The artist Kaoru Okubo’s solo exhibition “He” is currently on view at Kodama Gallery in Kyoto (2/15-3/22). The 24-year old artist Okubo debuted last year at the Kodama Gallery through the Shirokane Art Complex 5th Anniversary exhibition “Memento Mori~Eros & Thanatos~,” curated by Hiroshi Sugimoto. At that exhibition, his paintings, sculpture and drawing installations featuring the body as a common motif were well received. His paintings are characterized as depicting male nudes with sinus brushwork, however, they go beyond the mere appreciation for human bodies and sexuality.
The artist usually picks figures from magazines, commercials, and Internet, or he uses photos of poses by himself. In other words, he does not directly depict human bodies, but only choses the motif of the body that has been mediated by some media. Rather than expressing the mass in the sculptural sense, or the human body anatomically, his work that features the well-shaped, masculine male body, has something to do with the artist’ conception of the body as an self-exploration and reflection.
According to Okubo, “Paintings come from the artist’s (inner) body.” The artist, therefore, considers the existence of the author’s “body,” namely, himself, to be present to the viewers through his work, as his goal of making art. This presence, however, is different from leaving traces of personal actions and emotions in the brushwork. Rather than the physical flesh, for Okubo, the “body” is an abstract concept of being. No matter how repeatedly he uses various human figures as motifs, the existence of himself, his own body, is always refracted in them.
In order to do this, Okubo has a unique process of producing his work. He first copies the motif of human bodies from photos and prints. Based on these copies, he makes several line drawings and then at the final stage, transfers these line drawings onto the canvas. The process of making line drawings is of particular importance, because during the constantly repeating movements, the bodies, originally taken from other media, have gradually been imposed and eventually replaced by images of the artist’s own body in his mind. This has been further filtered when transferring to the final canvas to an abstract, conceptual image of the body. This final stage reveals the distinctive uniqueness of Okubo’s art, as during this process, the artist suppresses his subjective emotions, and focuses on extracting objectively the self/body out of his own mind. Although Okubo is struggling with whether or not this process of filtering would be effective in expressing a complete image of his self-body, he clears up his mind at his first brushstroke of the line drawing. For example, in order to avoid any personal touch and to achieve the rational extraction of his self/body, Okubo used to fasten his brush to a long stick, which made it difficult to paint freely, preventing his personal feelings from “flowing” easily through his hand to the canvas (as recently he got used to the way of distancing himself from emotionally attached to the image of body he depicts, and he stopped using this method).
The motif of body is usually associated with ideas of life and death, love and hatred, sexuality etc. Such understandings might be sufficient for interpretations of portraits or sketches of figures, but for Okubo’s work, expressions of personal feelings and emotions are not the goal. Even for his nude figures, instead of viewing from the perspectives of gender or iconography, Okubo’s own words, “Paintings come from the artist’s (inner) body,” reveal that these nudes are objective expressions of the conceptual inner “body.”