Stephen Friedman Gallery is pleased to present Jap in a Box, recent paintings and drawings by Masahiko Kuwahara, Mr., Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, Tam Ochiai and Hiroshi Sugito. These six artists have been selected because their artistic practices signify a break with previous tendencies in Japanese painting. Rather than conforming to institutional versions of Post-Painterly Abstraction, or following the latest fashion trend, their work incorporates elements of their cultural past with Western influences that characterise Japan's postmodern consumer society.
Kuwahara's recent paintings create a magical world in which strange, playful characters reside. While engaged in innocent play, half-human, fish-like beings drift around a skin-coloured landscape. These eccentric creations occupy a boundless space which is unfettered by perspective. Kuwahara's sensibility lies outside the codes and values of modern Western painting.
The border between art and hobby is unclear in the work of Mr. During his part-time job as a junk dealer in Japan, he began drawing anime-like pictures of his favourite celebrities on the back of old receipts. The use of receipts as zero-cost canvases designates his work as a form of Japanese Arte Povera. Mr. is a hybrid of two disparate archetypes: he exists at the bottom of the Japanese social scene (otaku) and is also a recognised artist. It is this paradigm that gives his art critical acclaim.
Murakami uses the vocabulary of Japanese manga and anime to highlight the contradictions of Japanese culture, particularly the complications that arise from its encounter with the West. He also draws on the legacy of Pop and Conceptual Art strategies, and has created DOB, his own hybridised cartoon character (reminiscent of Disney creations and the Japanese Astro Boy). He uses DOB in his paintings and sculptures.
Nara' s characters are endowed with opposing traits of gentleness and cruelty, the angelic and the demonic. The coexistence of violence and innocence is achieved through a composite of the human and animal, the organic and inorganic, and composes a narrative space in which people and animals communicate with one another. His faux-naive style incorporates elements of kitsch and also appeals to the resources of popular imagination. Nara's work exists in a zone where "high culture" and "low culture" have no validity.
Ochiai has consistently explored painting in different forms. After an apprenticeship in New York, he created mock painting canvases made of plastic shopping bags bearing brand-name logos such as ‘agnes b.' or ‘Commes des Garçons', pitched over hand-made frames. This was followed by the production of a Warholian film that dissolved a figure of a girl into pink drips and colour fields. Around 1997, Ochiai began to draw waiflike girls in pencil. The placement of the central figure against a vacant white background combined with writing and smeared colours results in a visual experience that is evocative of music.
Sugito combines figurative shapes as formal structural elements with the decorative aesthetic in which he was trained. His experimentation with grids and colour fields evokes both the modernist picture plane and traditional Japanese ornamental patterns. The inclusion of miniature figures between grids allows his work to occupy an ambiguous position between figurative and abstract painting.
This exhibition has been organised in conjunction with Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo.