While Cool Japan and Takashi Murakami’s Superflat series have led the charge the world over, blazing the trail for Japanese art on an international platform , another artist has been making inroads into the art scene with less fanfare.
Hiroshi Sugito’s first solo exhibition in the Southeast Asian city state of Singapore opened early in December, jointly organized by the Japan Creative Centre and the Japan Foundation.
Titled ‘Paintings and Sketches’, the exhibition displays the prolific artist’s most recent works. Held at the Japan Creative Centre just off the glitzy Orchard Road shopping district, the exhibition is free and offers visitors more than 20 of Sugito’s paintings for viewing.
‘Paintings and Sketches’ sees Sugito transferring the visual aesthetics that has put him on a par with big name artists such as Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami, to a series of unnamed oil canvas paintings.
The series was inspired by Sugito’s trip to Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture in Japan, where the scenic countryside both natural and manmade, captured his imagination.
A message from the artist printed on the exhibition brochure reads, ‘Driving along in the countryside, up in Hanamaki, there are houses and barns with black-painted rooftops, perfectly maintained. There is a time when the rice fields turn yellow, the rooftops vanish into the sky, and the mountains and trees turn black. All being watched after.’
Sugito’s newer works are a nostalgic reimagining of the countryside and the relationship of man and nature. The farmhouses, as it is situated in an organic environment, is the central motif running through the series.
Sugito pares them down to their barest bones, and in their abstract forms they stand incomplete and are almost ghostly. Short of a wall here, a roof there, the farmhouses seem a continuation of the natural environment they are rooted in, rather than inorganic structures constructed by man. In fact, all the pictures are conspicuously empty of human life.
Sugito in his usual fashion paints his canvases thinly, but where Sugito tended towards a more harmonious colour scheme in earlier works, some of his farmhouses take a life of their own. With bright red walls and impressively textured blue roofs, they call out for the viewer’s attention.
The bright splashes of colour in a few of his paintings also create a sense of the seasons in his painting. The purple dashes suggest a summery breeze carrying the scent of flowers in bloom, and a host of coloured lights against a sea of black suggest a starry night with the stars ablaze – ?a scene impossible to see in an urban setting.
However, the whimsicality in Sugito’s earlier works is nowhere to be found in ‘Paintings and Sketches’. There are flashes of Sugito’s trademark sensibilities in the more abstract works in the series, but overall it would seem as though the artist had swapped his surrealist streak for nostalgia.
The exhibition also includes three models made by architect Jun Aoki as part of a special collaboration with Sugito. The collaboration was initially scheduled for April 2011, but was called off in the wake of the March 11 earthquake.
Aoki’s models are simple structures representing houses or perhaps more importantly, the home. In the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake, Aoki’s models and Sugito’s farmhouses of Iwate – one of the regions devastated by the disaster, begin to take on special significance. The vulnerability of one’s home seems to be represented in his spindly wire frame houses, held together by what looks to be tiny balls of clay.
Hiroshi Sugito’s ‘Paintings and Sketches’ could perhaps be said to pay homage to a more idyllic way of life. Though some elements of his stylistic tradition can still be seen in these recent works, they lack his usual whimsicality. Whether this represents a detour in his career or a newfound direction, only time will tell.
text and photo by Hannah Koh
Date: Dec 3, 2011 – Jan 14, 2012
Place:Japan Creative Center (Embassy of Japan in Singapore)
Address: 4 Nassim Road, Singapore 258372