At a time when the hearts and minds of so many are concerned with the welfare of the people of Japan, it’s extremely compelling to see an exhibit by a Japanese artist who is clearly dealing with the quest to integrate both eastern and western artistic motifs into his work. Tat Ito’s Memento Mori (Latin for an object, such as a skull, intended to remind people of the inevitability of death) is anything but morbid, but the artist uses whimsical characters and a palette of bright colors along with distinctive characteristics of traditional Japanese artwork to comment on his native culture’s surrender to a relentless onslaught of Western pop sensibilities (see also Takashi Muyrakami’s theory of the Superflat ). As with Nir Hod’s Genius exhibit, Memento Mori is about so much more than just what appears on the canvas.
“Lobster and Shark”
As a Japanese-born artist who studied art in the United States, the exhibit’s press release confirms that “the artist and his paintings are a dynamic confluence of East and West, traditional and contemporary. The poetic analogy of “oil on water” describes Ito’s approach to both imagery and cultural references; in his vibrantly colored work, traditional Japanese aesthetics are a foundation upon which floats a contemporary (i.e., Western-influenced) viewpoint. Like a skim of oil on water, the beautiful, reflective surfaces of his paintings fascinate viewers. These top layers never mix but, rather, are presented in dialogue with the substance beneath.”
“Cosmos, Chrysanthemum and Dalmatian” (Section, Click Image to Enlarge)
Memento Mori includes works on both round (tondo) and rectilinear canvases. In Lotus Flower and Goldfish, an acrylic on canvas tondo, Ito appropriates the pools-and-waterfalls motif from medieval Japanese painting as a palette for a contemporary overlay of Warholian silver leaf, purple polka dots, and miniature frolicking swimmers with scuba fins. Cosmos, Chrysanthemum and Dalmatian — a scroll-like, rectilinear painting in acrylic, gouache, and gold leaf on canvas— combines a running floral motif with running Dalmatian dogs (“nearly 101 of the variety made famous in Western animation”). At 20” x 180” in length, Cosmos covers a full wall of the Liner gallery. When examined closely, one can find tiny, hidden representations of the work of “Factory Pop” artists such as Andy Warhol (The Campbell’s Soup Can) and Jeff Koons (Balloon Dog) while two other pieces, Shark and Lobster and Butterfly Primavera pay discreet homage to Damien Hirst’s “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” (shark in formaldehyde tank) and “For the Love of God” (Diamond-Encrusted Skull), respectively.
Tat Ito’s Memento Mori runs through June 11, 2011 at the Joshua Liner Gallery, Located at 548 West 28th Street, 3rd Floor (between 10th and 11th Avenues) New York, NY 10001.
“Butterfly Primavera” (Section, Click Image to Enlarge)