Entering the room, I am met with a blast of colour. To my right, there are psychedelic paintings of flowers and angular shapes. To my left, a small painted jizo statue with a bright red bib. In front of me, a large sign proclaims “Kyoto, Nara, Wonderful!“, above a huge mural containing every stereotypical image of Japan you could possibly imagine.
I am at an exhibition hosted by the Embassy of Japan – “IRO IRO – Japan, in Colour“. The exhibition features work by Daisaku Kawada and Jiro Osuga.
LE BALLON ROUGE; 2011, acrylic on MDF: Daisaku KAWADA
Stepping over a pond of carp swimming on the floor, I make my way toward a shrine at the back of the room. Next to the shrine, there is the opportunity to try omikuji. The fortunes are written in both English and Japanese, and illustrated. There’s even a place to tie your fortunes after you’ve read them.
Next to the shrine there is a vending machine, only, on closer inspection, I notice that the “drinks” are all art-themed, and it is in fact completely 2D. Fancy a can of “Diet Warhol”?
VENDING MACHINE; 2010, oil on canvas: Jiro OSUGA
In the centre of the room, there are some tatami mats littered with toys and games. They are all handmade, even the puppets and karuta cards. The low table is covered with imitation bento boxes and chopstick rests. Beside the table, I spot Weeble-like sumo dolls and a small Tokyo Tower. I slip my shoes off and play for a while. There are dice with pictures of hands on them, and I realise I can play janken with myself, using the dice.
Standing, I walk over to a large display of masks.
MASKS; 2010, acrylic on paper: Jiro OSUGA
A sign invites me to wear a mask and see myself transformed in the nearby mirror. I’m quite taken by the kappa mask.
I don’t feel like I’m at an art exhibition. It’s too playful. I feel more like I’m in an A-level art classroom and the theme is “Japan”. The art work I’m looking at (Osuga’s, anyway) doesn’t have that clean, professional feel that one usually finds in a gallery. It’s handmade, raw, and looks more like a school project than a serious collection of work.
In contrast, Kawada’s pieces are glossy and contemporary, yet remind me of fabric patterns from the ’60s and ’70s. When I look too closely into one of his works, I feel like I’m falling into a kaleidoscope.
APPLE SICKNESS; 2011, acrylic on MDF: Daisaku KAWADA
Variety and colour are definitely the best words to describe what I’m seeing, and they are what the exhibition is all about. “Iro iro” means “variety” in Japanese and “iro” is the word for “colour”. Kawada and Osuga, both in their own very different ways, are exploring various perceptions of Japan, by using colour.
Here’s some more information about the artists and their work, from the Embassy of Japan website:
Daisaku graduated from Tokyo’s Meiji University and the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art. Although strikingly contemporary and very much of the here and now, his bold and vivid works explore colour and pattern, often with a nod to the rich heritage of Japan. At the same time they are complex and simple, chaotic and ordered: their energy lies in these dichotomies.
Although born in Tokyo, Jiro has spent most of his life in the UK. He graduated from the Chelsea School of Art and also the Royal College of Art. This dislocation from the country of his birth is behind a lot of Jiro’s work, as he challenges clichés and stereotypes. His varied installations in this exhibition encourage the visitor to interact and participate in this playful look at Japan.
Jiro says,”My large painting was conceived as a riposte to a superficial take on a culture and stereotyping in general. On the face of it, it might look as if I am endorsing such a view: every Western stereotype of Japan, from a geisha girl to the bullet train, origami and the tea ceremony – you name it – are all crammed into the canvas, depicted in lurid colours. But my objective is precisely the opposite. By condensing into a single painting the entirety of the extremely limited range of things for which Japan is known in the West, I am highlighting the sheer absurdity of understanding a nation on such a narrow basis… Japan remains a misunderstood nation. Having lived in Britain since childhood for over 30 years, I have been at the receiving end of such misapprehensions for most of my life.”
Unfortunately, this exhibition has now finished. However, if you would like to keep an eye on future events at the Embassy of Japan, please check out their website.
If you are interested in the artists, you can check out Daisaku Kawada’s website here, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to find a website for Jiro Osuga.
Photographs were not permitted in the exhibition, so all of the above images are borrowed. I wish I could share the image “Kyoto, Nara, Wonderful!” by Osuga, but I can’t find it online anywhere. Hopefully Osuga will hold another exhibition soon!