Monday 17 November 2014

Shinro Ohtake at Parasol Unit

Shinro Ohtake takes the process of layering pieces of paper to an obsession. As he randomly gathers magazine clippings, old photographs, bits of scrap, tape, paper and card, he hangs them together with string and wire or encrusts them onto supporting surfaces. The most significant piece in the show is a structure resembling a cabinet called ‘Retina’ from 1993 which floods the eye with obscure details, sifted, chosen and applied until the underlying object develops a skin of many images. Each slip of glued paper accumulates without any prevailing hierarchy of value. This profusion of cut and glued images initially suggests Cubist collage but it’s actually quite different. These tiny images are so decontextualized that they are reduced to the point of evaporation. Any narrative progression is negated through an endless series of cancellations.

Ohtake describes this process as ‘pasting’, a deliberate overlaying of material until it becomes an almost geological record of time and labour. Claiming a Japanese attachment to the accretion of material, this becomes problematic in a London exhibition space. In ‘Layers of Time Memory 2’ he takes a deep box resembling the reverse of a stretched canvas and fills the hollow space with strips of paper such that it becomes a web of accumulated lines that obscure the space and its depth. ‘Time Memory 28’ from 2014 flattens the relief effects of pasted paper so that he creates contrast between cut horizontal strips and torn, bright red blobs of painted paper that fall and scatter across the picture. From a distance the image resembles a Modernist grid and even echoes the restrained colours of geometric Nicholson or Mondrian paintings. Up close, you can see him filling space and making form akin to weaving or embroidery. The expression of the material determines its patterns.

‘Scrapbook #66’ uses the thickly, pasted pages of a book as structural strength so that it stands upright. We can see that the pages carry content but they are so close together that it’s impossible to observe them individually. Ohtake adds a leathery tail on the spine suggesting a reptilian mischief. This scrapbook illustrates how his art has an introverted quality that teasingly withholds significance. However, all of his work asks for an engagement. Ohtake’s art is less Conceptual and better understood as a rich interdependence of material, craftsmanship and process. They invite optical appreciation but threaten to overwhelm the viewer with a vast and almost infinite cosmos of stuff, floating free from any point of origin.

Monday 3 November 2014

Yoshitomo Nara: Greetings From a Place in My Heart at the Dairy, Bloomsbury

Yoshitomo Nara is an artist whose work blends the naivety and mischief of children.  At the Dairy in Bloomsbury, he's showing his distinctive paintings along with drawings and new sculptures inspired by the recent nuclear accident in Japan. His style and subject borrows largely from cartoons, particularly the winsome nature of Japanese ‘Animé’. Children stare directly back at the viewer with exaggerated features, particularly glossy, sparkling eyes in mismatching colours that sometimes incorporate symbols such as the nuclear disarmament sign in ‘Wish World Peace’. Mouths are tautly drawn in a horizontal slash and the nose is plainly described with two nostril dots. These children project the confidence of adults, but maintain infantile features. It is a disarming contradiction that Nara exhaustively repeats, setting up a tension without resolution throughout his work.

This innocence is overlaid with an ironic maturity. Defiance characterises these intense figures, which fill the paintings with brooding petulance. For all of their inherent charm, these characters project a disobedient fury. Sometimes Nara will overlay the works with text such as ‘Fuckin’ Politics! and ‘Rock’n Roll The Roll’ which suggest an anarchic negation rather than a programme for revolt. Music’s role as a means of self-expression and liberation is a recurring theme.

One room is devoted to Nara’s drawings over three decades, which upstage both the paintings and sculptures with a direct simplicity. They operate as an autobiographical record of work, travel and feeling. Any calculated charm in Nara’s more commercial work appears ineffectual and repetitive in comparison with these authentic and lively sketches that come to life as part of a larger exhibition installation.

A fountain of stacked plastic babies crying a cascade of real tears illustrates Nara’s propensity for theatricality. While some of life’s grittier challenges are alluded to in the exhibition, Nara’s art veers dangerously close to whimsy with an almost Victorian reverence for childhood as a place of emotional sanctuary and nostalgic retreat for adults.