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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.

 


Janice Jakielski

IMG_4491 IMG_4491 IMG_4491 IMG_4491Janice Jakielski is an artist that transcends her medium of clay. Her porcelain work looks almost like paper using industrial casting methods to create paper-thin sheets of porcelain that she layers, folds and curls to re-imagine historic vessels.

"I create objects of curiosity; beautiful objects to provide focus, retreat and pause in an overwhelming world. Through the use of meticulous detail, familiar forms and uncertain function I coax my audience to draw near, closing the physical gap between viewer and object. In this way the details of my workmanship and the excessive fragility of the porcelain act as a whisper, flirtatiously demanding investigation.

This work began from a place of material exploration. I adapt and re-invent ceramic engineering processes and materials for application in the studio. This experimental approach to ceramics allows me to circumvent the constraints of a conventional clay body. By inventing a new way of casting and manipulating ultra-thin porcelain sheets I am able to create impossible objects. Cut, veneered, twirled and slotted my vessels have a material ambiguity that brings the viewer to a place of sensory uncertainty.

My pieces are inspired by iconic historic vessels. I do not replicate these objects but instead re-imagine them in ways not feasible using traditional ceramics. By removing the interior volume I am able to contemplate these forms divorced from function. They are vessels without voids, containers without containment. I use planes to playfully define, dissect and divide the spaces that they inhabit."

Janice Jakielski was born in a small farm town in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Jakielski received her Master of Fine Arts in Ceramics from the University of Colorado, Boulder and a Bachelor in Fine Arts from New York State College of Ceramic Art and Design at Alfred University. She has exhibited both nationally and internationally including the Houston Center for Contemporary Crafts, Houston, TX, The Society of Art and Craft, Boston, MA, Cross MacKenzie Gallery, Washington DC and Eutectic Gallery, Portland, OR. Jakielski has participated in numerous residencies such as the Archie Bray Foundation, Roswell Artist in Residency, Djerassi and Millay Colony for the Arts. She is a recent recipient of a 2019 Mass Cultural Council Artist Fellowship. Jakielski currently teaches at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and has a studio, laboratory and apiary in Sutton, MA.

 


Margot Bergman

In many ways, Margot Bergman is a quintessentially Midwestern artist, eschewing trendiness and exhibiting the kind of independence, even outsider-like eccentricity, often associated with the region. Active in Chicago since the late 1950s and having shown with Corbett vs. Dempsey since 2006, she creates loosely rendered, neo-expressionist paintings that have portrayed various subjects over the years but most recently depict human, generally female, faces in close-up. There is a kind of straightforward, one might say Midwestern, honesty about these psychologically penetrating images, as if she is looking for truth at a time when truth is seen as outmoded or impossible. While she does display a bit of wry humor at times, she is not attempting to make a statement or be ironic.

After trying on styles for several decades, Bergman arrived at her signature expressionism in the 1990s, and has recently achieved her greatest recognition. She has had solo gallery exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles in the past two years, and in the coming year will have two solo museum shows in Europe. On display in her latest show at Corbett vs. Dempsey, “Thank you for having me,” were nine acrylic portraits ranging from roughly two to five feet tall. While in a previous series Bergman used paintings she bought from thrift stores and flea markets as her supports—trying, in a sense, to collaborate with the original artists and pull out some hidden meaning with her imagery—in this latest body of work she started fresh, with blank canvases, depicting fictional women and attempting to convey the essence of her subjects as she sees it. The visages, like those in her prior works, appear off-kilter, exaggerated, and sometimes bloated. In the single horizontal piece on view, Effie and Ida (2017), two faces blur together. In other works, like Brenda (2015), parts of the faces look shrouded and indistinct. Two eyes and two mouths appear on top of each other in Margaret (2017), like the features in some of Georg Baselitz’s portraits. It’s as though Bergman envisions multiple personas in the same person. Throughout this body of work, Bergman demonstrates a heightened virtuosity: see the agile lines and watercolor-like washes of acrylic in Constance (2018), for instance, or the beautifully realized green iris of the right eye in Monica (2018).

Bergman has expressed admiration for Baselitz, Willem de Kooning, and Lucian Freud, and their influence is certainly apparent in her fondness for distortion and the grotesque. At one point, she had a studio down the hall from Chicago Imagist Ed Paschke, and it’s impossible not to think that some of his work, which often comprised tight portraits and demonstrated a penchant for the outlandish, rubbed off on her as well. Some might call Bergman’s portraits monstrous. “Sometimes they are quite shocking to even me,” she admitted to an interviewer in 2014. But it is a benign monstrousness—the point being less to shock than to probe, to unblinkingly portray the inside and the outside, the dark with the light.


Nathaniel Quinn

Nathaniel Mary Quinn is one of the best portrait painters working today and the competition is steep.

