E’wao Kagoshima

January 19 – March 5, 2011

E’wao Kagoshima belongs to a generation of Japanese artists born at the end of World War II in the years between the Gutai Art Association (born in the 1920s and 1930s) and the generation of artists represented by Takashi Murakami (born during Japan’s economic reconstruction in the 1960s and 1970s). Together, these three generations have defined an arc of Japanese culture; assimilating western influences and responding to the socio-economic fallout from World War II to fabricate an exotic, ritualized visual culture drawing upon tradition, decoration, pop culture, violence, eroticism and kitsch.

E’wao Kagoshima was born in 1945 in Niigata in northwestern Japan where his parents had moved to avoid American airstrikes on Tokyo. While attending the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in the late 1960s, Kagoshima produced small sculptures of floating cups and paint cans held aloft by their cast bronze fluid pours. These objects were widely shown and have become part of the Japanese Pop Art canon. In the 1970s Kagoshima went on to develop an unsettling and visionary psychedelia that bore affinities with Ernst Fuchs and the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism. Unlike the mannered decadence of his Western counterparts, Kagoshima’s orientalized fantasies were constructed in the present tense evincing none of the nostalgia in which the Viennese artists were steeped. Throughout his oeuvre, it is Kagoshima’s fervid imagination, informed by an encyclopedic knowledge of myth and cultural symbolism, that makes his art unexpected and original. In contrast to younger Japanese artists who work within well-defined iconographic subcultures, Kagoshima reinvents his own visual traditions. It is this prescience, emerging prior to the more recent appropriation and codification of kawaii (cute) and otaku (sado-geek) subcultures, that makes Kagoshima’s art especially fascinating.

After moving to New York in 1976, Kagoshima’s art evolved from his precise imaginary realism, swinging between a bizarre and symbolic cartoon style and a bravura impressionism that returns that style to its origins in 19th Century Japanism. Kagoshima’s paintings, collages, drawings and sculptures were shown in shifting installations, effectively bringing the studio into the gallery. In 1983 the New Museum undertook a exhibition allowing the artist to work in the museum throughout the course of his show. Kagoshima’s art was also written about extensively by Nicholas Moufarrege, for whom it was a touchstone in his “Mutant International” features for Arts Magazine documenting the burgeoning East Village scene of the 1980s. E’wao Kagoshima lives and works in Brooklyn.