‘Yu Kiwanami Solo Exhibition’

by Matthew Larking

Special To The Japan Times

imura art gallery, kyoto
Closes May 28

Yu Kiwanami’s paintings from 2006-09 have been compared somewhat wrongheadedly to English painter Julian Opie’s because of their shared concern for the graphic quality of thick black contours and simplified forms and colors. While Opie retained distinctive individual characteristics of his figures, however, Kiwanami obliterated any such traces by cropping the frontally posed figures at canvas edge so that only shoulders, slivers of torso and wisps of hair could be seen. Since each of his subjects was no one in particular, they stood for a generalized “everyone,” playing out the diluted relations of modern life akin to personal interactions that lack face-to-face communication, such as email, Twitter, texting and telephones.

In 2010, Kiwanami spurned his use of domestic interior scenes, and while the frontal figures remained, landscapes and seascapes entered his work. His most recent paintings in his solo exhibition at the imura art gallery, kyoto also show glimpses from behind his now all female figures. Part of this alludes to the young womenswear fashion show Tokyo Girls Collection, a contemporary phenomenon for which the models rein in their individuality to conform to stock-type poses and personas. It also relates to the exhibition’s Japanese subtitle, “Wandering Cinderella.”

The moody gray skies of Kiwanami’s recent work, which are much more painterly than the colors of previous pieces, suggest a psychological heaviness. The focus, however, is on their color, which looks brighter when juxtaposed with gray, modulated tones. The flatness of color in earlier works, which conspired with the thematic superficialities of modern life, has also been abandoned. Through introducing the gray tone, the pictorial depth of his work is further emphasized.

To this, another “layer” is added: the attention given to women’s fashion — a further decorative element accented by glittery highlights on the paintings’ surfaces. Here, Kiwanami’s “modern people” are rendered in even greater relief.

imura art gallery, kyoto is open 11 a.m.-7 p.m., admission free; closed Sun. and Mon. For more information, visit www.imuraart.com.