Sono mama, means in Japanese "as it is", "things as they are", and describes Naoto Nakagawa's work precisely. He is a realist of special accomplishment, a realist different from any of his contemporaries. At the heart of his difference is his Japaneseness. We are familiar with the realist tra- dition in the West, with the works of Harnet and Peto and, lately, of Close, Estes, Thibaud and Bravo. What is unfamiliar to us is the depth and breadth of the realist tradition in Japan, Nakagawa's source and in- spiration. Nakagawa's grandfather is Kagaku Murakami, a recognized master of the Nihonga. Japanese-style, realist painting in ink or colors on silk or paper. The realist movement in Japan is old, it began in an era when Japan was sealed off from the West. The closing of Japan in the 17th century forced her painters to turn inward and it was this turning that established in realist painting a unique style. And it has given a particular character to Nakagawa's painting. When Nakagawa came here some years ago he was not familiar with Western realist tradition, but he was intimately familiar with Japan's.
His work here~and all of his important painting has been done here~ reflects his heritage. In fact, it is perhaps not too much to say that he is the strongest and most obviously Japanese painter at work today. He is not a photo realist nor is he a super-realist. He has never used photographs for his work. He renders the Japanese tradition. His move several years ago to the slopes of Vermont reinforced his naturalness and, for the first time, landscape became an important element in his pictures. This move, reminiscent of his paintings gives to his work a splendid stillness, and it is altogether satisfac- tory. The brilliance now of roses and blue manifests the risks he is willing to take.
He is at that point when things will no longer hold still. Even in what might be considered a relatively undramatic realm of subject matter, the still life, the impact of one of Nakagawa's paintings makes itself immediately felt. It is not merely the choice of subject that is contem- porary~lawnmower, ice skates and television sets, but the choice of the vantage point in Nakagawa's careful but random arrangements of the contents of an attic or garage. Nakagawa zooms in for a close-up of the american culture and selects restructured fragments of this already circumscribed reality until, at the ultimate limit of reductive intimacy, the focus is on such insignificant objects as a television set or Iawnmower, forcing us to come to terms with previously ignored or unnoticed aspects of the most ordinary experi- ence of our daily life. Nakagawa with an elegant flair for display, makes even a food blender appear to be a rather significant and intriguing object. This slip of recognition of an object as it falls into the realm of pure visual sub- jectivity. is perhaps the more meta- physical side of the realist movement. And an artist of Nakagawa's sensitivity and selectivity creatively shifts us into the here and now. Nakagawa places his still life on a white cloth mysteriously draped over an unidentified table or altar of con- sumer sacrifice and idol worship.
paintings are perfectly balanced by
use of the old masters triangle or
pyramid composition, where the eye of
the viewer is neatly led throughout the
picture plane. Nakagawa has taken
traditional methods of concept, tech-
nique and composition and applied it
to a current of modern thought and
This painter, the grandson of Mura-
kami, this descendant of 18th century
Eastern realists, is following the dic-
tales of the poet Basho, who said:
Do not seek to emulate the old mas
faithful to the master, and he is equal
to the task.