Tomoo Gokita, Regina #2, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 76 3/8 × 63 3/4".

Tomoo Gokita, Regina #2, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 76 3/8 × 63 3/4".

Tomoo Gokita

For the inaugural solo exhibition in Massimo de Carlo’s new space on the first floor of Milan’s magnificent Casa Corbellini-Wassermann, built in 1936 by architect Piero Portaluppi, Japanese artist Tomoo Gokita for the first time presented an exhibition of paintings in which color dominates, attributing the change to boredom after years of working almost exclusively in black and white. The works for which he is best known are based on images—often sourced from pornography, comics, or wrestling magazines—that the artist skillfully distorts or partially erases to create abstract compositions that seem to mimic gestural expressionism as much as geometric patterns.

In Gokita’s new paintings, the forms have become more defined, even elegant. And the coloristic turn has not softened the powerful ambiguity of his images, which here, too, are poised between figuration and abstraction. The mark continues to destructure and distort, while color does not lessen but rather intensifies the disconcerting nature of his depictions. The show’s progression delineated a gradual construction of the image, beginning with enigmatic and allusive shapes in the first two rooms. Slit (all works 2020) depicts a large pink egg fractured vertically by a fissure that reveals a bright-red interior, while The Godfather features a red ovoid shape, apparently equipped with wings, that glides over a bright-yellow field above a sea of pale-green and dark-pink waves. The paintings’ titles, like that of the exhibition, “Game Over,” sounded like the results of free association.

Such nearly abstract forms, recalling ideas of germination, birth, and organic transformation, were followed by more overtly figurative imagery, including portraits painted in Gokita’s typically concise, almost debased style and inspired by a sometimes mocking irony. Working Animal presents a quadruped, its snout blocked out by a large red brushstroke, straddled by a female figure perfunctorily defined via large multicolored stains. In The Chief Justice, a sort of figure-object ends up seeming even more bizarre thanks to the work’s imposing title. After You Die shows a beautiful female nude, one of the Junoesque women the artist loves to paint, with a pale-pink complexion against a dark-red background. The linear marks are quite finished and elegant; the face, however, is almost entirely erased.

The recurring figure of Regina—shown in eight numbered eponymous works, the three largest of which were installed on their own in the last room—was most disturbing, despite the pale, almost luminous colors with which she has been painted. In each case, a female torso is surmounted by an inverted triangular head with what appears to be a single large eye lacking a pupil. Or is it a headdress or helmet that occludes the face entirely? This half-human and half-machine form, at any rate, recalls that in The Madmen, which Gokita painted in 2016 in black and white. In the artist’s own words, “Regina is a queen of an unknown planet or an unknown country, and it’s also unknown whether she is a human or an alien.” Like archaic divinities or extraterrestrial apparitions, protagonists of a wordless story told only through perturbing images, this queen throws at us questions that have no answers.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.