Critics’ Picks

Gather in the pansy!, 2007, cheesecloth, glue, gesso, and acrylic on panel, 23 7/8 x 23 7/8".

Gather in the pansy!, 2007, cheesecloth, glue, gesso, and acrylic on panel, 23 7/8 x 23 7/8".


Soichi Yamaguchi

Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery
3 Chome-20-2 Nishishinjuku
July 25, 2013–January 14, 2008

Still an undergraduate at GEIDAI, Japan’s prestigious art university, Soichi Yamaguchi won two awards at last year’s GEISAI art fair; this is his first large-scale solo exhibition. On the evidence of his distinctively styled acrylic paintings—precisely rendered phantasmal images of flora and fauna in shades of electric pink, violet, green, and blue—the artist has clearly imbibed his share of manga and the stylized “superflat” works of artist Takashi Murakami. Psychedelic 1960s Pop comes to mind, but the imagery, both inviting and ominous, seems more like the product of a child’s imaginary garden. In Gather in the pansy! (all works 2007), pretty pansies and a favorite butterfly image are placed at what appears to be the mouth of a monstrous head. Eyeballs with yolk-yellow irises, askew and gawking, form a pattern on the baby-blue background. Staring at viewers again in Yama, the eyeballs float above a pair of checkered horns extending from the head of an unidentified creature cropped by the bottom edge of the canvas. Galaxy is a panoramic view of a fantasy mountain landscape in which free-floating eyeballs, a skeptical reindeer, and a mysterious white rabbit converge. Patterned clouds hover above the scene. Such clouds appear frequently in Yamaguchi’s works. Their patterning recalls the wave pattern seen in kimonos and Japanese textiles, and they float like the similar formations in classic nihonga painting.

Most striking is the symmetrically balanced series that echoes Rorschach inkblots. Whereas Andy Warhol’s Rorschach paintings, in which purely abstract forms allow the psyche to wander at will, Yamaguchi’s colorful psychotropic forms are more stagelike. Among the images in The dream of wanting seeing can’t be chosen are steer heads bedecked with grand antlers, a pair of pink high heels, and one of Yamaguchi’s enigmatic butterflies, all of which seduce our “wanting” imagination with beguiling depth. In the guise of cute, Yamaguchi plays a daunting game of illusion.