In photography and image processing these days, the general idea is that higher resolution and more faithful color rendition makes for better images. Of course, that is only the general idea. Thankfully, there are some creative types out there who disagree.
Although they produce different styles of work, a link between Japanese painter Satoshi Watanabe and Australian photographers Damon Armstrong and Jimmy Mac is that they both use processes that deny details and remove information from their representations — processes that result in art as a tableau of clues, from which the viewer must reconstitute an image in his or her imagination.
Watanabe, only 36 and already successful, currently has an exhibition at the Taro Nasu Gallery in Roppongi. A graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, he shows 13 pieces here on the theme of New York City, where he spent the last year.
Most of the works follow Watanabe’s established method: Copying photographs, the artist paints pictures of well-known landmarks on canvases that are covered with closely-spaced, round vinyl stickers from less than one to several centimeters in diameter. Next, Watanabe peels off the stickers and transfers them, in the same relative position, to a second, blank canvas.
The resulting works, which appear as “positive” and “negative” views, look something like the printer-dot style paintings of Roy Lichtenstein, something like a scene obscured by a mesh window screen. It is crucial that Watanabe chooses subject matter that most viewers will be familiar with, as our brains tend to “fill in” what we know is missing. But even so, because our eyes tell us that something is missing, we try to find it, unsure whether to squint, move in closer, or back up to get a better look.
This is what makes these elusive visions so strangely effective. When he removes the dots, Watanabe takes away totality, leaving his images to float in a place just beyond our perception.
Watanabe also has several works here that use dots alone to form shapes — one mimics the form of the triangular windows in the Chrysler Building’s Art Deco apex, another is a simple outline of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. The artist told me that although he has never widely exhibited this style of work, he has been doing it for some time. Frankly, I was unimpressed. I prefer Watanabe’s signature style, which, although it can seem gimmicky, is still much more interesting to look at.
Also opening last weekend was the splashy and fun “Lomo Arigato,” a show that is comprised of some 200 recent “Lomographs” by Damon Armstrong, 35, and Jimmy Mac, 33.
The Lomo, or more specifically, the LOMO Kompakt Automat, is a point-and-shoot Russian-made 35 mm camera. A bizarre auto-exposure system and weird lens combine to create otherworldly images characterized by blurring, oversaturated color, a “hot spot” in the center of the frame and “vignetting” in the corners. This has made the camera a cult item with people who enjoy seeing the world in unusual ways. Pick up a Lomo, and you are no longer a “photographer,” you are a “Lomographer.”
Says Armstrong, “Every day I leave the house, the Lomo is in my pocket. I shoot up to 30 shots a day with it. We did this exhibition not only to celebrate the uniqueness of this camera, but to express our feelings of life here in unique, busy, fast, colorful, expensive, demanding Tokyo.”
I don’t know that I can describe this carnival of an exhibition any better than the Lomo group’s Japanese Web site: “Lomography is photography on laughing gas, social exploration with dilated pupils and wide-eyed wonder.”
What I can tell you is that Sonoma, where the show is up, is a handsome Shibuya restaurant/bar/hangout Greg Natali and partners opened in November 2002. Like the nearby Pink Cow restaurant and wine bar, Sonoma provides a high-profile (and free) space for local artists to show their work. In a city where the kashi, or rental galleries can cost 300,000 yen a week, it’s a place that aspiring and established artists should both know about and support.
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