Any color just so long as it’s yellow

by C.B. Liddell and c.b.liddell

Although yellow often has negative connotations in the West, it is a very positive color here in the East, Goh Shigi is quick to point out at the opening of his latest show, “Heat of Yellow,” which presents 15 of his latest oils as well as several drawings at Ginza’s Nishimura Gallery.

While in the West, yellow has been associated with cowardice, quarantine and bad journalism, in the Orient, by contrast, it is a royal color, and one with which Shigi has always felt a close affinity.

On a more plebeian level, nothing beats the winter blues quite like a splash of yellow.

Some of the displayed works, such as “Endless Sea of Yellow,” are riotous celebrations of the color. At first glance, this looks like a boundless field of wheat being rippled by the wind — until you remember how golden the sea can look under a dazzling sun.

“Time of Sea/Yellow” shows a fishing boat heading out to sea, one of the pictures inspired by the Kanagawa coast where the 58-year-old Shigi lives. “I saw this from my own window,” he tells me, pointing to the brilliant yellow background that peeps through a web of darker red-and-purple strokes to create the effect of glistening waves and shadowed troughs.

Shigi depicted the same scene in “Time of Sea/Blue,” starting with reds, yellows and pinks, but has almost completely painted these over with white and shadowy indigo blue. At first, only these two colors seem visible, but as you look, glints of the more vivid colors dart out, as if the waves are acting as prisms, splitting light into its rainbow components.

This layering of one color on top of another, and the shining through of those beneath, is a recurring theme in Shiga’s art. “I work like a machine, putting one layer on another,” he confesses, finding an analogy in Japanese ukiyo-e printing. The crucial difference, however, is that whereas ukiyo-e woodblock printers tried to avoid any overlap of colors, for Shiga, this is an integral part of his art.

One of the most interesting examples is “Skin of Winter,” showing a stretch of road heading into a treeless landscape. Originally painted in rich greens, oranges and yellows, these colors are covered over with monochrome grays to evoke the onset of winter and its frosts.

There is something unearthly about the tone of the gray, as if one can feel the vibrations of the colors lying beneath it. Although winter is able to lock away the colors of spring, those colors still call to us from beneath their cold crust.