Quantcast

Drawings

Issei Nishimura

Intense and deeply personal, the Japanese self-taught artist’s work, now in its first-ever New York solo survey, defies easy labels.

In recent years, some of the most active dealers and collectors in the outsider-art field have been looking beyond Europe and North America in search of interesting discoveries from other parts of the world, including East Asia and Southeast Asia.

Among the more interesting finds to recently emerge have been the hard-to-classify drawings and paintings of the prolific Japanese autodidact Issei Nishimura, which pose something of a challenge for art sellers and buyers alike who want or need category labels to help them grasp what’s going on in his work. For Nishimura’s art is all punch and potency; its genre label might be something as unique as “expressionistic/psychological/automatist/psychedelic-baroque.”

Now, with Painting the Japanese Blues: Introducing Issei Nishimura, Cavin-Morris Gallery is presenting a first-ever US solo exhibition of this artist’s works (on view through February 15) at its Chelsea venue. Although the gallery showed a handful of his paintings at the Outsider Art Fair in New York a few weeks ago, and at last year’s fair as well, this presentation offers a broader survey of Nishimura’s inventive techniques and a concentrated sampling of the intense creative energy — and often bizarre imagery — that characterize his oeuvre.

Issei Nishimura, “Untitled” (2013), acrylic and crayon on fabric, mounted on plywood, 28.75 x 28.75 inches (photo courtesy of Cavin-Morris Gallery, in collaboration with Galerie Miyawaki)

Yutaka Miyawaki, the Kyoto-based dealer who represents Nishimura in Japan, and with whom Cavin-Morris has collaborated in mounting its current show, told me during his visit to the recent Outsider Art Fair in New York: “Perhaps it’s not even worth referring to Nishimura as an outsider, because what he produces is not what people who are familiar with that kind of art expect to see. I regard him as a contemporary artist — period. However, he is self-taught and he does live in isolation, on the margins of society, and his work reflects an unusual, deeply personal vision. These characteristics are all associated with art brut or outsider art.” (An illustrated Galerie Miyawaki catalog of Nishimura’s work from 2014 can be found here.)

Nishimura was born in 1978 in Aichi Prefecture, in south-central Japan. Today, he lives with his parents in their family home in the hills on the edge of Nagoya, a commercial-industrial city that is Aichi’s capital. There, Nishimura keeps a modest studio space that spills out into a garden, in which he has painted the rocks of a stone path and even some sides of the house.

As a youngster, Issei enjoyed making drawings; later he became interested in American blues music and began playing the electric guitar. He remains enchanted by the mythical legend of the Black American bluesman, Robert Johnson (1911-1938), who supposedly sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his musical talent.

Issei Nishimura, painted exterior wall of the artist’s house in Nagoya, Japan, summer 2019 (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

As a young man, Nishimura moved to Tokyo to study music, but he did not easily adjust to big-city life, and socializing was difficult, too. Ultimately, he withdrew from society, returned to the family home, and devoted himself to his art-making, which had begun to occupy a central place in his life. He still enjoys and plays music, but he almost never ventures out or receives visitors.

Last summer, however, during a research trip to Japan, I was invited by the artist and his family to visit them at their home. That day, his parents told me, their son was both nervous and excited to receive a visitor who was interested in his work. As Nishimura began to feel at ease, he explained that he often begins a new composition spontaneously, without a lot of preliminary planning, and that his subjects may be inspired by his interests — music, his cat or other animals, plant forms, or a sudden thought or visual impression.

Various rooms of the Nishimuras’ house were stocked with Issei’s stored artworks, including many picture-filled sketchbooks and boxes full of small, postcard-size ink drawings. From one box, the artist pulled out a remarkable suite of portraits of his uncles, aunts, and other relatives. “Are these accurate likenesses?” I asked his parents. “Yes!” the artist’s mother responded enthusiastically, adding, “They’re both caricatures and recognizable portraits at the same time.”

Issei Nishimura, “Moonrise” (2018), ink on paperboard, 16.5 x 11.75 inches (photo courtesy Cavin-Morris Gallery, in collaboration with Galerie Miyawaki)

By contrast, many of the images to be found in the artist’s Cavin-Morris survey feature exaggeratedly distorted faces or bodies; these are the kinds of pictures that tend to fill his sketchbooks. In the drawing “Moonrise” (2018, ink on paperboard), Nishimura stretches out a woman’s neck like gooey taffy, topping it with a noseless, girlish head that resembles a balloon tethered to a long string. This peculiar nude’s breasts seem to dangle from her body like misplaced ornaments, and each of her hands resembles some kind of leafy growth.

