“Norbert Schwontkowski: My Face in My Next Life”

by Donald Eubank

Gallery Side 2

Pale can be so depressing, and weathered can just seem aged. But in Norbert Schwontkowski’s textured and demurely colored paintings at Higashi-Azabu’s Gallery Side 2 (www.galleryside2.net), his simplistic yet telling portraits and cityscapes feel light and full of whimsy. The 58-year-old Schwontkowski has quietly been making a name for himself in Europe, working with Galerie Beim Steinernan, Produzentengalerie and recently Contemporary Fine Arts in Berlin. Gallerist Junko Shimada of Side 2 came across his pieces in Miami at the Rubell Collection during Art Basel 2005, and invited Schwontkowski to come for his first ever show in Japan.

It’s surprising, then, that his paintings — with their seemingly naive approach — are reminiscent of current trends in young contemporary Japanese art. Shimada, who describes them as “fragile and open,” says she thinks that he was ahead of his time in that respect. Fortunately, considering the style, the works — made with pigments and linseed oil that Schwontkowski mixes himself — feel like they come from the confidence of an older artist who is comfortable in his choices, rather than from the tentative attempts of an upstart who is still trying to make his own.