Vanitas series


The main pillar of my current praxis is to reinterpret a popular painting genre during the 17th century in Holland and Flanders, Memento Mori, while employing the strategy of 'History Painting' with the mentality of genre-painting. The composition of my work usually borrows the hallmark of Dadaist work: collage, which is convenient to skewer different art historical references mirroring the device of 'History Painting'. In contrast to the outlook of my painting, which appears to be traditional and classical, the content is similar to post-modern anti-aesthetes', posing as if showing scepticism in the presence of authenticity. `Genre-painting' of the 17th century shows some characteristics that constitutes Post-modernist standpoint in that they were frequently critical visual commentaries on heroic religious paintings, 'a grand narrative' of that time. The metanarrative of modernism art is a romantic belief in the universal law of aesthetics and authenticity, which I am inclined towards, given that pessimism and scepticism have perpetuated probably too long to make a sustainable aesthetic point. In response to that, I bear a thirst for some romanticism. As Jacques Ranciere puts, “Collage can be realized as the pure encounter between heterogenous elements”(2004 p.47)i, my work enfolds a number of dichotomies which make my arguments about the thematic aspects of my work fragmentary and perhaps even incoherent. This is the reason why my work feels affinity towards modernist art and Greenbergian media-specificity. In other words, my work has a conceptual edge to it, but can not evolve to be conceptual art in its entirety. Paintings of Johannes Vermeer allows viewers a large scope for conceptual contemplation, which is seen in the fact that he pioneered genre-painting with a lot of satires often reminding viewers of the obsolescence of religious painting. The nature of the content of his paintings is very similar to Nietzsche's application of Greek gods, Apollo and Dionysus in highlighting the irrelevance of Christianity in one's pursuit of happiness in the 19th Century.ii Based on this premise, I wish my work to be enjoyed preferably in a traditional Kantian formalist way, “free play of mind over forms of objects” and through sensory sensations with intellectual cognitive process to follow afterwards, not before. When I think about my art practice. There are a few fundamental questions arising. Why I paint, why I paint the way I paint and why I paint what I paint. To answer the first question I should probably touch upon the question that a lot of painters face in the 21st century. Why do painters still paint in the 21st century when other media are widely available to them? What is the point of painting when plurality is more celebrated than media specificity? Is there any possibility left for painting to critically and aesthetically challenge the boundary of contemporary art? To find the answer to the second question of why I paint in the way I paint, which is classical, old fashioned, yet skilful and well-disciplined, I had to revisit my personal history and cultural background. It helped me understand the historical relationship between the East and the West, here especially between Japan and the West, and how culturally Japan has been influenced by the West from a historical point of view. Also, the obsessive nature of the way I paint seems to have a root in Japanese cultural heritage and an influence that Japan had from ancient China. Thirdly, I look into the thematic aspect of my work, which might appear to contradict the first question, as Jacques Ranciere puts it, my painting belongs to 'autonomous art' as being medium specific, yet I unfaithfully betray the autonomy of art by flirting with the realm of 'heterogenous art' in contents of my work. Hence, I am highly aware that there are some internal discrepancies in my work, as the form of my work looks to pertain to the former and the content relates to the latter. By answering these 3 basic questions I would like to proceed my thinking. Here I would like to reveal not the reason why I paint, which is because I like painting and I have been painting for so many years that it is natural to me, but beyond it, beyond merely stating my innate irrational desire. Here I would rather speculate and critically rationalise the reason why I think painting can still be relevant to contemporary art. Furthermore, one associating with painting should not be disregarded as a serious artist in the contemporary art context. I entirely admit the validity of Walter Benjamin's suggestion of painting as limited in terms of having a collective aesthetic experience of artworks, as opposed to film. Also, the problem that painting as a medium bears, as Benjamin refers to as “the exhibition value”, is that historically limited segments of people who have access to artworks can only appreciate the aesthetic experience. Rubens' altar painting in a church in Antwerp is a primary example of this.iii The timeless validity of painting might be hidden in cult value as Benjamin argues. “The elk portrayed by the man of the Stone Age on the walls of his cave was an instrument of magic. He did expose it to his fellow men, but in the main it was meant for the spirits.” If painting is still relevant despite the threat of Photography, as well as other widely available media, it is because of a cultic aspect stemming from nostalgia, romanticism, and old myths that drive painters to paint. Here the cultic value refers to not art's association of religious ceremonies and magic, but the religious nature of painting. In fact, when painters talk about painting, there is often an obsessive admiration toward the medium, akin to those who are so religious discussing their own beliefs and religious perspectives that they do not allow foreign ideas to come in their way. They reject foreign ideas, as Adorno believed in art's sovereignty.iv A hypothesis of painting as a religion does have a novelty value, as few thinkers of the past argued similar ideas. It is therefore, the idea that painting is still relevant due to the 'cult value' is a difficult one to prove. Nonetheless, it seems that the fist attempt which I initially abandoned is the plausible reason for the fact that painting never dies. According to Gregg Simpson, “..Mankind has an innate need to express itself by the direct creation of shapes and application of colours.” vWith regards to the nature of my argument here, Kant argues in his Critique of Pure Reason, “Reason has this peculiar fate that in one species of its knowledge it is burdened by questions which as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer.”vi Another point is that painting does not have to be in a position