By VITTORIA BENZINE December, 2021
This week concludes Your, My, Story, the latest dreamy solo show by ob. On view at Galerie Perrotin’s Lower East Side location since last month, the alluring yet enigmatic series unfolds along the second floor’s winding walls–a fantasy as fresh and enrapturing as ob’s artwork always crafts. The Saitama-based ob painted all but one of the pieces shown in this show over the past year. Your, My, Story doesn’t just mark one full decade since ob’s artistic debut–it’s also her first solo show in NYC. On opening night, a bursting congratulatory floral arrangement from Takashi Murakami welcomed celebrants.
Ilaria Maria Sala’s text outlines ob’s creative path as a member of the influential Social Networking Services (SNS) generation of artists, who leveraged technology to build their communities and careers. ob’s biography states she graduated from Kyoto Art Senior High School in 2010, just as the SNS generation crested into the creative spotlight.
That same year, ob organized Wassyoi, a group exhibition taking its name from “the chant used by revelers in Japanese street festivals.” Wassyoi emerged from ob’s connections on the illustration communication service pixiv and made huge ripples across the culture. A member of the prestigious Kaikai Kiki Gallery today, she’s continued on that current ever since.
Her style evolves around consistent muses–the quiet and big-eyed dolls staring out from each canvas. Surroundings and circumstances shift, but their gazes prevail. Your, My, Story, catches a lighter breeze with pastel colors and big, floppy plants. In Access, one figure stares up from a placid fountain, either lost in thought or just recently disturbed from it.
Such tension expresses itself in ob’s actual process, a precise note struck just between her digital inspirations and classical painting techniques. “I am constantly working within contradictions,” ob wrote to me in our email interview. “Having contradictory thoughts in your mind gives vitality to life, so while you feel comfortable with digital inspirations, you can’t help feel stimulated from physical materials and embodiment.”
“I find fluctuation between the digital world, where you can get a lot of information with the movement of your fingertips, and the painting expressions, which you achieve by dealing with your physical body and the painting medium,” ob continued. As a digital native who’s classically practiced, she noted that “If you are biased toward either side, you end up feeling something is missing.”
As above, so below–tension plays out on ob’s canvases as well. Her figures are soft and clean, impeccable yet effortless, and still “there is a darkness, a weariness that accompany some of the most brightly tinted works,” as Sala points out. “Ultimately, they are captivating us with an affectionate exchange, undisturbed of what we make of them, communicating something very close to love.”
Adolescent uncertainty’s sweet, sentimental aura permeates these reveries–physically as a pastel fog finishing each canvas and conceptually as an ambivalent blankness. Over email, ob clarified, “In Japan, youth is of course one measure, but I think we place more importance on moe, which is the feeling of being moved by the freshness of innocence… The emotion called moe, a word that symbolizes Japanese otaku culture, is a shining light that can illuminate us at any stage of development in our life. I believe that the energy of self-transformation hidden in adolescent uncertainty gives us the courage to face others.”
The history and growth of moe in pop culture is a phenomenon in its own right–but the explosion itself points to a resonance. There's something about innocence, about youth, that everyone undeniably wants for themselves–that’s why moe characters absorb widespread, avid projections of ardor sometimes bordering fanaticism. “I am interested in stories that are accepted across eras and countries,” ob explained. “I am eager to conceive and produce artworks that transcend time, and to gain a wider perspective through the process.” These pillowy pupils are portals to archetypal truths.
ob hinted about new directions in this path. “Of particular interest is the genre of human-animal marriage,” she wrote. “Historically these stories tell us that when different beings try to get married, major turbulence occurs. If you interpret the human-animal marriage psychoanalytically as a story of turmoil in one’s mind, we can assume there is another existence within our deep psyche…I think that revisiting the classic stories may hint to revisiting ourselves.”
Always quietly questioning, ob’s artwork increases in curiosity and imaginativeness. A portal to an archetypal truth transports someone to an otherwise hidden place within the self, a new understanding. ob intimated that over the show’s run, she received recurring feedback that her works evoked viewers’ childhood experiences. “That made me feel I was able to connect with the deep psyche of the viewers,” ob remarked. “I will continue to explore the depth of painting.” Your, My, Story appeals to a sensibility of this moment, the sad-happiness of youth that never really ends. Paradoxical innocence immortalized in a character’s face–a truth born of desire at least as much as reality. WM
Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via: @vittoriabenzine // email@example.com // vittoriabenzine.com
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