The outsize number of black artists now working in the portrait genre awakens the art world with vital new means of representation. It makes sense that artists who have been kept on the margins of the mainstream art world for centuries might emerge with the idea of visibility front and center. Without a definitive canonical art history of Black self-representation, there are fewer conventions for the work to adhere to. Much of this output feels urgent and compelling, either expanding the language of figure painting or, in the case of Nathaniel Mary Quinn, using collage-like compositions to address the dynamic clamor of contemporary life.

Nathaniel Mary Quinn (b. 1977) is a Brooklyn-based artist who grew up in Chicago.

On Instagram, Quinn’s images look like collages. In real life they also look like collages. But they aren’t. The viewer strains to translate the illusionistic mark making created with charcoal, pastel, oil stick, and gouache on paper. The result lies somewhere between human and machine made with his compositions running both hot and cold. Quinn withholds evidence of the hand, releasing the means of his trompe l’oeil trickery to viewers willing to lean in and decode the marks. The controlled surfaces, sourced from picture clippings, ooze and flow in cut-and-paste, smeary amalgamations. One senses Quinn’s Chicago origins in noticing homologies with Ed Paschke’s irradiated, blurred figures and the general free-wheeling cultural appropriation of the Imagist group. From Dadaist collage to Romare Bearden and African American quilts, Quinn joins those who believe that reality might best be recognized by its disjunctions, patchwork sensations, and complex social strata, rather than by insistent, single-point perspectives.

Quinn’s subjects are based on memories of people he has known. His mother, Mary, appears in “Bring Yo’ Big Teeth Ass Here!,” (2017), with a pig nose and square, squat body, staring out of the picture. Quinn notes that this is a tribute to her love of pork hocks and ears. Mary, who was influential and supportive, died when Quinn was 15 and living away at a boarding school. He subsequently adopted her name. “My mother had never had an education, so this meant she would have her name on every diploma I received,” said Quinn in a 2018 British Vogue article. Her name appears on his 2000 BFA degree from Wabash College, Indiana and his 2002 MFA degree from New York University. His parents did not read or write and no one else in his family had ever attended college.

Other characters are recollected from the neighborhood of his youth, the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago, built in 1962 to be the largest public housing development in the country with 28 buildings and more than 4,000 units. Gangs and drug dealers, including Quinn’s four brothers who had dropped out of school, ruled the terrain. One of the strongest paintings in the show, “Junebug,” (2015), is a portrait of Quinn’s uncle, a drug dealer. “He was a walking Christmas tree,” Quinn recalled. “He had nice clothes, gold chains.” Quinn only met him once because his mother tried to avoid men like him having any influence on her son. The portrait is a gleaming, joyous celebration of Junebug’s self-styled swagger against a gentle, star-flecked gray background. Multiple, pieced-together bits of eyes, ears, patterns and textures form a formal head and shoulders view held together by a large gold nose ring that is both slick and outrageous. One edge of the image’s border is ragged to interrupt the otherwise smooth, round-cornered perfection of the piece. If the Dutch Baroque artist Frans Hals walked into the room, I imagine he would fall to his knees in admiration of where Quinn has taken the notion of “likeness”: a blend of artifice and recollection. Human beings are compilations of inherited and adopted identities, of place and circumstance, luck and genetics, real messes of the vulnerable and volatile percolating within societal restraints. Quinn gets this down on paper. [“Discord in perfect harmony,”] is how one curator aptly described his style. What simmers under the human surface becomes the surface in Quinn’s work. The sensations are unsorted but adhere with compassion.

Quinn’s process begins with a vision: “maybe from the universe or from God,” he says in an interview published in the exhibition catalog. “I have a visceral, physical response to each vision, which means that I want to create it.” He then looks to magazines and the internet for source material. He may find a mouth or an eye and work from there. When he starts to draw he creates one segment of the composition and then covers it with paper before he moves to the next section. This technique ensures more pronounced seams and jagged transitions. He doesn’t want the compositions to fully settle. A controlled chaos of shape and pattern keeps them stirring. He tries to protect his process, he says, “from the pollution of my mind,” meaning he doesn’t want logic or predictability to interrupt. There are no preliminary sketches.

Charles was the brother who convinced his mom that Quinn’s pencil drawings on their apartment walls, made when he was five years old, were actually good. His mom encouraged his artwork after that. Eventually a teacher helped him obtain a scholarship to a private high school in Indiana. One month after moving there, his mother died. When he later returned home for Thanksgiving, the family apartment had been abandoned. He never saw his father and brothers again until Charles recently resurfaced after hearing Nathaniel on the radio. That all of Quinn’s portraits are composites that emerge through intuition and chance encounters with images that trigger recollections makes sense.

 


Shinichi Sawada

Shinichi SawadaShinichi Sawada is a ceramic artist who creates unique and mystical figures with great detail and delicacy.

Born in 1982, Sawada started attending Shiga Prefecture (a local social welfare facility for persons with intellectual disabilities) three or four times a week from around the year 2000. At this time he also started creating his ceramic art works at a kiln-equipped pottery workshop up in the mountains. This was only feasible during the spring and summer months due to severe winter weather conditions affecting the ceramics.

