Painting between the lines


Special To The Japan Times

The pairing of Hideki Kimura’s prints with the seemingly sculptural assemblages of Sadaharu Horio is perhaps unexpected. What draws them together, however, are conceptions of their practices as painting. Both veterans of Japan’s contemporary art scene, they pursue painting by other means, working within self-imposed limitations that engage conventions across art genres in alluring small-scale works.

From 1965-1972, Horio set in motion his varied art career as a member of the Gutai Art Association, a group of early postwar avant-garde artists known for pioneering performance “happenings,” turning the Japanese tradition of New Year’s card-sending into a modernist art practice, and the production of abstract painting comparable to contemporaneous postwar European and American developments in the arts. He has become well known for his continuing series, “A Matter of Course” (“Atarimae no koto”), which he began in the mid-1980s. The current exhibited works, his “weight paintings,” focus on a subset of this.

Positioned on the gallery walls, Horio’s “paintings” are assemblages of discarded machine-trimmed industrial metal odds and ends, including sections of pipe, coiled wire and flattened curtain-rails. A predetermined limitation for each painting is that the weight of the assembled iron fragments tally 3 kilograms, which in some sense also vaguely influences the size of each piece.

The resulting forms are usually abstract or machine-like. “3kg Painting 10” is a coagulation of long tubular stems welded together. More complexly organized, though assuming the appearance of indeterminately outdated technology, is the recording device-like “3kg Painting 3.” “3kg Painting 6,” meanwhile, conjoins a horizontal box-like form with a tube into a structure resembling a video projector.

Kimura debuted as a printmaker in the 1970s, exhibiting internationally, though he trained as an oil painter. Generally, prints are produced in editions or multiples, but he defines his current print practice by composing images as if they were “one-off originals,” using pigments on painting supports, such as in the series “Squeegeeing Acrylic on Canvas” that began in 1998.

Pictorially, his primary organizing element is the modernist grid, dividing the surface into horizontals and verticals. It is abstract work with visual affinities to postwar luminaries such as Mark Rothko and Gerhard Richter. And like those two, Kimura’s geometrical abstractions also give rise to figurative suggestion.

Early pieces such as “Translucency 3” (1998) almost adopt trompe l’oeil conventions. An enclosing rectangular geometry appears as a wooden window frame in which the corners are contrived to indicate the joinery of fastened-together sections. The contrivance is further insisted on by their appearance of wood-like grain. A mid-level horizontal division seen through the window suggests sea and sky at the horizon, though a smeary film of impasto paint is pulled thinly over it as a kind of abstract blur across the scene of representation.

Among Kimura’s most recent works are other prints, including “Grid ’17-1-20 (Ripples and Rainbow 2)” (2017). Austerely titled in a kind of modernist refusal to refer to content, the subtitle nonetheless raises the representational intent visible in the suggestion of water and the work’s arching painterly gestures in hydrangea hues.

Mooring the practice of painting to their respective fields of artistic operation, Horio and Kimura also both happily unite the representational and non-representational art worlds.

“Hideki Kimura and Sadaharu Horio exhibition: The Viewport — Unique Distances and Parallel Lines” at Imura Art Gallery, Kyoto, runs until July 29; 12 p.m.-7 p.m. Free. Closed Sun., Mon. and holidays.