In other drawings in ink on paper or paperboard, Nishimura obscures faces or body parts in thickets of dense, wiry lines, or he depicts mysterious, toothy creatures that appear to emerge from a common body or share a common tail. (Japanese viewers may recognize their inspiration in monsters from Godzilla stories.)

Nishimura’s paintings can be completely unpredictable from one to the next. In the current exhibition, bold palettes and abstract shapes that sometimes camouflage or unexpectedly transform themselves into more recognizable forms turn up in such images as “Untitled” (2013, acrylic and crayon on fabric, mounted on plywood), in which what appears to be a yellow fish with an open mouth makes its way horizontally across the composition, only to blend into what may be read as a human figure in profile, even as the artist throws in the outline of a front-facing body.

Issei Nishimura, “My Mother’s Permed Hair” (2013), acrylic on fabric, mounted on plywood, 28.75 x 28.5 inches (photo courtesy Cavin-Morris Gallery, in collaboration with Galerie Miyawaki)

In “My Mother’s Permed Hair” (2013, acrylic on fabric, mounted on plywood), a voluminous, yellow-pink coif surrounds a distorted, abstracted face that would have made the Surrealists proud. In fact, Miyawaki told me, Nishimura made this painting one day right after his mother returned from a beauty parlor, where, for the first time in many years, she had had her hair permed, a change in appearance that shocked her son.

“Fear of Eye” (2013, acrylic on canvas), the largest painting on view, is also the exhibition’s most complex image. By e-mail, Miyawaki sent me several photos documenting this work’s evolution over time; through several different stages, the artist frequently — and often rather thoroughly — overpainted his composition until arriving at a final, bold image, in which a big, broad face with what appear to be four eyes stares out more eerily than menacingly at a viewer. Later, commenting on this picture, Nishimura explained to Miyawaki that he had been bullied as a child and that, even today, he feels a traumatic reaction when people look at him.

When I met the artist last year, he told me that he works feverishly on his drawings, sometimes filling several sketchbooks in a single day, and that he tends to work intensively for varying periods of time, with in-between lulls, during which he rests, enjoys his music, and develops new visual ideas.

Issei Nishimura, “Fear of Eye” (2013), acrylic on canvas, 52 x 63 inches; (photo courtesy of Cavin-Morris Gallery, in collaboration with Galerie Miyawaki)

But he can be impulsive, too, seizing his pens or paints to immediately capture something he has observed or an image gestating in his imagination, from lounging cats to mushrooms, lyrically abstracted females forms, and enigmatic, fractured faces.

In Japan today, difficult-to-categorize artworks like Nishimura’s can — and perhaps should — be appreciated in the wider context of expressionist and abstract art forms, of which Japanese modernists, from members of the postwar Gutai group to the multidisciplinary artist Tarō Okamoto (1911-1996), certainly have put forth their own distinctive offerings.

For now, Nishimura’s US debut opens the door a bit wider to contemporary developments in the field of so-called self-taught art in Asia, shaking up expectations about the character and appearance of the work of such remarkable autodidacts.

 


Rick Bartow

Rick BartowIn 2013, artist Rick Bartow suffered a major stroke. Within days of nearly losing his memory and motor skills, he was back in the studio, drawing and painting his way back to health. Until his death, just three years later, Bartow continued to produce artworks drawn from his personal history, Native American ancestry, and friendships with artists and indigenous peoples from around the world.

“ABC 123,” a self-portrait made shortly after Bartow recovered from his stroke, documents his experience of losing and recovering his memories. Letters and numbers serve as mnemonic devices, repeated alongside the artist’s handprints. Bartow’s face, identifiable by his wire-frame glasses, is frozen in terror as he confronts the possibility of losing recollection of the past. A graphite drawing from 1979, the exhibition’s namesake, echoes this later portrait by featuring another figure whose face is a rictus of terror. This work reflects on Bartow’s earlier life, specifically the despair following his military service in the Vietnam War.

By all accounts, Rick Bartow was an unwilling combatant, working as a teletype operator and hospital musician in Vietnam from 1969 to 1971. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his time abroad, but suffered from PTSD and substance abuse upon returning to the US. While his artworks avoid representing specific wartime experiences, graphite drawings from the artist’s early career express raw emotion, translating ineffable feelings of despair into visceral portraits of physical and psychological horror.