Sawada is a prolific artist taking around four days to complete each ceramic piece. When Sawada works, he demonstrates such confidence and assuredness that it seems he has already envisioned how his final pieces will look. With his delicate fingers, he applies each ‘thorn’ onto the main body of the piece without showing any kind of hesitation and always works in silence. These ‘thorns’ have evolved over time, becoming denser and more rounded. Sawada often has them laid out in straight orderly lines across the pieces too.

Being autistic with little communication means that his works and their ‘thorns’ remain a mystery to us. There are however around fifteen different motifs that he looks to replicate each time but, saying this, each finished product is totally unique.

Sawada’s work is now in the Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne and featured in the Venice Biennale in 2013.


Richard Kurtz

Richard kurtzOutsider artist Richard Kurtz, is a self-taught, contemporary artist who worked for many years in NYC and is now based in California.His scrappy street-art reminiscent work is painted on a range of materials from hard metal to books to soft canvas.

"Kurtz is a textural adventurer, exploring the surfaces of old bank bags, antique luggage, children’s books — all of it left in his wake stamped with his flat, painterly icons in reds, blacks, and whites: boxing colors, bold and physical. This feisty imagery stands in contrast to the artist’s soft-spoken, meditative personality, making it that much more intriguing,"according to John Martin Tilley

Esperanza_bio

 

 


Kate Carvellas

20170516010439-All_Things_Bright_and_Beautiful"My work rises to the surface of my mind from deep within my sub-conscious.  It is intuitive and rather compulsive.  It is an attempt to make sense of the chaos that I experience in my mind and the world. Art allows me to explore what often feels frightening and overwhelming in a way that makes it visible, but also safe.  Transforming it into something tangible.  My artwork simultaneously expresses joy and angt; two states of being that I hold simultaneously.  Much of my work explores this dichotomy: chaos vs order, spontenaouty vs precision.  Trying to make order out of chaos."

Creating intensely personal, vivid artworks from assemblages to abstract paintings, mixed media work, to sculptures, artist Kate Carvellas finds great beauty in the every day. Whether she’s creating mixed media work that springs up form her subconscious or working with found objects to shape assemblages that turn discarded materials into something that vibrates with new life, she’s moved to make the simple profound.

With bright-hued abstract paintings both delicate and bold and sculptural works that seem pulled from a rich inner-world, Carvellas says her work is “an essential and intensely personal part of my life.  It explores and expresses the inner workings of my mind and heart in a way that words cannot.” It is the artist’s hope that those viewing her work will find it resonates on an intellectual, emotional, or spiritual level.  

Artist Bio 

In 2004 Kate began creating two-dimensional thematic montages using imagery from various magazines and clip art sources. With further exploration she began to pursue a different direction, creating, original, three dimensional collages.  In 2007 she began exploring the creative world of mixed media and assemblage and fell in love with both of these media.

12 years ago her work was made entirely of borrowed images and objects.  Through the years, she slowly began leaving her own marks on the work.  Starting out with light pencil markings to more visible lines and shapes.  As her confidence grew, so did the strength of her marks and brush strokes.  While she is still deeply enjoying creating assemblages out of found objects, shes now creates abstract paintings made entirely from her own hand.  These painting, at first, sprang straight from her subconscious.  She has also been using her own photographs as the springboard for her abstract paintings.  Abstracting reality. 

Her newest work has, in a sense, brought her full-circle.  She is now creating abstract works that combine painting, found objects and whatever else she finds that will fullfill her vision for the work.  She is thrilled about this new direction.

 


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.


Christopher Russell

IMG_7482Ceramicist Christopher Russell

has changed his approach to pottery. Previously he concnetrated on large scale, highly detailed sculptures. Now his work is of single, low fire vessels.  

"Spending a lot of time looking at things is one of the privileges of working as as artist. For me, drawing and sculpting are extended processes of looking, of studying, of understanding. This gives me the opportunity to sit with, and really see, whatever it is around me that interests me, be it an insect, or a decorative object, or a landscape. Drawing and sculpting are both my chance to look at a subject and, then, to say to someone else, "This is amazing, you have got to see this." I like to think that the time, care, and focus that I put into understanding a subject, and then into portraying that subject, bring people in, to share what I am looking at and marveling at. This can happen on an intimate scale, with a small wall piece inspired by the incredible structure of a grain of pollen. It can also happen on a wider, community scale. In my project for MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design, "Bees for Sunset Park", I tried to give to the passing city traveler a moment to think about the beautiful intricacy of nature, and maybe to remember that they are part of the natural world, and, with all the bustling about, not that different from Nature's other inhabitants. This show and tell is a central pleasure of my work."


Carol Dronsfield

IMG_2784Carol Dronsfield is a Brooklyn based photographer who uses advertising detritis as inspiration.

Her photography is used almost as a mosaic where she focuses in on a portion of a much parger image, often including areas of distress or detritis, and using that abstracted portion in part of a much larger work of art. The effect of of a fully formed abstract piece of work that stands apart from its original form and look.