where it is threatened by the emergence of other media and technologies. Painting can embrace technology in order to expand the possibilities of its expression. In fact, this is precisely how painting has evolved so far. The idea of painting embracing other media does not enable to transform the physicality of painting, but has a significant impact upon the type of imageries being produced. Metaphorically speaking, painting as a vehicle with the help of technology becomes able to carry more passengers and luggage. There are many examples that technology helped painting evolve, such as the discovery of perspective(indirectly), the use of camera obscuera, (reactionary)rediscovery of the flatness and photography. Moreover, computer graphics, especially photoshop and 3D graphic softwares have enormous potential to alter the way in which painters work, as they allow artists' imagination to transcend beyond their natural ability. Moreover, the painters that I appreciate most such as Leonardo, Vermeer, Gerhard Richter and Glen Brown are coincidentally the ones that succeeded in incorporating technology into their visual language. Why I paint in the way I paint, it's because of the fact that I went through the education system in Japan. Japan has a historical background in which the traditional European classicism embodied an essential part of Japanese art education. Japan had held an inferiority complex over centuries after cultural imperialism of the West invaded in Japan in the late 18th century. Hence, the celebration of the Neo-Classicism under the influence of a scientific approach had been long appreciated in Japan, while the West moved on from it long ago. In the motor vehicle industry and the wider technology industry, Japan keenly learned technical know-how from the West and strove to catch up with the West so hard that at some point it surpassed. Similarly in art, Japanese people is obsessed with the importance of drawing with a particular emphasis on analytical precision, mathematical and scientific observation and smooth gradation of shades, tones and colours. It aims to focus on the control over gradient of tonal, melodic and compositional aspects, and more importantly working towards the visual pleasures. The second reason for Japan's emphasis on drawing is that the excellence and the supremacy build upon the rich history of western art and their scientific approach triggered the perfectionist trait deeply ingrained in the Japanese people's psyche when it was introduced. Their eagerness to pursue the excellence is derived from Taoism. Taoism was brought to Japan from China in ancient time. The teaching of Tao can be witnessed in many aspects of cultural activities, such as Jyu-do, a martial art, Kendo, a martial art of sword-fighting based on the traditional samurai sword-manship, Kado, Japanese flower arrangement, Sado, Japanese tea ceremony. 'Do' is the Japanese word for Tao. Tao in Chinese means path or a journey, to mastering and perfecting one particular subject. Why do I paint what I paint and how do I construck imageries that I paint? The reason why I paint what I paint is largely due to generational and demographic reasons. Here I will discuss about my mental contemplation put into my work during the course of the production process. When I paint, I probably spend half of my time physically working and the other half merely looking at my paintings, whether in flesh or through documentation. It comprises visceral contemplation, as well as semantic exercises. Attempts to reconcile symbols with the visceral language of sensory experiences in pursuit of an aesthetic pleasure often encounter discords stemming from the allusions unwilling to fit into a foreign realm. It resembles a chemical reaction in which an atom tries to join other particles, then there is an allergic reaction. It is as inflammatory as Kant's synthesis of Rationalism and Empiricism with a famous quote, “ Thoughts without content are empty(Concept without intuition are empty); intuitions without concepts are blind.”vii When I started attending an art college in Tokyo during the 90s, it still felt the residue of Post-modern conceit, scepticism in authenticity and celebration of appropriation. Although the position of painting was under a threat of extinction in the West, for Japanese regards highly of painting and drawing traditionally, I escaped from the potentially fatal tidal wave approaching from the West. I remained unharmed from the death threat for painting sent from the West because I was so far away from the eye of the storm. As I was lured by the glory of YBA, I learnt the rules of mind games of the Eurocentric contemporary art after moving to London. Finally, I would like to touch upon Kant's synthetic standpoint so as to account for the backbone of my rationale and its outcome. In Critique of Pure Reason, Kant argues thoughts first arise from experiences in response to Empiricist's belief, but acknowledges that experience is not the only source that knowledge can be gained from. In order for both intuition and concept to work together for the purpose of gaining knowledge it is necessary to keep concept sensible so that intuition will remain intelligible when object is added to the concepts within the framework of intuition. Jacques Ranciere's claim on the distribution of sensible reflects on this Kant's view. Needless to say, as Ranciere argues the sensible; what is common to people in a society, differs depending on class, demography, particularly the level of personal wealth within the capitalist system, which one belongs to. When this is applied to art, it leads to political conflicts of aesthetics. Hence, I have come to conclude that any attempt to distribute sensible concepts accumulated through my sensory experiences will inevitably face oppositions because the sensible of contemporary art discourse is as subjective as one's intuition. It can therefore, be said there are my heteronomy and the institutionalised autonomy, borrowing Kantian moral philosophy and Ranciere's elaboration.


Kant, Immanuel, 1951. Critique of Judgement. Hafner Press

Kant, Emmanuel, 1781. Critique f Pure reason. Translated by Norman Kemp Smith. New York: St. Martins Press 1965.

Menke, Christopher. 1999 The Sovereignty of Art Aesthetic Negativity in Adorno and Derrida. MIT Press

Pothen Philip. 2002. Neitzsche and The Fate of Art. Ashgate Publishing Limited, p14 -20

Ramee, Marie Louise De La. 1872. A Dog of Flaners,

Ranciere, Jacques, 2004. Aesthetics and its Discontents. Polity Press. p 47. pp 8-9

Clement Greenberg, 1939. Avant-garde and Kitsch

Walter Benjamin, 1939, Work of Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction,


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