Whitehot Magazine

Kosuke Kawahara at RAINRAIN

Kosuke Kawahara, New Poison, 2023-2024, oil color, acrylic, encaustic, spray paint, ink, gesso on synthetic fabric, 31¼ x 26¼ x 1¼ inches / 79.38 x 66.68 x 3.18 cm

By JONATHAN GOODMAN March 26, 2024

Kosuke Kawahara has been in New York for years now. Receiving his MFA degree from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, he now has a studio at The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in midtown. His paintings are marvelous amalgams of different materials and, most usually, abstractions influenced by abstract expressionism but move away from that historical period to something newer–namely, a sense of the permanent rawness and disorder that has overtaken New York. This makes his work both contemporary and local, true to the urban chaos that follows us everywhere here.

In fact, it would most likely be hard to separate Kawahara’s style of painting from his long stay in America, here in New York especially. In a strikingly attractive work, called New Poison (2023-24), the background is a brilliantly bright yellow. Various inchoate passages in black, and one in red, traverse the space of the composition. On the left, we see a vague mass of black, underneath which an orange hue is hidden. Beneath are two inchoate forms. On the top and the middle are spray-painted shapes; there is a horizontal bar crossing the middle of the work. And on the bottom there is a linearly drawn jar, fronted by an indescribable black mass.

Kosuke Kawahara, Do You Remember Me?, 2022-2023, oil, acrylic, urethane, spray paint on sutured found fabrics, 31 x 23 x 1¼ inches / 78.74 x 58.42 x 3.18 cm

New Poison is a study in contrasts of color. By comparison, the black and gray and white work, titled Do You Remember Me? (2022-23), looks like a figurative disaster: a woman, ostensibly a mother, screams at four children painted just below her. A chain fence is seen behind the angry figure. Because of the caricatured rage of the woman, the scene takes on tragic overtones. But we don’t fully know the context–why the figure is yelling and if the children are hers. It is a disturbing work of art, given to unexplained mysteries.

It is hard to specify the specific object described in the work, nor its function. We are in a position of doubt. The third and last work to be described is called Soundless Chamber (2023-24). It is purely abstract, roiling with extravagant masses. Most of the left side is in white, merging without definition into the edges of the black on the right.

Kosuke Kawahara, Soundless Chamber, 2023-2024, oil color, acrylic, encaustic, spray paint, ink, chalk, gesso on sutured found
fabrics, 74 x 49¾ x 1¼ inches / 187.96 x 126.37 x 3.18 cm

Soundless Chamber is a tour de force of abstraction. Its foundation belongs to abstract expressionism, but it also challenges that movement by creating a place of Kawahara’s own. It is hard to describe the way he merges densities and near transparencies in the work; this is because the massed shapes overlap and are blurry to the point being indescribable. Even so, the effectiveness of these vague shapes, perhaps strengthened by their physical nearness to similar shapes, makes for high effectiveness.

One of the questions that would follow a Japanese-born, New York-based artist such as Kawahara is whether the works suggest Japanese influence. The artist himself has communicated that this was so, yet it is hard to pinpoint where a Japanese sensibility might be found. Most Westerners would not easily read these paintings as Japanese art; but there may be the suggestion of portals to another world, given the contrast of darkness and light. Underworld-like shadows are found everywhere.

Forever Waiting, 2018-2023, oil color, encaustic, spray paint, ink, pencil, gesso on wood panel, 77¾ x 62½ x ¾ inches / 197.49 x 158.75 x 1.9 cm

Kawahara is very much a Japanese artist who paints with the eye of someone who lives in and indeed loves the gritty existence occurring in New York. But the feeling of destiny overtaking many of these works doesn’t seem Western. We are living in a time when artists borrow freely; but this has been done for a while. So it’s novelty has worn off.

Too much eclecticism makes the painting hard to read. But Kawahara doesn’t do that, preferring instead to keep his influences outside recognition. The result is both striking and beautiful. As a result, he pays homage to an ancient culture: hence the suggestion of ghosts and death in many of the works. Kawahara determines a place for himself–a genuine achievement given the many influences surrounding him. This is what makes the work so strong. WM

Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications. 


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