Shotgun Review Archive

New Prints and Paintings: Toru Sugita

By September 22, 2007 chapeau1_keywords_1.JPG Chapeau This month the Newmark Galley in San Francisco is featuring a show by Japanese artist Toru Sugita. The 20 pieces include black and white prints using etching, wood cut, aquatint and drypoint techniques, and colorful oil paintings. Sugita grew up in a small city in Central Japan, where he studied art in Kyoto before leaving Japan to travel around the world. He settled in California over 10 years ago, where he came into his own as a printmaker at the Kala Institute in Berkeley, and where he honed his skills as a painter while living in San Francisco. He is currently living and teaching in Colorado at Mesa State College. Sugita's work is infused with the spirit of Shinto, the traditional religion of Japan which teaches that every rock, every tree, and every building--in other words every living and nonliving thing contains a "kami" or spiritual essence. Even in his large scale oil paintings of freeways and urban lanscapes, the buildings, bridges, and roads seem to vibrate with life. In the same spirit of Shinto, a small wood engraving, Red Rocks and Stick depicts his young American-born daughter exploring her world. Something in Sugita's work reminds me of Haruki Murakami, the Japanese novelist, whose lonely 20th century mindscapes refer to both Japanese and American cultures. Murakami spent time living in the US looking at his culture from the outside before returning to Japan where he is often percieved as being more Western than Japanese. Murkami blends traditional Japanese values and images with modern Western signposts and cultural references which lead to the unknown. The emotional resonance in both Sugita's and Murakami's work reflects cross-cultural experience and modern feelings of loss and alienation. In Sugita's work shadows are often used to show the fleeting nature of time. Sugita says that "in the process of printmaking there is a plate, but the plate itself is not the artwork. The print that is generated is a secondary image--like a shadow. I find I can express my feelings best using the tones of black and white". A large format etching called Chapeau (hat) shows a man crossing the street while being obscured by the shadow of a tall building. Sugita uses the contrast between black and white to create dramatic architectural spaces, while the human figure is lost in darkness. Many of the paintings and prints are nostalgic and autobiographical in nature. A small oil painting called Empty Street refers to a street near Sugita's hometown in Shiga, Japan. This is a street his father walked for many years going to and from the train station on his way to and from work. According to Sugita,these days the street is empty because many of the younger people have moved to big cities and, in his case, to America. Many of the paintings and prints were inspired by Bernal Heights, a neighborhood in San Francisco where Toru Sugita lived for many years and one which features the mixed architecture styles and the winding streets of a typical San Francisco neighborhood. Sugita's work asks the viewer what is beyond the curve--the next bend in the road? Where are we going? And where have we been? New Prints and Paintings by Toru Sugita will be on view at Newmark Gallery in San Francisco from September 6th through 29th

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