Update Japanese style painting
We hold the exhibition “Update: Updating Japanese-Style Painting” featuring the works of Yuji Ichikawa, Takafumi Kijima, Shogo Takarada, and Kosuke Nakane.
The four artists featured in this exhibition have learned Japanese-style painting at arts universities and graduate schools. They pursue their own form of expression while being attuned to the times and making full use of traditional materials and techniques. They are artists with both a sense of figurative beauty and concepts suited to the present day.
The title of this exhibition, “Update,” has become a familiar word to us, such as updating our smartphone applications. This word has an optimistic tone of spontaneous and continuous change, as though connected to society while also moving with the flow of nature.
As mentioned in the subtitle, this also refers to updating the Japanese painting style originating from the early Meiji era, disrupting the long-established genre of Japanese-style painting and freeing and updating the images clinging to said genre as well as the attitudes of viewers.
This is also meant as a wish for the works of Ichikawa, Kijima, Takarada, and Nakane to become a starting point for updating your relationship with art.
Haruka Takeuchi ／ Saitama Gallery
Yuji Ichikawa creates works with themes of primordial questions such as those to do with the world, life, and human beings.
Using traditional materials such as foil and ink, Ichikawa’s range of activity is increasingly broad, with recent examples including large installation artworks decorating the entrances or hotel lobbies.
Ichikawa’s works use apples as an embodiment of human beings. The apple is a familiar fruit in our lives, but it also appears in ancient times in the Bible, and in modern times as the name and logo of a world-famous company.
In artworks that tend to be dogmatic, motifs that surpass space and time and broaden the viewpoint of the work effectively function as a tool for communication with the viewers.
The “World Tree” Series, presented since 2014, has developed into “TOKYO BAY AREA STORY”. These pieces are made from foil-stamped strips of transparent film, which flutter in reaction to the air conditioning, people’s movements, etc.
Moreover, the design has a lightness to it that rhythmically hides the shadow of the apple and draws the eye to the misalignments and cracks visible in the foil-stamped material. The uniform picture composition created through repetitive action is not only reminiscent of the stylistic beauty seen in Japanese paintings and architecture, but is also evocative of a sense of beauty shared with the minimalist art of the global artists Yayoi Kusama and Tadaaki Kuwayama.
The “EARTHLING” series displayed in this exhibition comprises works inspired by the news of civilians going on trips to outer space, capturing humanity viewed from outer space from a perspective that is more a bird’s eye view than a global view. We wish for viewers to sense a future where outer space becomes increasingly familiar to us, while enjoying what Ichikawa refers to as the “sense of distance from Japanese-style painting.”
Takafumi Kijima attempts to “express the activities of human beings” through motifs created by simplifying and abstracting the animals, flowers, etc., that appear in myths and folklore around the world. The creatures that appear in Kijima’s artworks mean different things depending on their respective regions and stories, allowing for free interpretation by viewers and giving the works breadth as art pieces.
The works are made by an accumulation of tiles, cement, sand, crystal powder, steel, etc., emphasizing their sense of presence as objects and making one feel the stories they hold, the layers of time they traveled, and a certain kind of sacredness, as though they had been dug up from the earth.
Another characteristic of Kijima’s works is their dynamism. “A.R.#496“Citrus” Paraíso” is around 8 meters on all sides; the linked artworks connecting “A.R.#994“Veronica” beast to laugh, goats and flowers” and “A.R.#996“Veronica” the Fish” are currently under construction but are reportedly planned to have a complete length of up to 100 meters when assembled together. Although they are majestic works, akin to architectural structures, they give no feeling of oppressiveness and rather a mysterious sense of openness, perhaps due to the familiarity of the animals, which have accompanied human beings since ancient times.
These art pieces can also be viewed as a kind of record of humanity, like the wall murals and petroglyphs that exist around the world. Although we cannot feature large works in this exhibition, we would like viewers to witness a part of the records assembled by Kijima. The geometrically organized, hidden compositions reminiscent of Katsushika Hokusai—an artist that Kijima has long admired—are also a highlight.
Shogo Takarada creates pieces characterized by black surfaces with various facial expressions, using his own familiar existence as a motif. These especially striking glossy surfaces are made by applying traditional lacquer techniques, polishing painted cotton cloth with sandpaper or an abrasive compound. Regarding this action, which is akin to working toward pure, pitch-black darkness, Takarada states that “it feels like I am digging into myself.”
Takarada rarely draws explanatory backgrounds. The monochrome or monotone, yet nuanced backgrounds emphasize the expressions and gestures of the endearing figures, leading the viewer to share in the emotions that have been consciously or unconsciously projected by the artist.
The black surfaces may also be perceived to play the role of a boundary dividing the inside and outside of his own self. In “Deficiency Disease”, created in 2019, the weak-looking protagonist persistently holds onto a pitch-black human being. If the world is an aggregation of consciousnesses, then it is almost impossible for a person to share emotions with another, and interaction with others is difficult. We feel that this artwork truthfully expresses what Takarada refers to as “the huge gap between my own form of happiness and that of each other individual.”
The psychologist Hayao Kawai stated that “people are living inside their own stories.” The black color used by Takarada is a device to immerse viewers in his own story and is like a warm darkness that exists in order to encase light.
Kosuke Nakane’s paintings imitate miniature gardens, using mineral pigments to emphasize materiality and creating pieces that change our usual, unconscious perspectives and fixed ideas, questioning their essence.
The model of said “imitation” is the expression seen in Japanese rock gardens popular among Zen Buddhist temples from the Nanbokucho period to the Muromachi and Sengoku eras. Famous rock gardens such as the Ryoan-ji Hojo Garden and the Tofuku-ji Honbo Garden(*6), both in Kyoto, show a world in which the flow of rivers toward the great ocean is expressed in a small space using no water but only stones and sand, where we can immerse ourselves without boredom, letting our eyes and mind play with the exquisitely placed stones.
In series “Hako-niwa”, on which Nakane has been working in recent years, objects crafted by the artist’s delicate handiwork convey a sense of rust and fragility, placed, like miniatures, on a vividly colored surface that draws the eye at first glance. Brand new things untouched by human hands and old things like decaying metal—these two opposites complement each other, while the clear surface that acts as a base projects a sense of immaculate beauty, conjuring up the image of a garden that is always tended to and where all dirt is swept away.
Meanwhile, as we live in a society that changes alongside COVID-19, these works also give the feeling of looking at a tear in the surface of society, kept closed up until today, as it is easily broken and then updated. These are works that resonate with our hearts, surpassing the artist’s intention to “visualize time.”