A Diverse Survey of New Japanese Painting

Yuumi Asatsu

We’ve been yearning for an exhibition of contemporary Japanese art that is not exclusively limited to Hello Kitty clones, and here it is: “Matrix of the Mind,” at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street from February 24 through March 17 (with a reception on Thursday, March 5, from 6 to 8pm), proves that some artists from the Land of the Rising Sun are thinking about a lot more than cute cartoon characters.

Dan Obana, for example, creates digital scenarios composed from imagination of imaginary urban locales bathed in the golden Turneresque light. Obana’s pictures evoke the modern city as human beehive, busy and filled with drama.

Although she now lives in Tribeca, New York, Toshiko Nishikawa retains a quintessentially Japanese sensibility in her elegant abstract works in mixed media on canvas, enclosed within acrylic boxes. Nishikawa’s serene compositions, centering on pale vertical streaks, are as soothing as a summer rainfall.

Kae Takashima subjects the demanding medium of watercolor, which she employs with exquisite technical finesse, to a literal trial by fire in works where burns on the paper take on the quality of traditional ink painting. One of Takashima’s most intriguing pieces is called “Flower Ring,” but it perversely suggests a trompe-l’oeil Zen circle created with partially burnt bacon!

Naoyuki Okada is another present resident of New York who has imported a uniquely Japanese sensibility in his poetic abstractions in watercolor and acrylic, often created on rice paper. In paintings such as “Mind Explosion” and “Golden Pillar,” Okada’s myriad meticulous strokes of color evoke an almost supernatural radiance.

Delicately delineated images related to his Buddhist fate are employed by Ryumei Murahashi in his intricate copper plate engravings. Murahashi’s “Katana” series, comprised of 108 prints (signifying both the number human passions, according to Buddhist doctrine, and the amount of beads on a Buddhist rosary) was created over more than a decade, and the examples seen here reveal the project’s profound conceptual complexity.

Although Dominic Lutringer was born in France, he now lives in Japan, and his paintings seem to combine School of Paris tactility and coloristic lushness with Japanese ornateness. Although he admires the work of Gerhard Richter, Lutringer has evolved his own hybrid style, in which floral still life forms are animated by the gestural velocity of Abstract Expressionism.

Yuumi Asatsu is another artist who exemplifies the eclectic energy of postmodern painting, with works that range from photorealist to abstract, executed in a variety of mediums. Especially exciting are the compositions in her “The Color that There is There” series, in each of which Asatsu explores the particular qualities of a single hue, such as red or blue, with accumulations of subtly modulated strokes.

Kenji Inoue, on the other hand, paints funky fantasias, in which embattled figures, shaded like those of Mark Kostabi but more imaginatively mutated, float freely and sometimes decompose in starry nocturnal expanses. Inoue’s compositions are at once explosive and coherently composed, suggesting an overview of global conflict transmogrified by a personal mythology.

Masahiko Saga displays his own dynamic vision, merging elements of ukiyo-e prints and Chinese decorative painting with state of the art computer imaging and digital printing in a vibrant visual synthesis. Saga’s images of glowingly colorful roosters and flowers hark back to traditional Asian iconography yet blaze with contemporary immediacy.

Then there is the artist known by the single name of Don, who explores a profound range of feelings in a deceptively simple style. Employing flatly applied pastel hues such as bubblegum pink and baby blue, Don makes simple circles and oblong shapes stand-ins for human heads in paintings with titles such as “Who are You?” and “I Have Been thinking About You” that infuse geometric formal relationships with unexpected emotional resonance.

¬¬ Maurice Taplinger

Image Credits: Zen, Giclee Print on Canvas, 40" x 34"

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