Shinya Imanishi: caw wac caw

Shinya Imanishi:

2021 9.10 - 10.16

Detail from "Moonlight" series | 2021 | ©Shinya Imanishi
Press Release

Venue: nca | nichido contemporary art
Date: 9.10 (fri.) – 10.16 (sat.), 2021
Gallery hours: Tue. ~ Sat. 11:00 – 19:00 (Closed on Sunday, Monday and National holidays)
*The artist will join us in the gallery on the opening day

nca | nichido contemporary art is pleased to present Shinya Imanishi’s solo exhibition “caw wac caw”.
Shinya Imanishi (1990 -) creates his paintings through the repetition of a set of actions: first, the artist applies several, thick layers of oil paint to the canvas, then, through a vigorous touch, he leaves visible brushstrokes on the painted surface and finally scoops out the paint as he goes. By distancing ourselves from the canvas, images associated with decadence, loss and transformation, yet evoking at the same time ideas of revival and resuscitation, come to the surface. Imanishi’s motifs embrace the relationship between death (the end) and life (the beginning) as complementary. The smallest change in our perspective or stance brings to light new visual possibilities that seek to unveil the ambiguity and uncertainty of the things we deem familiar.
The title of the exhibition comes from the onomatopoeic word associated with the “caw caw” sound made by crows. It is told that Ikkyu Sojun, a Zen monk who lived during the Muromachi Period, known for his quick wit and a still widely discussed subject in contemporary literature, instantly reached enlightenment when he heard a cawing crow while sitting in Zen contemplation in the darkness. Imanishi particularly related to the words of one of Ikkyu’s texts he discovered where the monk argues that even in complete darkness, the crow’s existence is a certainty which, however, loses its veracity when being actively sought out, and such is Buddha’s true nature. The exhibition title wants to reflect the bond Imanishi felt with this concept which, since then, has become a fascinating motif to the artist. Finding a connection with Ikkyu’s Zen teaching and the Zen way in general, Imanishi tries to make us see the invisible, relations, phenomena, colors, shapes and their interaction with the continuous changes in light, that are so easily overlooked, by capturing nature and its impermanence.
The exhibition features Imanishi’s most recent works, including large-scale pieces and the 2020 Shell Art awarded painting.