Nearly losing his memories might have encouraged Bartow to confront parts of his history he did not embrace during most of his life. A year before his death, he painted “Buck,” a portrait of himself as a veteran, with a striped badge on his right arm to indicate rank and a wheelchair for his ailing health. In faint letters, “Indian” and “Hero” flank Bartow in mock salute. The self-portrait is one of few examples of the artist acknowledging his status as a veteran and physical vulnerabilities as an older adult.


Heidi Elbers

Elbers_Heidi_Adam_detailHeidi Elbers gets close to her subject. Her work is both intimate and open with subjects often staring back at the viewer.It is both representational and intuitively abstract. Just what is the subject thinking?

She writes: My work addresses the balance between grace and awkwardness, strength and vulnerability, deception and honesty. Growing up in New Orleans, I developed a strong nostalgia for extravagant costumes and a culture that puts emphasis on physical beauty. As my sweet southern grandma would say, “You can't possibly feel bad when you look so pretty.”  After an accident in 2011, I had a difficult time embracing reality and truth in my work. I transformed or concealed ailments and imperfections into something beautiful. The decorative outfits define the girls in my works and cover up any `flaws’ both physical and implied.


Nikko Hurtado

Nikko HurtadoArtist Nikko Hurtado uses both canvas and skin for his paintings. Both a lowbrow painter and tattoo artist, his medium of choice is almost irrelevant. What is important is the result - fine and compelling portraits, intricate and beautiful still lifes and raw subject matters. The work intrigues. And much of the results are, interestingly, rather classical. This so despite the backstory.

He describes himself as "I'm a tattoo artist/artist. I've been doing art pretty much my whole life. I specialize in portaits, and I like to do what are called alla prima painting its a style of painting thats its a on sitting painting of someone start to finish. I would really like to find some models that would like to sit for me, and it would help me grow in my skills of painting."


Ashes57

ASHES57Ashes57 is a graphic artist who has lived and worked in the UK, Canada and the United States. Her artistic career began in earnest in 2003 when she moved from London to Montreal. Surrounded by the city’s large musical and artistic community, she was able to focus exclusively on creative projects and developed her unique line drawing style and vector graphics.

Ashes spent the summer of 2005 working with Shepard Fairey in his Los Angeles de-sign studio, where the richly creative atmosphere proved an enormous source of inspiration. She worked on a number of Obey exhibitions and street art projects in the following years and her photography documenting these experiences has been included in publications such as Arkitip and Supply and Demand – The Art of Shephard Fairey and has also been displayed at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Later in 2005, Ashes moved to New York to work as the Art Director of COOL’EH Magazine, a role which combines her passions for illustration, graphic design and typography. As dubstep first made its way to NYC, she soon became an important part of this exciting new musical scene through the flyers and posters she produced for the legendary Dub War parties. When Ashes returned to London in 2008, she joined forces with some of the most influential and prominent producers and labels in the scene and her illustrations and designs have since graced labels including Deep Medi, Swamp 81 and DMZ. This helped to bring her art to the attention of the Wu-Tang Clan who invited Ashes to illustrate the cover of their 2009 album Enter the Dubstep. Towards the end of 2009, she co-founded the LAVA Collective.

 


Fred Hatt

Fredhatt-2011-awakeningFred Hatt works large and fluidly. His energetic and graceful drawings of the human form are almost abstract in their grace and harmony.  Each piece is a portrait of one model. These are not different bodies sharing a setting, but different moments exposed on the same emulsion.

"When I am drawing, I am close to the large paper and cannot see the overall pattern. I am down in it, exploring whatever passage I have found for the moment. Later, looking at the drawing from a distance, I see it abstractly, as veins of color in a crystal, or as objects in a whirlwind. Then the eye discovers a face or part of a body, and that is an opening into the image, which can be traveled like a path through the woods, or like a strand of thought through the din of the chattering mind."


Jake Messing

Jake-messingJake Messing does not content himself with strictly illustrative paradigms. He tries to go beyond what is seen with what is implied.

"My work is deeply rooted in drawing and painting. Layers and textures are built up, torn down and obscured repetitively, constantly changing the original intention into something completely different, yet perfectly attune to what I feel. There is a play between growth and decay both in terms of imagery, text, and media. I take depictions of scenes, objects, and people around me and recast them as visual metaphors within larger works that speak of psychology, and the struggles of life. My work, instead of providing a distinct conclusion, operates more as a catalyst for questions, discourse and ways of seeing."

