Whitehot Magazine

Tomoko Sugimoto Unveils New Embroidery Works in NY

"All Lead To II" (2016), acrylic paint and cotton thread on canvas.

Tomoko Sugimoto: The Unseen World
September 8 – 11, 2016
2 Rivington Street NYC
Opening: Sept. 7, 6 – 9 p.m.


The Unseen World, an exhibition of new works by acclaimed Japanese artist Tomoko Sugimoto curated by Zahra Sherzad, will be on view at 2 Rivington through September 11th. Known for her multimedia works that combine elements of traditional Japanese illustration with Western cultural influences, Sugimoto’s latest body of work is a dexterous blend of bright cotton-thread embroidery on canvas and soft tints of paint delicately applied to flattened pictorial planes.

A Tokyo native, Sugimoto migrated to New York City in the early 90’s to pursue a degree in illustration at SVA before accepting a position as the helm of Takashi Murakami's Brooklyn studio in 1996. For over a decade, she has served as the Painting Director in Murakami's Kai Kai Kiki studio in Brooklyn where she played a pivotal role in defining what the world perceived as contemporary Japanese art. Her core stint at Kai Kai Kiki helped her learn about the international art scene and Japan’s place and reputation in it, despite her own work remaining uniquely self-segregated.

Instead of the re-appropriated pop elements or self-referential imagery often found in Contemporary Japanese Art, Sugimoto uses acrylic paint, thread, and a sewing machine to render whimsical images of children playing, landscapes, and everyday objects that employ subtle color compositions, non-perspectival yet cinematic qualities, scaled subject matter, and maintain a consistent yet varied style, diverse enough to make every work both recognizable and unique.

Artist Tomoko Sugimoto explains her process to Whitehot writer Kristin Sancken. (Image courtesy of Elizabeth Brooks)

Artist Tomoko Sugimoto and curator Zahra Sherzad. (Image courtesy of Elizabeth Brooks)

The Unseen World borrows its title from the centerpiece work, a six-foot-tall tent that represents the traditional living space of any native people. For the exterior fabric of the structure, Sugimoto has reduced wartime photographs of bomb clouds to delicate, seemingly serene thread-on-canvas outlines; she had previously observed that when images of explosive clouds from warfare are depicted in their simplest graphic form, they are indistinguishable from clouds in the sky on a pleasant day. On the reverse side of the fabric, facing inward to the occupant of the tent as a byproduct of the sewing machine, crude red threads rain down from the clouds. Visually reminiscent of blood spatter, the threads in this case represent the threat from the literal unseen world outside.

"Unseen World" (exterior detail)

In another work, 108 circular canvases ranging in diameter from 3 to 7 inches address one’s journey to achieve a state of tranquility antithetical to The Unseen World; deriving from Sugimoto’s native Japanese culture and its Buddhist roots, the production itself is a meditative, repetitive process rooted in rhythmic flow. The number of canvasses on which the circular process has been repeated represents the artist’s continual regard for mastery and control over the 108 earthly temptations one must overcome to achieve Nirvana.

Artist Tomoko Sugimoto. (Image Courtesy of Elizabeth Brooks)

There is a fluidity to Sugimoto’s current body of work created by the unruffled rhythm of her productivity. Unseen World is a celebration of artistic skill, technical expertise, and the value of craft over concept. Her easily recognizable style that combines the aesthetic aspects of traditional Japanese art with a post-occupation social blend of Western and Eastern influences serves as a strong visual demonstration of cross-cultural criticism void of the overly-ironic undertones associated with most regenerative contemporary art. WM


Kristin Sancken

Kristin Sancken is a New York based writer, curator, and art consultant. 

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