Hamburg

Miwa Ogasawara

Galerie Vera Munro

Miwa Ogasawara’s work as a painter has developed above all within familiar genres such as portraiture, interiors, and landscape. But in her work, these traditional forms give rise to something autonomous and new. Ogasawara’s paintings look easy, almost offhand, yet they are densely atmospheric. Her pictures cultivate a quiet, at times severe clarity that can seem ominous and suggests emotional depth, as when the artist foregrounds moments of intimacy or loneliness. Such valences of expression are a crucial factor in her work—never does her expressiveness become explicit or illustrative. Ogasawara has mastered a particular concision in which the reduction of the image as representation intensifies the emphasis on painting itself as a medium.

Windhauch” (A Breath of Wind) was the apt title of Ogasawara’s recent show. For the most part, she chooses
 ordinary, apparently unspectacular motifs;
 one sees vestiges of intimacy in an image of crumpled bedsheets or that of figures with their gazes averted; sparsely furnished rooms show off the interplay of light and shadow. The artist transports inconsequential objects and blank moments into a dreamlike present, transforming the quotidian into “an extended moment, a slightly displaced presence,” as she puts it. Time seems to stand still in many of her pictures, with something as minimal as a physical stance, a gesture, a gentle draft, or the light coming in through a window becoming an actor in a pictorial narrative. Reduction can be noted as well in her characteristically pale palette: Black and white dominate, often presented in large patches and generally with only the slightest hints of hue.

Ogasawara’s new works include large-format paintings but also smaller, sketchlike pictures, such as Bett und Stuhl (Bed and Chair), 2008, or Hotel Room, 2008. On this diminutive scale, Ogasawara’s art of suggestion and reduction is often joined by strong painterly gestures. Her painting-sketches, executed with great spontaneity and openness, can be used to develop the ideas for her larger pictures. Other small-format works are figure studies: In pictures like Haut/Bauch (Skin/Belly), 2008, or Haut auf weiß (Skin on White), 2008, Ogasawara directs a selective gaze to specific parts of the body, varying her portrayal of the skin’s surface. Schlaf (Sleep), 2008, is a particularly accomplished child portrait. Among her larger works, Winterlicht (Winter Light), 2009—which has a fascinating precursor, the small sketch Winterlicht (s), 2008, that unfortunately was not part of the exhibition but could be seen in the gallery office—is one of the most striking. Looking slightly from the side, one sees a window covered by a semitransparent curtain through which daylight enters. Ogasawara focuses her attention on the light, which is refracted in the gently curving folds of the fabric, resulting in countless soft shadings. The viewer’s gaze is restricted to the interior space, but this light links one’s eye to an invisible exterior. In pictures like this, Ogasawara succeeds in bringing together the core themes of her work with immense subtlety.

Jens Asthoff

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.