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Nobuhiko Nukata

by Monty DiPietro

There are more than a few Japanese artists these days who use what might be termed "obsessional" techniques to realize their work. Among the better known are Yayoi Kusama, who once glued thousands of postal air mail stickers to a canvas and is best known for the ceaseless repetition in her "Infinity Net" and polka dot paintings; and Makoto Sasaki, whose hand-drawn heartbeat pieces are a blip-like record, in red pen on long rolls of paper, of his own heartbeat, monitored by a stethoscope over periods of up to several days. There is a scratch-your-head-in-awe quality to art born of incredible discipline, to works that obviously took a great deal of time and patience to make.

One of my favorites in this bizarre little contemporary art sub genre is Nobuhiko Nukata, an Osaka painter who for the last 15 years or so has been using only his hand and a brush (no rulers, no masking tape) to create big geometric pictures which, at first glance anyway, look very much like they were done either on a drafting table or a computer.

Nukata, 38, is now in Tokyo with "Hypothesis' Coming," a two-gallery show that brings together for the first time selections from the artist's three main bodies of work: the popular, grid-like "Jungle Gym" paintings; the new, "Reel" series; and the airy "Room" pictures.

There are 10 Nukata paintings and two lithographs at the gallery in the Tokyo International Forum's art shop, a relatively new little spot that has taken the big name "Exhibition Space." Much like the art bookshop Nadiff in Omotesando, "Exhibition Space" has played host to some of Tokyo's better contemporary art shows this year, this due the good eye of curator Shio Ishiyama. Showing at Gallery Tokyo Humanité, which is a short walk from Exhibition Space, are 16 works, also drawn from all three of the artist's series.

Best in show may well be "Self (01-1)," a new "Jungle Gym" work that is a giant 240x240cm and provides a dizzying Op Art effect. Nukata's work really has to be seen firsthand to be appreciated, as reproductions communicate neither the hallucinogenic characteristics nor the subtle variations in the lines seen when the they are inspected from up close. These are more than evidence of the painterly process, they are an integral part of the work.

In 1997, when Nukata first began painting the "Jungle Gym" series in earnest, he wrote in an essay, "I want to make a painting as if the painting is making the painting. As an author, I want to be nothing but an assistant to help that process along. Then I think the painting becomes asymmetrical and a higher communication becomes possible."

            At The Exhibition Space opening reception, the soft-spoken artist elaborated on this, "Obviously, computers make clean lines and can produce any number of variations on the same thing, but that's not the point of my work. I want to make a piece from the conception to finish by myself, with my own hand, and, anyway, I like the fact that people, when they look at my works, expect that they have been done by computers and ask me, always, the same question, 'why paint this, when a computer would be easier?,' I like it when people ask me that question, and I like it when things are not what they seem."

I had a dream a couple of days after seeing the Nukata show, and in my dream the lines were no longer on the wall in front of me but rather out and around me, as if I were inside the painting. In Nukata's "Rooms," one becomes disoriented, and so it is with the "Jungle Gyms," are the bars before or behind the viewer, are we standing inside the jungle gym?

Yes, it seems we are inside, and that is the wonder of Nukata's perspective-skewing work.

Notes: Nobuhiko Nukata's "Hypothesis' Coming" is showing until December 22 2002 at Exhibition space (Tokyo International Forum, Forum Art Shop, 3-5-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo; 3286-6717), and Gallery Tokyo Humanité (Dai-ichi Kaikan Bldg. 1F, 3-2-18 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo; 5255-3210).
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