Tomoo Gokita

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.


Tomoo Gokita Desire Develops an Edge (2006) gouache on paper41 x 32.1cm


Tomoo Gokita Bye, Bye, baby (2006) gouache on paper 41 x 32.1cm

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.


Tomoo Gokita Night and Day (2009) acrylic on linen 162.5 x 162.5cm

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.


5 thoughts on “Tomoo Gokita

  1. I love this blogpost. As a consumer it sometimes occurs to me that what I am looking for, or what I might fall for, consists not of art. That is such a useless conundrum. But in yearning to appreciate or to discern I guess it is inevitable that a genuine enquirer must also eventually make judgments of the sort you have made. It is an insoluble concern – but the intellectual tensions inherent in realising the problem are worth it. I think they feed into that ineffable territory which most people can experience, even if they can’t articulate.

    So you mark any work hard. And you know why. No less for yourself. And your insights become more piercing where your own work, material, subject and/or technique in some way crosses over. This refines and advances your own notions and sets your bar even higher.

    Two things stand out in your essay. First, you recognise much that you have in common with Gokita’s work and it shows you what you don’t want in your own work. Now that’s value. Because even I can see where your technique and “look” match. But more importantly, you get intense feelings about his work. That’s tougher territory, harder to pin down. You mention the word nihilistic. For some, this would not be a label to eschew. It matters to me that you have thought it worth mentioning as a negative. Nihilism is worse than emptiness – and I use a value-laden construction deliberately. Emptiness might simply be a consequence of laziness or a sign of a lesser mind. Nihilism frightens the crap out of me. It’s where hell is.

    Jesus, I’m starting to pontificate. But one thing comforts me. Humans eventually get the difference. Even ordinary, untrained, inexperienced humans understand. Your mention of other kinds of art and the enjoyment you get, in the same breath as not knowing what influence, if any, they will have on you confirms this in you. Liam, this is fucking important. I am stoked.

    As you can see, I’m about to ejaculate. I refuse to read what I have written above because it is bound to be tosh – but fingers crossed – you will figure out something from it that has rung a bell for me.



    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! I just looked up the word nihilism, and now I think it’s not quite what I mean. Your description of “emptiness” in relation to laziness and a lesser mind is closer to what I’m thinking of in this case, combined with professionalism. It’s that feeling that the artist believes in the market enough to feed it slick saleable products, but doesn’t believe in art enough to take risks and produce something less easy to love.


      • I get that point point about belief in art. Liam, it would be the most shocking intrusion to ask you what you studied painting for, and why you are now wrestling with it as a new boy and wrestling intellectually with it here. Don’t even try. I will assume that it is compulsive. I love that it is compulsive. I love that it is a wrestle. I couldn’t give a rat’s arse (is that saying even known to a Brit?) how it all ends up. A professional wrestler will have ordinary days much as a professional artist will. There will be times when you won’t even fucking know whether the track you are on is one you would admire in yourself. And that’s even before you become famous and rich aye!!! Then, all bets are off (and we start to spend giggle giggle).

        What a naff preamble to saying something better. Which is: I mightn’t know/shouldn’t know why you are doing all this, but I sure know that the reason surpasses any bar I can set. So take your risks and fail. no failure in that. Of course there are means available for you to proceed, develop and to derive sufficient engagement and response for your art for you to be pleased/content/happy/rewarded and I hope all those things for you. Just this: if none of that comes off in the end, be sure that the project was still one for the Gods to be jealous of.

        I’m lazy and now writing about another blogpost of yours.


      • “… to ask you what you studied painting for, and why you are now wrestling with it as a new boy and wrestling intellectually with it here.”

        I studied art because it was always my best subject at school, but I didn’t study painting because of my colour blindness.

        There are two things that made me take up painting last year. (1) Seeing a book of George Condo paintings, from very wobbly early work to really interesting later stuff, and realising how much someone can evolve from not very promising beginnings, and (2) seeing this Dickens quote that Guston had written on his studio wall:

        Why do I wrestle with it on here? I write the blog as a way of thinking through what I’m working on, keeping a record for myself, and having a sense of sharing it with other people because painting is so solitary.


      • so good to hear why you write out much of your thinking and inconclusiveness in a blog. There is sensible order in what you say which I had no need to think of, not having to have regard to the practical, practice, logistical side of things.

        Truthfully, I imagined at the beginning of our writing that there would be heaps of high level stuff about the realisation of superior impulses (crap phrasing). I am so pleased that it is a mixture of the mundane and the technical and the interplay with what drives, annoys you, blitzes you or just even sometimes randomly occurs to you.

        But I’m not surprised by your attachment to the Dickens “Manifesto”. It doesn’t get better. I imagine that lots of creators would love to say they have been able to stick it out like Dickens. Gustave Flaubert thought much the same about his writing. He wrote millions of letters. I’ve read closely those collected in two volumes. On his art, he describes the magnetism and tyranny in much the same way as does Dickens – although he takes far too long to say it haha. His refusal to compromise led to unsurprising headaches in his private life. His articulation of it was exciting for me, nearly as much as his description of M2M sex on his journeys to Egypt and North Africa – before there were terms coined to condemn this haha.

        I have downloaded that image.

        While it is true that you publish your thoughts to the world – and it occurs to me that you could simply write a private diary to manage some of the purposes of your blog – wherever readers interject and converse with you, it becomes a two way street and there is also an impact at the other end. Deo Gratias mate.


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