Jake Messing was born in Northern California in 1982. He graduated with a BFA in Illustration from Parsons School of Design in May 2006. Messing works in a wide variety of media, ranging from silkscreen to pen and ink to paint and collage. His work has been shown in galleries and art fairs across the US, Canada and Europe. He has been invited to lecture at numerous prestigious universities and design studios. Messing recently returned from a two-month residency at CAMAC Center D’Art in France preparing work for his most recent solo show. He presently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

 

 

 


Edgar "Saner" Flores

Saner_sacrificio_b_zpsec8d8954Edgar "Saner" Flores is an urban artist, muralist, professor, illustrator & graphic designer.  Raised by his parents in Mexico City and surrounded by rich color and tradition, Saner developed an interest in drawing and Mexican Muralism early on.  "I visited Oaxaca a lot when I was growing up because my mother is from there, and certain traditions which they carried out there really caught my attention."  He began expressing himself on paper and through graffiti art, later going on to earn a degree in graphic design from the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico.

 

His lively & humorous images of masked characters on public walls, found objects and other canvases are influenced by Mexican custom and folklore, color, mysticism, masks, and skulls.  A mix of these lifelong interests and passions has led him to become the artist he is today.  "The masks that I use are traditional masks from Mexico."  The jaguars, coyotes, skulls, and other recurrent characters appear in my work because that parallel world is the real self, the real face. "

 

Saner's work has been featured in galleries in Mexico, the United States, London, Berlin and Barcelona.  Recent projects & exhibitions include "Kidnap Express," Mid-City Arts Los Angeles, "Nose Job," Eric Firestone Gallery East Hamptons NY, "The Bone yard Project," Tucson Arizona, "The Bone yard: Return Trip," Pima Space & Air Museum, "The Wynwood Walls," Miami/Art Basel.  He has collaborated with Kidrobot, Vans, G-Shock, HQTR Canada, Pineda Covalin, Persigna Store, Bacardi, Adidas Mexico, Televisa, and many others.

 

MEXICO CITY'S SANER - CATHARSIS - ART EXHIBIT TRAILER - OPENING SATURDAY OCTOBER 27, 2012 - NEW IMAGE ART from THE CINEMA on Vimeo.


Jayanthi Moorthy

Jayanthi moorthy Jayanthi Moorthy is an artist whose work contains deep spiritual elements with a well of vibrant colors and energies.

She explains,  "I try to depict the material and the metaphysical aspects of life. For the material aspect, I use subjects from nature, as I perceive their organic forms, texture, lines and colors. For the metaphysical aspects, I draw inspiration from the inner spirituality that manifests in the everyday lives of Asian women. I enjoy depicting their social, cultural and spiritual conflicts. They display a mixture of beauty, strength and weakness.

Each canvas is a message, composed from calligraphy, acrylics, oil pastels, ink and paper collages, and made with non-artist tools (like a comb, the broom, a stub, bare hands etc.). The heavy textures and vibrant colors are probably narrative of my responsiveness to the varying cultures of the east and west. My canvases are longish, un-stretched pieces of cloth and paper that can be rolled away like a scroll that is carrying a message."

Jayanthi talks about her art in this short video:

 


Zach Schoenbaum

Zach SchoenbaumEpic journeys come to mind when viewing the imaginative paintings of Zach Schoenbaum. Often venturing beyond the realm of reality, he creates magical characters that inhabit distant worlds of fantasy and wonder but with convincing realism.

 

Zach Schoenbaum was diagnosed with over-imaginative strangeness at a young age. Born to a Japanese-American, nomadic mystic and a musician-turned-strongman shortly before the breakdown of their relationship; he spent the first years of his life in a series of cheap housing along the North American Pacific Coast, pondering the difference between animals and humanity.

After a four-year-long coming of age ritual in a Hawaiian compound, Zach returned to the mainland to live with his father and study art. The next few years of exploring the Los Angelean jungles and a short stint in the land of his mother's ancestry prepared him to finally start his rigorous training at Otis College of Art and Design. Once the dust had settled, the flames were doused, and the blood was mopped away, he emerged with a degree clutched in shaky hands, and set out into the world.

It is said that he now roams the digital plains, hunting freelance gigs and occasionally encountering online communities of others who share his overactive imagination and talent for embellishing the mundane.