Takanobu Kobayashi at the Nishimura Gallery

by Monty DiPietro

In these times of multiplying media choices, it is not uncommon to find those artists whose interests run to realism tripping the shutters of cameras, while their more introspective contemporaries put brush to canvas, with often grand or abstract results. The painter, after all, works from an inner source of impressions, ideas, and emotions, while the photographer creates from concrete subjects found in the environment. The serious still-life painter, it seems, has fallen in the divide.

Which is what makes the exceptional work of Takanobu Kobayashi such a pleasant surprise. About 30 oil paintings and pencil on paper drawings join a single silkscreen print by Kobayashi to make up the exhibition "Seventy-Five Days," a solo show now on at the Nishimura gallery on Tokyo’s Ginza strip.

The 39 year-old artist’s subjects are mostly mundane objects taken from his everyday life – a bathtub, a pillow, cutlery and crockery, a microwave oven. Of course, if one is going to paint one’s immediate environment, it helps to be in an inspiring place. This Kobayashi was fortunate to achieve with the patronage of the Daimler-Benz, through their Monflanquin artist-in-residence program. Located in south-central France, the 13th C. village was Kobayashi’s home for some two and a half months last summer – 75 days to be precise, hence the exhibition title. He says he spent the time keeping company with the friendly locals, enjoying the food and wines, and, eventually, painting.

"With all the media to choose from, I simply like oil paint the best, it suits me somehow," explains the casually-dressed artist at his well-attended opening party, "I suppose another reason I paint is because I really like to work with my hands."

From a pallet dominated by muted and powdery grays, blues, and oranges, Kobayashi weaves and overlaps brushstrokes to build paintings that are occasionally so realistic that they seem to be three-dimensional – his microwave ovens being a good example of this particular effect. This is not to say the paintings are over-refined, but rather that the pictures come to possess a presence that implies the artist spent time, as if in communion, to construct relationships with his inanimate subjects, and so put something of himself into them.

In France it was the light, white but soft, that inspired Kobayashi. After bidding adieu to the cornfields and vineyards, wanderlust took the artist to Bangkok, where he currently lives. About half the works in the show are from Kobayashi’s time in Thailand, and unlikely as it may seem, it isn’t particularly difficult to find a difference between one of the artist’s plate and fork paintings done in Bangkok and one done in Monflanquin. Call it the mood.

A couple of the largest canvases in the show are the night-sky study, "Stars," and "Tree." And while both suggest Kobayashi straying from his inventory of items in his immediate surroundings, the artist is quick to point out that he passed under the slender branches and sunlight-filtering leaves of "Tree" each day while walking between his apartment and studio in Monflanquin. This notwithstanding, and although it would seem the artist draws little if any distinction between the items that were inside his studio and those he found in the world outside, the exhibition’s focus is somewhat compromised by the inclusion of the panels "Stars" and "Tree." Another painting that looks a little out of place is the large, bright red on blue "Goldfish," a shiny portrait of the artist’s live-in-a-bowl companion at the French studio. With most of the other works toned in soft diffusion, "Goldfish" seems garish and the show could do without the dissonance it brings into the room.

"Seventy-Five Days" illustrates that realism is alive and well in Japanese painting. It is an exhibition of inspired work, and a peek at the Nishimura’s price list indicates that, little more than halfway through the opening party, the majority of the paintings had already been reserved for purchase, mostly by private collectors. Critic Fumio Nanjo has written that "Takanobu Kobayashi’s works are a haiku in themselves," for while the subject matter is certainly very simple, Kobayashi’s art has much more to it than is immediately apparent. Worth a look.

notes: Takanobu Kobayashi’s "Seventy-Five Days" is on until May 1, 1999 at the Nishimura Gallery in Ginza (3567-3906).

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