New York

Yoshitaka Amano

Leo Koenig Inc. | 541 West 23rd

Battle of the Planets, the sci-fi anime that Yoshitaka Amano created at Tokyo’s Tatsunako Productions, was a staple of my after-school TV-watching schedule in late-’70s England. With costumes that placed them somewhere between trapeze artists and prog rockers, the cartoon’s five young heroes, collectively known as G-Force, regularly saved the galaxy with an acrobatic grace that made their American counterparts look sluggish. A couple of these stars returned in Ammo’s first New York gallery exhibition, but their presence added up to more than unreconstructed nostalgia. Amano originally developed his highly stylized imagery in the service of manga and video-game design, but its influence today is unarguably visible in the “Superflat” cosmos of Takashi Murakami, Mariko Mori, and a handful of other Japanese artists who have lately risen to international stardom.

Hanging in Leo Koenig’s main gallery were five glossy paintingion chunky aluminum panels. Face-I and Face-2 (all works 2002) depict members of the flamboyantly futuristic G-Force intently staring out at the viewer, their piercing eyes shielded by translucent, beaklike visors. In Landing, a figure swoops headlong toward the audience, white cloak flaring around him against a background of smooth gray silver. Amano uses automobile lacquer to achieve an intense, even color and wraps the skin-thin image around the edges of the aluminum support. The portraits are presented without contextualization, but even viewers without a knowledge of the images’ specific origins will be instantly aware of their superhero aura of invincibility.

A smaller, untitled panel eschewed identifiable characters in favor of a grimacing white ghost lost in a toxic yellow landscape. A chaos of geometric icons, amorphous cloudlike blobs, and scraps of transfer lettering are strewn across the painting’s surface. The squirming, convulsive quality of the line in both this picture and the room’s centerpiece, Universe, unexpectedly recalls the work of British cartoonist and Bash Street Kids creator Leo Baxendale—a pupil of a very different school. Universe could also be Amano’s take on the Hell of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1480-90. A vast, orgiastic nightmare crowded with trolls and zombies, demons and specters, giant apes and apocalyptic horsemen, it is the artist’s very own (and thoroughly entertaining) bestiary.

Also on view were two small untitled panel paintings, both portrayals of another of the artist’s early creations, the vampish Doronjo,and a wall full of drawings in black ink on rice paper. Made according t o the dictates of traditional sumi-e technique, which requires the artist to make quick, decisive strokes, these focus primarily on details such as beads of sweat and eyes so exaggeratedly thick-lashed that they recall A Clockwork Orange’s ultraviolent fashion victims, the Droogs. Amano’s attempt to fuse past, present, and future is at its most explicit here, and despite the project’s self-conscious artfulness, the results are surprisingly fresh.

The gestural spontaneity that sumi-e demands of its practitioner initiates a discourse on routes through history and process, which Amano is well placed to direct. While the majority of Western artists who employ the imagery of popular culture do so through appropriation, Amano needs no source material other than his own. It would be forgivable to conclude that his attempts at recycling his imagery for a new audience—perhaps without understanding that audience’s unique peculiarities—betrays an opportunistic streak. It probably does, but, for the time being, Amano is rescued by the sheer novelty of his situation. While his success or failure in “crossing over” will be the main issue for those keen to convince a potentially hostile audience of his oeuvre’s enduring worth, to everyone else it is of less interest than simply observing where the cultural flowchart into which he has inserted himself leads next.

Michael Wilson