color paintings of O-sensei

Recently, Aikido Journal’s Stanley Pranin had an old black and white photograph of Ueshiba colorized.  One of the commenters at the journal asked if this meant there would be color photographs available for the tokonoma.  This is a bit odd since there are plenty of color photos available of Ueshiba.  However, these are all photos from Ueshiba’s later years.  They’re his woo-woo years, or his Yoda years as I think of them, rather than his formative martial arts instructor years.  As a fellow history enthusiast, these are the years Pranin is interested in as well, and Pranin has had a photo colorized of a youthful Ueshiba performing aikijujutsu.



I’m not sure if this project was really successful.  This is not the absolute best coloration job I have ever seen.  Also, this is a very poor choice of photograph to have colorized–there is a low variation in colors in this photo with a lot of colors that simply off-gray (which means even the best coloration job in the world wouldn’t tell us a lot more than the black and white photo) and because of the light source, the skin tones are by necessity washed out.  From this series of photographs, I think a much better choice would have been one of these, which show Ueshiba’s face better and don’t have a direct light source on them.

Ueshiba_noma-dojo-2011-10-21 Ueshiba_noma-pin-325px


Anyhow, if you’re interested in a color version of Ueshiba’s visage, the other option is a painting.  But scouring the web, I find there isn’t much to choose from.  Some people like ink brush paintings, but these don’t really work because ink brush paintings of, for example, Daruma aren’t really portraits.  They are stylized, include elements that are only signalling, and are meant to induce certain feelings, not represent imagery.  The only good point in their favor is that ink brush paintings are “cool.”  This one doesn’t even really look like Ueshiba, does it?



This one is well-done from the standpoint of formalism in portraiture.  However, it doesn’t quite look like Ueshiba, more like Ueshiba’s long-lost Chinese cousin.


There are ones like the following, which is obviously carried out with love and devotion but is just a very bad painting on many levels.  Sorry, artist.

ueshiba ha ha

Anyhow, it’s not suitable for a tokonoma portrait.

I actually like the one in Mugenjuku quite a lot.  It is not really color, but it is a painting.  It is done in a style that you might find students practicing in a good university painting course or at a traditionally-minded painting atelier.  This type of exercise is designed to practice accurate representation of value and blending.  That’s why it’s in greys.



This is not the best version of this type of exercise I have ever seen, but it is pretty good.  My father teaches drawing and painting at university, and I would guess he would rate this a B, but that’s for students who have received his instruction.  In the grand scheme, this is probably an A- or A value exercise.  Anyhow, I am 99% sure it’s a real painting and not computer-generated, like this “painting” is:

ueshiba painting

The artist of Mugenjuku’s portrait is Naoki Mitsuse, who is apparently a professional with a website on which you can see this painting.  My understanding, however, is that this painting was done as a gift for Payet-sensei.  Anyhow, it’s used in the dojo, and you can see it hanging in Mugenjuku in any photo.




Of course, Mugenjuku is a Yoshinkan dojo, so you might be wondering why there isn’t a portrait of Shioda Gozo to accompany Ueshiba.  Well, the short answer is that there is.  However, it isn’t very good.  Naoki Mitsuse did paintings of Ueshiba, Shioda, and Kano.  Ueshiba’s is the most successful, and the ones of Kano and Shioda demonstrate clearly that Mitsuse did not use a computer program to modify a photo (if he had, the drawing in all these, especially the portrait of Shioda, would be much better).




I think the problem with making a painted portrait of Shioda is that his face isn’t very interesting.  It isn’t that it lacks features–there’s the birthmark above the eye for example.  The problem is that it is completely affectless in almost every photo that exists.  I wanted to have my father do a portrait of Shioda, but I don’t think I can find photos for him to use that will let him capture Shioda’s visage properly.  I mean, look at these two photos:

shioda (1)



He gotten much older, but basically no change in 50-60 years!!  Kind of like Yoshinkan aikido!