My first venture into the Japanese culture scene here in New York was an incredibly fortuitous one.
NYCoo gallery began in 2000 as a web gallery, and then as a physical space in Midtown Manhattan in 2004. I learned at the premier that the gallery’s work has surprised even long-time visitors, critically selecting artists and generating an incredibly diverse exhibition history (see their online gallery).
Their most recent location is Chelsea, in an elegant space arranged ideally for viewing work. Even during the bustling premier, everyone could talk and move comfortably. This was of major benefit in their current exhibition – Toshiko Tochihara – as the scale of each work was a major factor in how the audience related to them. In fact, there was so much anima within the deceptively raw paintings that I have to jump straight into my impressions as they occurred during my viewing.
There was consistently a central perspective, either in a bright spot of pigment or an arrow drawn from an edge of the canvas. This focal point seemed to navigate me past the crosstown-traffic of helicopters, oblique vehicles, and soaring arcs toward a point somewhere beyond. In all of Tochihara’s work, there is a lot to negotiate in order to reach that point, but standing back from even her most complex pieces, I could sense the meditative place implied by the artist.
I emphatically mentioned to her the あか or red accents floating just outside many of the canvases. I cursed my ineptitude in Japanese for the millionth time, because she clearly wanted to convey more about them. Red is of course especially beloved in Japan; and particularly among so much black and white paint, these seemed to function as ‘pleasure accents’. Any Japanese person would be delighted at this familiar colour appearing so singularly on the edge of an image. [You can see these better in the gallery’s images]
I’d like to note that my photos of Toshiko’s paintings are purely illustrative, and that both her website and the gallery’s site feature fuller views. Out of interest, I decided to try black and white in some of my shots – which turned in my favour. Seeing the images in gray scale added further dimensions of texture and value. It was almost a ghostly shadow living behind the vibrant colours; or like looking through one of those iconic mists adorning the shoulders of mountains in Japanese landscapes.
After many journeys around the exhibition, my personal favourite ended up being “Out to the World”. The canvas is divided into red and pink on either end with white down the centre; sketchy, linear vehicles mark their way across the red while a ghostly structure appears within the white. Black lines also travel in large arcs across the painting. My eyes were busy covering all this action, but also drawn to the small, spiralling focal point in the centre of the canvas. It’s my favourite because all the dynamism of the other pieces are capitalised on in it, and at a larger-than-life scale. Considering the stunning, mountain setting of Tochihara’s atelier (I believe it is in Nagano), all this layering of sacred, earthly, faintly urbane, and deeply human makes absolute sense.
Toshiko Tochihara herself is as the gallery’s press release describes her: ‘gentleness and humble boldness’. Considering her global notoriety, she was welcoming and open to everyone who asked to speak to her. I took several shots of her in front of her canvases, but I like one in particular because it shows her honest pride and happiness in her own work. Considering what a high level of culture she must be used to, she gave me all the time I asked of her.
I am extremely grateful to the ladies managing the gallery for being translators and cultural guides, even when I veered off into all directions of Japanese arts. The whole atmosphere at the evening’s premier had a feeling of community warmth that made me wish I could have stayed longer – and has added fuel to my burning desire to learn conversational Japanese.
Toshiko Tochihara’s exhibition lasts until Feb 20th and I can’t recommend it enough. Her work can be seen around the world at almost any time, with France I believe coming up in the spring. NYCoo holds premiers for all their new exhibitions the first Friday of every month, and is a must-see for art lovers and fellow 日本 lovers alike.