‘Nobuko Watabiki’

by Edan Corkill

Megumi Ogita Gallery and Gallery Shiraishi

Closing Sept. 27 / Sept. 22

In Nobuko Watabiki’s painting “Courage that lies beyond the reach of my hand I,” two lines extend like tangents from a circle, touching and bypassing a second circle. With the background white, the circles red and the lines navy blue, it could be almost a geometrical riff on Japan’s rising-sun flag.

Such abstraction — new in her work — has helped Watabiki. She says her latest paintings depict “people wanting things,” which makes sense after you’ve been told. (The circles are bodies, the lines arms, all viewed from above.)

“Their arms continue beyond the frames, so you can’t see what they want,” Watabiki says. The unidentified desires were grounded in something very particular and positive for the artist, though. “For a long time, I wanted to go overseas,” the mid-career artist explains. Watabiki’s successful application for an Agency for Cultural Affairs scholarship has taken her career to a new level, resulting not only in a one-year trip to Hamburg from next month, but also two solo exhibitions and a book, which will be published this month.

The works with outstretched arms are featured in “New Paintings” at Megumi Ogita Gallery in Ginza (www.megumi ogita.com) until Sept. 27. For those who dig beneath their pleasing and entirely self-sufficient facades of shapes and gorgeous colors, they contain her positive message that a little desire can go a long way.

The second show, at Ginza’s Gallery Shiraishi until Sept. 22, features around 30 earlier works. These also depict psychological states in simple compositions, but lack the cloak of abstraction. The heads and faces are unmistakable — which is fine until, in some of the works, unusual protrusions are added. They’re supposed to represent burdensome thoughts, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they’re just people with lumps on their heads.