“Godfather of Japanese Erotica” Toshio Saeki Passes Away at 74

The illustrator, painter established his legacy in Japan’s postwar underground art scene.

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Japanese artist Toshio Saeki, also known as the “Godfather of Japanese Erotica,” has just passed away at the age of 74. The news arrived via Instagram by Nanzuka, his representative Tokyo-based gallery. So far, the exact cause of his death has yet to be confirmed.

Saeki cemented his place as an influential figure in Japan’s postwar underground art scene, painting and illustrating a slew of erotic works that incorporated elements of humor, gore, satire, and even Japanese folklore. Tokyo was going through a particularly interesting phase around the ’70s: the city had dug itself out of economic turmoil and was enjoying prosperity at a height no one would have ever expected. But this also came with drastic social changes, and Saeki’s view of the world played into this change, capturing humorous, expressive imagery that questioned things like shame, innocence, and sexual taboo.

Born in 1945, the artist spent his early years in Osaka, before moving to Tokyo in ‘69. Though he wasn’t always keen on speaking about his childhood, he did share that samurai-period dramas were something he enjoyed throughout his younger years, and sometimes he would also talk about his earlier illustrations, which were heavy with motifs like Shinto spirits, schoolgirls and corpses. In 1970, Saeki published Toshio SAEKI art book, which became such a success he was invited to host a solo exhibition in Paris. In ‘72, he created album cover art for John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Some Time in New York City. A good majority of his career was spent in the underground art scene, however, only gaining international attention in recent years. Currently, his work Ureshi Daruma, 2018 is being displayed at the Jeffrey Deitch gallery in New York in an exhibition titled “Tokyo Pop Underground,” a show that examines the evolution of contemporary Japanese art.

Take a look at some of Toshio Saeki’s works on NANZUKA’s website.

View this post on Instagram

Toshio Saeki (1945-2019) We announce with deep sorrow that the legendary Japanese artist Toshio Saeki has passed away. Toshio Saeki was born in 1945 in the Miyazaki prefecture, and after spending his childhood years in Osaka, moved to Tokyo in 1969. His distinct works that interwove elements of eroticism, humor, and horror had gained the praise of Shuji Terayama and Tatsuhiko Shibusawa, leading to him to make his debut on the pages of Heibon Punch magazine in 1970. In the same year he released his first publication entitled Toshio SAEKI art book(Agrément-sha), and despite holding an exhibition that introduced the original works featured, all of such had been stolen after its closing. Saeki's work soon gained enthusiastic popularity internationally, such as its use for the cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1972 album,“ Sometime in New York City.” Nanzuka worked with him since 2014 and made his major retrospective solo show on Jan 2018. He is also included as one of main artists in Tokyo Pop Underground at Jeffery Deitch gallery. He was a great man, and it was our pleasure to have worked with him. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.

A post shared by NANZUKA Gallery (@nanzukaunderground) on

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