Richard Hawkins: Hijikata Twist

This review of Richard Hawkins’s ‘Hijikata Twist’ at Tate Liverpool appeared on


Not a contorted martial arts move or sex position, “Hijikata Twist,” the subtitle of Richard Hawkins’s debut UK museum exhibition, refers to the uses and abuses to which the Japanese artist and choreographer Tatsumi Hijikata subjected works by Western painters in his Butoh-fu scrapbooks of the 1960s and ’70s. These reveal the often overlooked Western influences, literary and artistic, behind butoh—a species of dance and performance art with dark, erotic overtones that Hijikata was elaborating at the time. Collaged with densely annotated reproductions of figurative abstract paintings, which Hawkins culled from Japanese monthly art magazines, a set of facsimiles of Hijikata’s scrapbooks are the show’s starting point and its kernel.

Confined to a single gallery, the entire show could be construed as a collage—Hawkins’s medium of choice—and is loosely built around five paintings from the Tate’s collection, the closest thing to the originals in the scrapbooks that the artist could lay his hands on. Works such as Jean Dubuffet’s The Tree of Fluids, 1950, a painting featuring a paper-thin female form, as if ironed into the ground; photographs of “Disbellmered” doll effigies by Hans Bellmer; and Willem de Kooning’s giant figures from the “Woman” series, which became “fat whores” when viewed through the distorting lens of butoh, are a pictorial equivalent of novels by Jean Genet, Marquis de Sade, and Comte de Lautréaumont, all of whom Hijikata read voraciously.

Mixing pictorial and textual elements—such as quotations from Genet and Japanese characters drawn with thick strokes against a uniformly blue background (some of which translate to “fester,” “decay,” “rotting jewels”)—Hawkins’s own variously complex and incongruous collages are guided by the spirit rather than the letter of Hijikata’s Butoh-fu. They have no method other than perhaps that of the “intuitive leaps” Hawkins attributes to his model in one of the statements, and they follow nothing but “an exquisite impulse to tell some quite perverse and gruesome little stories.”


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