nca | nichido contemporary art is pleased to present “Isanatori”, the first solo exhibition of artist Shinya Imanishi.

Imanishi creates his works through the repetition of a pattern of actions: he applies several thick layers of oil paint to the canvas, vigorously leaves the brushstrokes’ marks, and scratches the paint off. Collapsed buildings, decayed flowers, and thunderbolts along with gigantic columns of clouds, the images that appear to us by distancing ourselves from the canvas are associated with decadence, loss and transformation of the things we see. However, at the same time, evoking revival and resuscitation, the relationship between death (the end) and life (the beginning) is also presented as complementary. While questioning the relation of material and image, or the line between distance and viewpoint, Imanishi is engaged in an effort to show the ambiguity and uncertainty of the things we know.

The title of this exhibition “Isanatori” comes from a line of the Manyoshu, the oldest collection of Japanese poetry, which is “Isanatori (whale hunter/ used as a customary epithet in sea-related context) Do the vast oceans die? Do the mountains die? Verily they do-for lo. The waters vanish from the seas; The green mountain becomes bare and barren.” (explanation: Do the oceans die? Do the mountains die? Of course, the answer is no but to a certain degree they do “die” as tides dry up and plants and trees wither).

Born in the old city of Nara, and raised surrounded by history and traditional culture, Imanishi has shown an underlying interest for the view of life that is deeply rooted within the Japanese culture (Buddhist concept of Jojueku, i.e. the cyclical process of evolving and vanishing world-systems). This exhibition will present around 15 new paintings including 1 large-scale works of 5 meters.

A manner of the brush-touch that scratches off the surface in dashed lines from a cover of pure white oil paint, bearing yet a feeling of all-embracing massiveness; the unveiling of black hues hidden under the blank screen; and the accumulation of expressions in the form of those “scratches”. This is the process behind Imanishi’s works that brings into existence a certain iconography.

Although I used the expression “bringing into existence” in an off-hand manner, when looking at Imanishi’s paintings, the viewer will surely notice the different “faces” they reveal simply from the accumulation of those “scratches”, faces that change depending on the viewer’s stance and the distance between himself/herself and the paintings. At the same time, the viewer may realize that the goal of Imanishi’s works is not paintings that simply create images out of the accumulation of those scratches, or that simply lapse into an optical diversion like the appearance of different images when changing one’s own viewpoint. According to the view angle, there is a feeling of movement that animates Imanishi’s paintings.

With this text, I want to shade light on Imanishi’s world and the practice behind his works.

During his years as a graduate-student, Imanishi was presented with two themes by his professor: “understanding the painting in terms of structure” and “thinking about the painting from a Japanese perspective”. Entering a post-graduate school, such issues represented the first challenge for the artist, who up to that moment had been developing free and easy expressions, and a responsibility he continues to take on even today. Understanding the painting “in terms of structure” was a universal and, for the students, overloaded theme that encouraged them to understand it historically (mentally), and technically (physically), as well as to think about it from a structuralist perspective (also from a contemporary philosophical approach).

However, entering a different stage, Imanishi, who was also expected to take over the family business, needed to seriously address such responsibility. It seems that the artist continued to experiment with a production characterized by a relatively minimal savor, introducing a formalistic discourse, too, along with an original expression which was the principle preceding the two aforementioned themes.

Although I cannot discuss here each of the above aspects in details, in the second half of his second year, his works received an enthusiastic response: they were works on a gradated monochrome color surface with an architectural perspective and the lines, imperceptible to the eye, such a perspective created. It is here at this point that Imanishi mastered the technique to bring his works into existence with a clear logic: the visualization of the fundamental principle through the realization of a very simple expression. Such expression is the simplification and synthetization of the basic principle which conveys a three-dimensional feeling to the two- dimensional combination of linear perspective and light-dark expression.

As for his quest for elements that could meet with the second theme “thinking about the painting from a Japanese perspective”, Imanishi focused on the representation of the “rain” in the Ukiyo-e woodblock prints. In terms of physical phenomena, he heard that the linear representation of phenomena that are usually rendered through dots was a uniquely Japanese characteristic, and he started to look at its application. Converting the vertical motion of the dots into a linear representation is relatively easy, difficult it is to demonstrate that this representation is uniquely Japanese. However, among the Ukiyo-e’s reproductions Vincent van Gogh made, there was one work after Hiroshige titled “Ohashi Bridge in the Rain”. Such instance can be seen as supporting evidence.

Eventually, Imanishi moved on to a white flat painting surface. If we consider that the gradated canvas symbolized a Western-style shadowy expression, with its flatness the flat surface represented the Ukiyo-e’s woodblock prints. The style we recognize in Imanishi’s works today takes shape from a structure where some sort of images look as they are floating on the white screen as the artist applies the linear representation of dashed lines on that surface, and those dashed lines seem to create depth in the works. When looking at Imanishi’s works, the perspective that unerringly spins the image may change according to the work’s size and its subject/motif. That irrationality becomes part of the works’ charm and, on the contrary, a feature of Imanishi’s style. The quest in Imanishi’s work has just began, and it is impossible to say without a shadow of a doubt if there is that logic and clearness. Nevertheless, the principle for its realization is universal and leads to issues that require a long time to be worked through. Seemingly based on the artist’s strong belief, the artistic practice may become the basic principle that will create new expressions.