Yotsuya Simon, Hans Bellmer’s Japanese Heir

Here’s a widely unknown, but interesting example of intercultural influence exchange: Hans Bellmer can be easily called the godfather of Japan’s thriving puppet scene. In fact, the majority of currently active Japanese doll designers graduated from the famous Ecole de Simon. Its founder, Yotsuya Simon, was the originator of the now thriving dollmaking scene.

In 1965, a young artist nicknamed Simon (because of his love for jazz, especially Nina Simone) learned about surrealism and avant-garde theater, which would influence him for the rest of his life. Soon after, he became a member of Jokyo Gekijo (Situation Theatre), which was considered one of the most progressive art movements in Japan at that time. Simultaneously, fascinated by Bellmer, Simon began to create his own ball-jointed dolls.

His most famous works – the Narcissisme and Pygmalionisme series – appear to be studies on the ambiguities of the human body. The life-like, waifish, pale bodies, surgically opened and exposed to the spectator’s eye, bear a mark of complete sadness, leaving the observer with a feeling of acute unease. One might raise the subject of ambivalent eroticism here: it’s remarkable that one of Yotsuya’s past exhibitions was named Dolls of Innocence.

Continuing his explorations of the human body, Simon himself has become a model as well: in The Prelude of Yotsuya Simon, a photographic project made in collaboration with Hosoe Eikoh, Simon’s body, melting into surrounding architecture, turned into a part of the urban landscape.

Yotsuya Simon’s works were introduced to a wider Western audience by the Hans Bellmer Society, a group of artists and curators cultivating the artistic output of Hans Bellmer in his native city of Katowice, Poland. This vibrant art collective, ran by performer Małgorzata Borowska and occult-influenced painter Andrzej Urbanowicz, supports the undercurrent of esoteric art in Central/Eastern Europe.

Read more about Simon’s fascinating life in this handy chronology on his official website.

Pygmalionisme, Narcissisme, 1998

3 Responses to “Yotsuya Simon, Hans Bellmer’s Japanese Heir”

  1. Jan Says:

    Video from “Bellmer in Japan” exhibition in Poland: http://vimeo.com/15824798

  2. Ashbet Says:

    I actually did know about the Bellmer influence — a lot of people who got into the Asian Ball-Jointed Doll hobby early know about its artistic predecessors (like Koitsukehime and Etsuko Miura (I am DYING to go to the Maria Cuore doll museum in Japan someday!) . . . but I wasn’t as familiar with the works of Yotsuya Simon, so thank you for sharing! :D

  3. Ashbet Says:

    Another article here, with some great links:


    Out of curiosity, is there an English list anywhere that shows which doll artists attended l’Ecole de Simon?