Phillips auctioneers have a contemporary art auction on Feb 28th and the art is listed online. A lot of the artists are unfamiliar to me. These gouache paintings by Tomoo Gokita caught my eye because he’s doing things with black and white paint that are similar to some of my experiments.
I liked these paintings enough to be interested in seeing more, so I did a search of Gokita’s work. He also makes large acrylic paintings, using a similar range of brush strokes, all black and white. Unfortunately, the more I saw of his large paintings, the more disappointed I became.
Gokita blends black and white into his brush strokes to create high-contrast gradients which he uses in a variety of ways, sometimes abstract, sometimes to model form, and sometimes to render light effects derived from photographs (very similar technique also found in paintings by Wilhelm Sasnal and Marcin Maciejowski). Most of Gokita’s pictures evoke and combine two forms of early-to-mid twentieth century imagery: black and white photography and abstract painting. I’m just not sure what the point is, other than a kind of commercial nostalgia-chic.
In particular, he frequently paints (photo derived) figures with the faces obscured or disrupted by patches of abstraction. For me, that’s a totally exhausted trope, done to death in recent painting (incl. Ghenie), drawing from the well of Cubism, Francis Bacon, John Stezaker, and George Condo, but coming up with nothing new. I even see something nihilistic in all these recent portraits disfigured and depersonalised, as if the painters are compelled to paint pictures of people but, anxious about that being an old-fashioned practice, they make it “contemporary” by abstracting the face, creating a kind of quick-and-easy alienation effect at the same time as demonstrating Look! I can do photorealism, figuration AND abstraction! in a way that feels, to me, like playing to the gallery. I’ve made a couple of paintings that stray into this territory, and it amazes me how much people respond to them, but unfortunately I can’t share their enjoyment so I take a different path.
I try not to criticise other painters on this blog, but in this case it feels relevant to my painting (also his career is going fine, so I’m sure it won’t worry him). Gokita and I are working with almost exactly the same materials in the same format. There are huge overlaps in the way we’re making pictures. He’s been painting for much longer, so it’s instructive for me to see how he uses techniques that I’ve only begun to develop. But more than that, I have an intense feeling that his work shows me what I don’t want to do in my own.
To put it more positively, the technical similarity between our work focuses me on what the differences are – what is it that I feel is absent in Gokita’s paintings but that I want to be present in mine? It reminds me of other kinds of art that don’t happen to use black and white paint, but that I really enjoy, and the influence of which hasn’t, yet, found its way into my painting. This includes: the comedy/performance of Frankie Boyle, Sarah Silverman, Seth McFarlane, John Waters, Barry Humphries, David Hoyle, and Paul Soileau; the cinema of Michael Haneke, David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, and Charles Laughton; the theoretical writing of Georges Bataille, Jean Baudrillard, and Mike Kelley; and the music/performances of my 90’s youth, PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Bjork, Nick Cave, Madonna, Tom Waits. etc etc. I don’t know what exactly I’d like to draw from any of these, but obviously it won’t be their painting style, and that alone helps me to stop fixating on material technical production and opens my mind to all the other things that make an art work what it is.