Carved paintings

We usually think of “paintings” as artworks created through the application of paint to a support surface, quite often paper or canvas. Yet, when discussing his artistic practice, Imanishi chooses the expression “carving the paint”. Developed by Imanishi himself, such practice consists of the following set of actions: using a previously sketched image of the work to guide his hand, Imanishi starts by applying a first coat of paint to the canvas which will function as the base layer (this is the layer that will eventually be exposed through the carving process), then he proceeds to fully cover this first layer by applying a thick coat of white paint. What happens next is the “carving” process itself, which is the final stage of Imanishi’s technique where the artist scoops out the paint with a brush leaving behind dot/line shaped marks on the painted surface, and by doing so, the base layer comes to the fore breathing life into different images.
Imanishi does not paint his motifs; instead, he carves the painted surface in order to dig up images that lie dormant between the layers. If we look at sculpture, for instance, we can draw comparisons with the difference that lays respectively between molded and sculptured figures. When we talk about sculptures created through the use of traditional materials, two main distinctions can be made, in terms of technique, depending on the characteristics of the material employed.
Molded figures which are obtained by modeling a soft material, usually clay, and sculptured figures which are carved from a single block of wood, stone, or other hard material. With clay figures, paint can be applied with a knife or a brush, we can mold the clay at will keeping on adding extra material as we go; in addition, clay figures can be used for subsequent reproductions in bronze, plaster or different materials without losing their malleability. On the other hand, with sculptured figures, once the material has been carved in a certain way, it leaves no room for changes, not even by joining multiple blocks of wood together (yosegi zukuri method). Therefore, the one-off nature of the process creates the need for a carefully considered approach. Just as sculptured figures, Imanishi’s paintings, too, are images directly carved from “one single block” of material which, in this case, is represented by the paint.
The main visual of the solo show, “caw wac caw”, is a close-up of one of Imanishi’s paintings which provides a beautiful example of his technique. What could just as well resemble the coarse surface of a tree is actually evidence of the action that has exposed the base layer by scooping out the thick paint from the layers above. The use of similar techniques is not new to art history. Among the Surrealists too, we can think specifically of Max Ernst’s use of his loved “grattage” (a technique which consists of covering in black paint a vivid-colored base layer and "scratching" only the surface paint with a blade or a needle). This is one of the examples that helped build the foundations of Imanishi’s own technique which, and I would like to stress this point, has not been conceived as a singular and unique approach, but as an artistic practice consciously positioned along the way art history has paved over the years.
We can now move on to discuss the concept behind Imanishi’s solo show “caw wac caw” and his paintings. Bringing to mind some sort of sound poem (clear influence of Dadaism), the title of the exhibition hints to an episode where a Zen monk named Ikkyu Sojun, one night, on the shore of Lake Biwa, achieves enlightenment upon hearing a crow’s caw while immersed in complete darkness, thus, without being able to actually see the bird (as proof that the world stretches far beyond what we can see).
Among the paintings created for this show, several pieces present motifs that derive from Japanese culture. The representation of a waterfall with its white-crested waves in Waterfall 03 resembles Katsushika Hokusai’s Tour of Waterfalls in Various Provinces; Light 19 and Light 20 remind us of summer bonfires which are gradually becoming a rare view, limited only to summer festivals; the black bird flapping its wings of Story - Where are we going? evokes the mythical three-legged raven Yatagarasu. While such imagery seems to betray a lingering nostalgia for the past, we must take into consideration the peculiar nature of the Kinki region, house to the old capital of Japan from ancient times to the medieval period, where Imanishi was born, raised and has been currently living and working, which is embodied by the presence of an inseparable distance between modern living environment and the many historical art motifs scattered around the area. We can then see Imanishi’s images as the artist’s choice to simply incorporate elements from his everyday life. Imanishi’s desire to approach “history = invisible things” through the representation of “familiar motifs = visible things” chimes with the artist’s technique which brings to the surface what lies out of sight, hidden between the layers.

Eriko Kimura
(Senior Curator, Yokohama Museum of Art)

Shinya Imanishi
Born in Nara, Japan, 1990
2015 Art Major Painting Field, Kyoto University of Art and Design
Main Solo Exhibitions: “YOUKAN and CREAM!”, Bijuu gallery space, Kyoto (2021) / “Light Exposed” galerie nichido Taipei, Taipei (2020) / “Wind, Rain, and your Words”, Art Delight, Seoul (2018) / “ISANATORI”, nca | nichido contemporary art, Tokyo (2017).
Main Group Exhibitions: “Up_01”, Ginza Tsutaya Books, GINZA ATRIUM, Tokyo (2021) / "Kansai Voices - A journey through painting today-", nca | nichido contemporary art, Tokyo (2020) / "Shell Art Award Exhibition”, The National Art Center Tokyo, Tokyo (2020) / "Kyoto Art Tomorrow 2019 - Selected Up-and-coming Artists Exhibition”, The Museum of Kyoto, Kyoto (2019) / "untamed vol.1", COHJU contemporary art, Kyoto (2019) / "Island with ONI", WAITINGROOM, Tokyo (2019) / “Japan-Taiwan Cultural Exchange Exhibition Art Collection Exhibition – Curated by Yuko Hasegawa”, Warehouse Terrada, Tokyo (2017) / ”echo of the echoes”, Seibu Shibuya, Tokyo (2017) / “Gunma Biennale for Young Artists 2017”, Museum of Modern Art Gunma, Gunma, (2017) / " Stars popping out of Chaos 2015”, Spiral Garden, Tokyo (2015) / “Sensing body” nca | nichido contemporary art, Tokyo (2015) / "3331 Art Fair 2015 - Various Collectors’ Prizes - " , 3331 Arts Chiyoda, Tokyo (2015) / Awards and Scholarships: Shell Art Award 2020 Grand Prix / The 31st Holbein Scholarship Edition (2015) / 3331 Art Fair 2015 ‒Various Collectors' Prizes‒ Tanaka Hideo Award and Komatsu Junya Award (2015) / Award at the Kyoto University of Art and Design completion Exhibition (2015)

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