Visual Caffeine: Exploring Art and Architecture with Avi Abrams, Issue 2
This is the second issue of our "visual caffeine concoctions" (read the first one here) - somewhat unpredictable forays into the history of art and architecture, coupled with mythology, culture and obsolete technology. For those of you who want an even larger dose of our visual caffeine, head over to Dark Roasted Blend, and get addicted to our endless stream of thrilling visual information.
Today we are going to look at some cutting-edge contemporary art coming out of Japan, covering some popular culture, futurism- and steampunk-influenced Japanese artists largely unknown in the West.
We asked Tomoo Yamaji, an artist specializing in three-dimensional sculptures (who has a good knowledge of similarly-styled work in Japan) to choose his favorite artists - veteran and young, famous and relatively unknown. He came up with a list of eight artists that cumulatively represent the state of contemporary three-dimensional art in Japan.
Slick Predatory Formula One Sculptures by Showichi Kaneda
Showichi Kaneda combines brand-intensive, slick and somewhat predatory shapes of Formula One cars with sea predators like sharks and giant squid in his "Human's Own Evo" series. His work displays at well-known venues like the Tokyo Gallery, and I can see how visually arresting and irresistible it can become to our tastes, obsessed with speed, brand exposure and fascination with deadly animals:
Covering nature and animals with well-known brand logos is not a new idea (it's been done by consumer-culture and kitsch critics before), but Showichi Kaneda does it with such grace and streamlined intent that it's hard to avert your eyes and even harder not to imagine these "sea animals" competing in racing games under the waves somewhere.
Highly efficient sea predator "killing machines" meet their technological counterpart in F1 high-speed machines:
"Land Speed Record" vehicles look impossibly sleek and sensuous in the work of Tetsuya Nakamura. He is an internationally reknowned artist (Most of his work is on display at the "Gallery Koyanagi") whose sculptures are favorites with our guide today, Tomoo Yamajii:
This could be called Shogun-steampunk, but we leave it to the reader to classify the unclassifiable.
Baroque Meets Mannerism, Meets Dark Fantasy
These striking, incredibly sophisticated porcelain creations are the work of Katsuyo Aoki, evoking comparisons with darkly surreal masters like H. R. Giger and perhaps H. P. Lovecraft... Some of them would feel right at home inside the decadent spaceships of Iain M. Banks' "Culture" series:
"Fukami is a perfectionist, a maestro of clay... It's not an easy task to try to capture the horizon", note the critics, and Fukami Sueharu agrees: "I first became interested in the horizon when I was in my early thirties. I was climbing Daiyozaki mountain pass in Mie Prefecture and the view just made my heart tremble. I was deeply moved and knew it was the feeling I wanted to capture in my work, a feeling of majestic awe".
"Porcelain shows any marks left by the potter's hand and I want to leave the least amount of evidence that my hands ever touched the clay. Instead of the potter's obvious imprint I want to leave the subtle mark of my heart or spirituality," Fukami said. These works, for example, evoke the pure potential and innocent grace of empty sheets of paper:
The "sleek, lucid, jewel-like" bluish white porcelain known as seihakuji in Japanese is the perfect medium to capture these serene sentiments; it is the largely unknown variation of the 11th-12th centuries' Song dynasty's Jingdezhen ceramic wares, brought to Japan in the 13th century but then gradually falling out of favor... and revived again today in pure brilliance of Sueharu Fukami work.
Insect-Plant Hybrid Mimicry
Hiroshi Shinno creates imaginary insects that perfectly blend into their surroundings - because there are made from parts of these surroundings! He collects petals, leaves, grass stems and flower stamens - and molds them into intricate "herbal" insects, a blend of real natural pieces and polyurethane resin copies:
Hiroshi Shinno works with truly miniature flower parts, seeds, "shells so thin that they are translucent, and dry, holey leaves that disintegrate under the slightest pressure". So far he has constructed nineteen fantastical structures of these fanciful insects - a testimony to delicate and transient side of nature where sophisticated beings are born, develop and die all in one day. See more "herbal insects" here, and also see how these insects are constructed step by step:
Evil babies ride streamlined motorcycles. There is some twisted, inner logic in all of this.
Shigeki Hayashi is a porcelain artist, but this is almost like calling Rembrandt a paint-mixer. The surreal heights of Shigeki Hayashi's glazed porcelain creations are going to haunt you for days - that is, if you come unprepared and have never seen "AKIRA" movie or manga, or never read science fiction stories about mutant babies (a good example of the latter is Henry Kuttner's "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" series of stories in the 1940s American pulp magazines)
Here is what critics say about Shigeki Hayashi haunting baby figures: "...This QP doll in a space suit suggests a deeper, hidden narrative within a... variation on the traditional Kewpie Doll from the West."
Shigeki Hayashi's work has won some prestigious awards, like one at the Faenza International Competition for Contemporary Ceramics in Italy. See more "mutant babies" and other artwork at Keiko Gallery and the artist's site.
You wanted Steampunk? Michihiro Matsuoka channels mechanical brass animals in his own Asian steampunk way
Michihiro Matsuoka is not the only steampunk-influenced artist in Japan, but his polymer clay, acrylic painted figurines are perhaps the most memorable. They are bizarre to the point being laughable (kind of like the Were-Rabbit from Wallace & Grommit), but also eminently touchable and impossibly cute (in some cases).
Look at his version of Postal Delivery rabbits, for example. Would you entrust your correspondence to these creatures? They seem eager enough to deliver it come hell or high water:
See more of this steampunk zoo at the artist's site. Squids, of course, are present in significant numbers, as well as deep-sea creatures and even goldfish transformed into rust-tainted, cyber-infected nightmares:
Now's the time to show the work of Tomoo Yamaji - the artist who compiled the list for us. His favorite form is futuristic and highly symbolic sculptures which transform and invite touch by being attractively curved and exquisitely shaped:
Called "Fast Mercy", this is a highly dynamic version of Bodhisattva, a benevolent spiritual entity who helps people in times of natural disasters and other hardships. Tomoo Yamaji made it in 2011 to inspire and help people who were hard-hit by the earthquake and tsunami in March of that year.
And we finish with "Macross", for it is unthinkable to write an article about Japanese contemporary art without mentioning these ubiquitous popular culture artifacts
Here are some fictional transforming air vehicles from the TV animation series MACROSS. The "DX Chogokin VF-25S Messiah Valkyrie Ozma Custom", for example, transforms into three incarnations (made by toy company Bandai in 2012):
Transforming vehicles are staples of toy-manufacturing companies, of course, but also are a favorite subject with popular culture and anime-oriented artists. Tomoo Yamaji sends us more examples of this art form:
In future articles, we will explore modern Japanese anime-based illustrations (some of them becoming more familiar in the West with the proliferation of anime publications), but will also highlight a little-known surreal and naive branch of Japanese graphic arts, full of "kawai" (very, very cute) imagery.
Article by Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.This article appears simultaneously on Dark Roasted Blend and on "Out of Order" magazine - a Yale University print and online publication that curates innovative and bold fashion, art, music and film for the university set - link
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