Corey Helford Gallery, January 16 – February 20, 2021
by Jacob Hicks
Kazuki Takamatsu uses a “unique depth-mapping technique” where an initial composition is sculpted digitally, every graphic pixel is then tonally matched from the computer model in acrylic gouache and painted painstakingly by hand to canvas. From what I understand the pixel tonal gradient diminishes in brightness equivalently using quadrilateral symmetry. This produces an eerie, uncanny valley aesthetic of unnatural monochromatic perfection.
In my research the descriptions of the making of the work have been vague, and I hope the truth of the process doesn’t include an army of studio assistants creating art like little machine arms in a factory at the behest of an artist. I also wonder why it is necessary to paint the images when they might live just as beautifully as purely digital entities? That aside, the final results of Takamatsu’s labor-intensive paintings are magnetic and exciting.
The work is indebted to Japanese pop cultural history like Kibyoshi, the Edo period’s wood block adult comics, Shoujo manga, a form targeted toward a teen female demographic, kawaii aesthetic and anime. Cyborg aesthetic and science fiction in general are important to Takamatsu’s vision. All his paintings feature undead phantasm doll shells of feminine fantasy. They are hybrid zombie Goddesses enshrined with swords, chains, skulls, goldfish and flowers. In the nude or in negligee, all poses are careful not to “reveal” too much. The paintings manifest a prudish boy fantasy of lifeless femininity, elevating their figures to Godheads void of humanness. Like the corpse of neoclassical Ingres’ Grand Odalisque, or Parmigianino’s Madonna with the Long Neck, the female forms are stretched posthuman spaghetti noodles.
Though I really enjoy the paintings, I think it’s important to address the sexualized male gaze on these female forms, their child-like physicality, and their separation from humanness. Takamatsu is a cultural producer from Japan, and so I am careful to not be too critical of culture and history that I am not a part of and so cannot fully understand. From a contemporary western perspective, I think the simultaneous empowerment of these subjects (suggested through iconographic compositions and decorations and tokens of power like swords and wings), and disempowerment (suggested through undergarments or nudity and idealizations of lifeless form) beg the question: is a Lolita-like nymph in 2021 a trope worthy of repetition?
The artist’s job is to build from the mud of the muse of their choice, and Takamatsu’s fantasy images of robot doll Goddesses harness a computer-based futuristic power, both beautiful, awe-inspiring and menacing.