Natsuyuki Nakanishi

Seibu Museum of Art

Natsuyuki Nakanishi’s career began in the late ’60s with his membership in the neo-Dadaist group “Taka-Aka-Naka.” After participating in a number of performances, as well as making objects and some paintings, he turned to full-time painting, and this recent retrospective concentrated on his painting of the ’80s. Nakanishi seems an exemplary contemporary Japanese artist. His work is as decorative as it is radical; as public as it is private; as systematic as it is emotional. The viewer is free to revel in the lushness of the colors and their patterns, the viscosity of the paint, while being simultaneously disturbed by their breakdown, their distance and lack of accessibility.

Nakanishi’s palette is limited to purple, white, gray, some pale yellows and greens, and an occasional red or blue. Color is laid down against a flat gray background, through continuing arcs of criss-cross strokes of purple and/or white; he fills in the gaps with an alternate color. It is a decidedly decorative, wallpaperlike effect; it evokes something of Gustav Klimt’s art, but with a sharper edge. Disruption of the strokes comes by sectioning off parts of any painting and splotching, staining, even marring it with deep purples that are almost black.

Nakanishi’s work is reminiscent of traditional screens, or even kimono patterns. Lines evoke tense patterns or recall sumi-e birds and insects. Nakanishi insists on the flatness and perpendicularity of the painting in a horizontal world. All in all, he succeeds by being true to his emotions. He not only reconciles disparate modes of painting, but manages to create a whole body of work that pleases as much as it disturbs.

Arturo Silva