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KOSEI SASAKI Exhibition - Review

May 1, 2010 / review

23rd April saw the opening of 3331 Arts Chiyoda's latest exhibition, an impressive solo show by one of Japan's pioneers of the avant-garde, Kosei Sasaki, presenting his work for the first time in 40 years. Friends, colleagues, patrons and members of the art scene gathered to celebrate this occasion, with the artist in person.

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©Ujin Matsuo

At the age of 82, holding this exhibition marks a new stage in his life the artist commented. For decades after returning to Japan after over 20 years in America and Europe, Sasaki isolated himself from the art world and art discourse, he became, he says, a wanderer in the world, drifting and experiencing the things around him.

His era was one of madness and hardship, growing up during the war and facing the following devastation. But now there is a very new era, the artist comments, one of diversity and potential, reflected by the many different people gathered for this opening - people who do not know this era, people who have grown up with new technology and who have experienced many different aspects of the world. Sasaki particularly thanked 3331 for providing such a unique stage for the setting of this exhibition, their vision also contributing towards a new era, creating a new value to be transmitted to many people.

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But what is the value which Sasaki wishes to transmit? Sasaki believes the important questions are what are people doing in the world? How should we live? What should we do? Through such questions art, learning, thinking becomes central to life. "We need to have strength to face the world, to face these questions, and even though I may be old, I am taking up this challenge" he told the gathered audience.

Sasaki claims that the era of the artist presenting his creativity as art has finished. As an artist, but more importantly as a human being, one must consider what is it you want to do, what is important, what is it you want to say, this is what matters now, and this is what he attempts to do in his work.

This way of thinking has emerged from his time as a "wanderer" as he puts it, in which he engaged everyday in a conversation with himself, with the mountains, with the sun, what kind of existence is there between human beings and the things around them became of paramount questioning to him. What can I do? What do I want to do? What is best to do? These are the questions which have occupied him, not notions of what is art.
After being diagnosed with cancer of the stomach 10 years ago, Sasaki tells of how he had to face his own death and realized that there was still something he wanted to do, still something he wanted to share with other people through art and began to take up painting again.

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    The exhibition certainly lives up to its name "Total Affirmation : Ok. Perfect. Yes", one is bombarded with colour, boldness and sheer scale of 50 works. There is no timidity here, no uncertainty, there is complete acceptance. The series of paintings created over a 10 year period project a confidence and optimism which is difficult not to be touched by. The energy of organic abstract forms, with planes of pure colour creates a life of its own, becoming living organisms dancing under the microscope. Reminiscent in some ways of Keith Herring and Victor Pasmore they bring together playfulness and reflection simultaneously.

The 43 minute documentary presented as part of this exhibition records Sasaki's process of painting accompanied by a detailed interview. The small frail frame of Sasaki, teetering on the edge of a plastic paint splattered stool reaching out to the canvas, is in strong contrast with the large bold works he creates before him. "I am not doing anything difficult, I am just doing what I want to do" he says in his self-built studio surrounded by the mountains of the Gunma countryside. He describes how he has been constantly fraught with this very question "What is it that I want to do?" and the pursuit of this question has led him to engage in all manner of activities in many places around the world. Growing up in the countryside as a child he had no exposure to art, and was not even particularly interested in painting but was of a more philosophical leaning. But he realized he could express something through art and came to pursue this in the cutting edge of avant-garde movements of the 1960's. A movement which can be glimpsed in this exhibition through the series of scrap books and paper cuttings collected by Sasaki. Yet still he comments that he does not relate to art as an artist, for him it is just what he has to do, art is created by the people who view it and appreciate it.

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Sasaki exudes a determination a concrete force which drives him in his work, yet at the same time has a distinctive openness to the world. He may also take the position of the flaneur as demonstrated in the series of film taken by Sasaki between 1971-1974 on the streets of the New York neighbourhood where he lived. Grainy images of warped colour accompanied by 70's rock flicker, stammer and jump from one perspective to the next, weaving through pedestrians, strolling through the park, driving through the streets of downtown Manhattan - bright lights, laden shop fronts, piles of trash, abandoned cars, colourful characters, it is all there, capturing Sasaki's spirit as a wanderer, observing the world around him and accepting every part of it.

This is certainly an exhibition to uplift and revive a positivity towards the world. But it also inspires a question in us, a challenge, what is it that you want to do?

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