Clarity | Nakagami, Oh, and Vincent in NYC

Every so often, I have a clarifying experience that helps me to see more clearly my path forward as an artist.

Over the past year, I’ve been reading Van Gogh’s letters to his brother and feeling a strong affinity for his eloquent analyses of his struggle to make truthful objects. With his ideas swirling in my head, we visited art galleries on NYC’s Lower East Side in January and saw two artists whose work resonated deeply in a way that’s taken some time for me to understand. The experience of seeing their art against the background of Vincent’s ideas synthesized in me an understanding that has helped to clarify the main goal of my work: to convey full presence and perception of the moment.

Kiyoshi Nakagami, whose work was shown at Galerie Richard, and Jong Oh, whose work was shown at Marc Straus, are similar in that they both address issues of sense and perception, albeit in very different ways.

Nakagami’s work is about light––how to paint it, not in a narrative representational way, but in a deeper more primal way. He’s not using light to make his paintings more beautiful, or to better render objects within his painting, but rather his paintings are light in its most stripped-down, elemental form. His stated intention is to force the viewer to perceive light not as the thing that illuminates our world, but as an entity in itself.

Oh’s work is about space––not how to represent it, but rather how to convey the concept of space itself, how to heighten the viewer’s tactile sense of space. The materials Oh uses––thread, jeweler’s chains, fishing weights, acrylic––are not his medium. The materials only serve to outline and allude to his real medium: space. Oh sculpts space in a way so minimal and profoundly elegant that he effortlessly makes us aware of what’s always been there.

Nakagami’s and Oh’s work is about what they see, not what they’re looking at. Perception, not subject. There’s little to fight through to connect with their work. The effect of viewing their art carries beyond the moment when the work is in front of you. You become more awake, not to their subjects, but to the world around. A more acute awareness of light, of space, of the moment.

Van Gogh’s words from 130 years ago come to mind. In an 1885 letter he wrote in Nuenen as he worked on his series of potato digger drawings, he discussed the struggle to move from academic accuracy to real perception:

“But I think however correctly academic a figure may be, it will be superfluous these days…when it lacks the essential modern note, the intimate character, the real action. Perhaps you will ask, when will a figure not be superfluous, though there may be faults, great faults in it in my opinion? When the digger digs, when the peasant is a peasant and the peasant woman a peasant woman. My great longing is to make those incorrectnesses, those deviations, remodelings, changes of reality, so that they may become, yes, untruth if you like––but more true than the literal truth.”

“Correctly academic” and “literal truth”, or in other words, mindlessly perfect technique, bring forth craft, but not art.
I’ve written previously that my images are what the memory of being there looks like. The intersection of Nakagami, Oh, and Vincent pushes me to recommit to that touchstone.

Kiyoshi Nakagami, Unititled, 2015
Galerie Richard, NYC

Jong Oh, Surface Water 4, 2016
Marc Straus, NYC

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