When the Tate Gallery asked French painter Balthasar Klossowski aka Balthus for an opening statement to his own retrospective he provided the following: “The best way of starting is to say that Balthus is a painter about whom we know nothing. And now, let us look at his paintings.”
Such is the nature of the enigmatic artist and perhaps one of the reasons the Japanese photographer Hisaji Hara has become obsessed with him to the point of dedicating his own career to photographically reenacting many of Balthus’s paintings.
Hara’s photos are all in black and white and the artist has undergone meticulous and painstaking efforts not only to recreate the original paintings, but to make them look like they were shot in the 1960s. They were, in fact, all taken between 2006 and 2011. But Hara’s photographs aren’t simply reproductions. While tipping his hat (or camera) to the French artist, Hara has added his own characteristically Japanese-ness to them. This often shows through in the costumes – adolescent schoolgirls and boys in school uniform – but also in the overall stylistic mood.
Hara has made deliberate choices to alter some of Balthus’ more suggestive, sinister and disturbing scenes. But then again at other times he imbeds his own sense of Japanese eroticism.
Danziger Gallery explains:
Appropriating the adolescent subjects and poses featured in Balthus’ canvases Hara pays particular attention to posture and expression. The setting and costuming, however, are uniquely Japanese. Thus the artist culls from the suggestive vocabulary of the originals while playing with the strict architectural formalism and Lolitaesque obsessions that anchor the work in Japanese cultural traditions.
It’s also worth noting that Balthus’ 2nd wife was Japanese. The much younger Setsuko acted as interpreter when Balthus went to Japan on a cultural mission. The two later wed in the 1960s. I can only speculate, but this connection with Japan may have somehow influenced Hara.
Hara spent a lot of time selecting models for his shoots. But in this rare occasion, Hara actually poses to recreate the French artist’s self-portrait.