The Drexel Collection’s Newest Exhibit Paints a Picture of a Japanese Artist

"Japanese dolls" by Tokujiro Nishi.
"Japanese dolls" by Tokujiro Nishi.

The titular artist of a new exhibit at Drexel University was so devoted to his craft that when his eyesight began failing a few months before his death, he continued to paint, asking his son to confirm the colors of his paints before using them. 

That artist was Tokujiro Nishi, who was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1929 and spent his entire life using a blend of Eastern and Western styles and techniques in his art. Nishi was a student of Matsao Hao, who was inspired by the Japanese style of art he learned at the Tokyo Fine Arts School and the Western art being introduced to Japan in the early 20th century. Nishi joined Hato’s artist group Sakujitsu-Kai in 1949, when he first had his art exhibited as a 20-year-old. Since then, Nishi’s art has been exhibited at the Tokyo Modern Museum and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum, as well as in exhibits across the world.

Nishi was known for his personal fusion of Western color, application of paint, outlines and brushstrokes (reminiscent of Post-Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist artists) and perspectives and elongated forms referencing Eastern style. The paintings in The Drexel Collection’s Tokujiro Nishi exhibit, which runs from Aug. 9 to Dec. 14, showcase the growth and evolution of Nishi as an artist, as well as the development of his style and composition.

His paintings of Japanese temples and European buildings such as the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, for example, showcase the duality in his artistic process between the East and the West. Also featured in the exhibit are Nishi’s paintings of friendship dolls, which were exchanged between Japan and the United States in the 1920s as gestures of goodwill following the tension created by the Immigration Act of 1924 prohibiting East Asians from immigrating to the United States. These dolls, especially the blue-eyed American dolls, were a favorite subject of Nishi, who was later inspired to paint dolls from other eastern countries like Thailand and China to showcase how he was inspired by the beauty of the different dolls.

Tokujiro Nishi marks the second time that Nishi’s art has been displayed by The Drexel Collection. In the spring of 2013, The Drexel Collection debuted a show called The Exhibition of Oil Paintings by Japanese Artist Tokojiro Nishi. Afterwards, 12 paintings were donated to The Drexel Collection, some of which are displayed in this exhibition.

Nishi himself has a Drexel connection too. His daughter-in-law is Kristine Mulhorn, PhD, a teaching professor and chair of the Health Administration Department in the College of Nursing and Health Professions.

Tokujiro Nishi will be exhibited by The Drexel Collection in the Paul Peck Alumni Center Gallery, located on the southeast corner of 32nd and Market Streets with the entrance off Perelman Plaza. The exhibition is free and open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 to 4 p.m. while it runs from Aug. 9 to Dec. 14. An opening reception will be held Aug. 9 from 5 to 7 p.m.