is located at 1-8-3 Midori, Sumida-ku.