nara yoshitomo

Hikari Shimoda | Foley Gallery

by Liz on April 23, 2011

in Art & Design

Midnight Birthday Party (2010), 11"x9", Watercolor on paper

If you’re in the mood for sweet paintings with a palpable sense of childhood discomfort, look no further than Hikari Shimoda’s works, now on view at the Foley Gallery through May 7.

The exhibit, titled “me, as in the beast coat,” has some echoes of Shimoda’s Japanese contemporary and predecessor Nara Yoshitomo. According to Shimoda, children aren’t the carefree souls we oblivious grown-ups presuppose them to be. They suffer humiliation, sexual embarrassment, loneliness and hollowed out abandonment. That’s some pretty heavy emotional baggage, but whatever these real or imagined children are thinking is buried in the pretty pastel world where they reside. The presence of Teddy bears, birthday cakes, blue skies with fluffy white clouds, however, are still no match for the sad biography of childhood, interrupted.

I found it poignant that Shimoda, a native of Nagano, chose to depict children in a delicate palette, evocative of the Japanese kawaii culture but also light years apart from the feelings of trivial joy associated with cartoon characters. Unwritten chastisement of adults was visible everywhere. Who else could possibly be responsible for the false assurances and let-downs our little anti-heroes were enduring? The absence of the villain in the paintings seemed to further underscore my hypothesis that there was nothing more unforgivable, and therefore unmentionable, than the shadowy authority that would let this happen. The artist’s message also evoked the universal notion of an inner child residing in all of us, somehow forgotten after all these years, but still there, desperately seeking comfort, love, and an outpouring of empathy.

Shimoda’s paintings are beautiful, and had me looking forward to more from this young and talented Japanese artist. At 26 years old, she has probably put childhood well behind her. Still, as her works demonstrate, that makes her young enough to see glimpses of the past in the rearview mirror. For more information on the current exhibit, see here.

Comfortable Sadness, 2010, 57"x45"

Birthday Party, 2010, 29"x41", Acrylic and gouache on paper mounted on wood panel

Funeral of My Character, 2010, 45.5"x40", Acrylic on paper mounted on wood panel

Pensive art appreciation in the midst of gallery chaos.


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Sometimes I visit art galleries, not because I can afford to buy paintings, but because life’s more fun when there’s art around.

Just came back from a show of Kwon Ki Soo’s iconic art  at the Flowers Gallery in Chelsea. Kwon is a South Korean pop artist whose colorful paintings are inhabited by a symbolic smiley nicknamed Dongguri. Actually, ‘inhabit’ is an understatement — perennially haunted may be the more appropriate term, because everywhere you turn, there he is!

Dongguri is a patented presence, a superficial facade. Its opacity is blamelessly simple. Dongguri tells us everything is going to be all right simply by not telling us anything. He is the emblem of children’s television shows, the logo on our shopping bags. He is everywhere, and yet we know nothing about him.

I see so many elements coming together in Kwon’s paintings, but I’m not going to list them all. Kwon has previously explained Dongguri‘s smile was inspired by the Buddha, a smile of silence that is also one of compassionate understanding. Kwon was trained in traditional Korean painting, which explains the reference to bamboos, chrysanthemums and rain-pelted landscapes. Most of all, I love his use of bold, primary colors. And like his pop predecessors Takashi Murakami and Nara Yoshitomo, Kwon’s work is sophisticated yet approachable, high art yet commercially viable.

Kwon Ki Soo: Recent Works is on view at the Flowers Gallery from September 10 to October 2.


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