Fukahori Riusuke: Capturing the iconography of goldfish
November 23, 2013
Kingyo-sake Yukihyou

Seen to the left is an image of a work by Fukahori Riusuke.  It's a three-dimensional work depicting a goldfish in a wooden sake cup.  

First brought to Japan in the 16th century from China (where goldfish were symbols of prosperity), goldfish were first kept as pets by Japanese aristocrats.  According to Kingyo: The Artistry of Japanese Goldfish, goldfish became popular among the general public in the 19th century, giving rise to a culture of breeders, collectors and connoisseurs.  

Since then, goldfish have become a  Japanese cultural stand-in for summer--a microcosmic respite of peaceful coolness in an otherwise hot and humid season.  Goldfish swim around in collective cultural memory, as the Japanese look forward to annual summer carnivals featuring midway stalls of a game called kingyo sukui (where one attempts to scoop up goldfish using a paper scoop and take home their caught fish in plastic baggies).

The Sea 2

Sukui is the Japanese word for "scoop" but its synonym also refers to "salvation."  Fukahori claims that goldfish--as a subject for his oeuvre--provides just that.

Fukahori's goldfish are actually finely applied layers of paint sandwiched between layers of acrylic.  He carefully paints the goldfish from a bird's eye-view (starting at the lowest layer and progressing upwards), differentiating the delicate fins and scales depending upon which layer of acrylic he is painting upon.  After this painstaking process, Fukahori's goldfish appear so life-like that they appear to be real fish frozen in acrylic.  

Fukahori treated viewers to a live painting recently.  He explained to me that the painting of goldfish involves multiple stages, and the "layering over" of initial strata, erasing that which exists at the outset.  These photographs evidence Fukahori's method, as he first began with abstract dots that changed into a landscape, then a bathing scene with nudes, additional abstract strokes, and then, finally, layers of white and red over the course of about 30 minutes.

Ready go!

Finished live painting work

Caught in a moment of time, each beautifully crafted work is an homage to Fukahori's technical mastery and his unique, artisanal hand, and an ode by Fukahori to the life observed in his subject.  Here are some other recently created works.


Catch Fukahori's goldfish at Joshua Liner Gallery until January 18, 2014.  All images courtesy of the artist and Joshua Liner Gallery.