Juxtapoz

In the Magazine: Tomoo Gokita

February 25, 2015

The following is an excerpt from the March 2015 issue of Juxtapoz Magazine, on sale now.

I’m not gonna lie and say I was prepared for the overwhelming visual barrage I experienced stopping by Mary Boone Gallery on a frigid New York winter day early last year to see the work of Tomoo Gokita. For the past week leading up to my gallery visit, unfamiliar images of electrifyingly monochromatic and faceless characters infiltrated my daily social media feed. I recall a bewildering sensation, comparable to being left out of a secret—how was I not familiar with this artist’s work? He clearly didn't just pop up overnight, as his trained and refined style made evident.

Tomoo Gokita has been showing internationally and garnering attention since the late 1990s, but it wasn’t until over a decade later when he expanded his practice from paper drawings and design work to abstract paintings on canvas that the contemporary art world sprung up and took notice. Perhaps my ignorance related to the fact that Gokita is not an American artist and 6,700 miles separate Tokyo from New York. Whatever the reason, I’m particularly excited to share his work with a new set of new eyes besides my own. With the assistance of modern technology and a Japanese translator, I was able to locate Gokita in the suburbs outside of Tokyo to learn more about who he is and his why he is so obsessed with wrestling. —Austin McManus

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Austin McManus: In the catalog that accompanies your museum exhibition, the last image shows a wrestler pointing at the viewer, and a few pages before, there is a spread of tiled Wrestling magazine covers. This is certainly not the first time you have referenced wrestling. What is it about these spandex-wearing characters that holds your fascination?
Tomoo Gokita: Wrestling is my biggest interest dating back to my childhood. I mainly sketch wrestlers from the 1970s and ’80s, which I find to be attractive times. Wrestling is generally thought of as "fake" or "staged" and has been mocked to this day in sports entertainment. But that is what it is, and will probably never go extinct. The wrestling world, which was a mix of true or false and craziness, is attractive and still successful.

Which particular wrestling character is your most favorite?
My hero was Antonio Inoki since I was a kid. Usually he wrestles to entertain, but he decided to actually take on a real fight with boxer Muhammad Ali at Budokan arena in Tokyo in 1976! In a nutshell, he is crazy!

To my surprise, at the same time of your museum exhibition, you opened a smaller exhibition displaying watercolors. How does this work differ from the rest, aside from the medium?
Well, I have been painting with watercolors for a long time but I just didn't show the work because of the high number of abstract art pieces out there. I finally decided to show my watercolor paintings as a way to express variety and versatility in my work.

With your father designing the advertising pages for the Japanese edition of Playboy, I imagine this had a big influence on your female figures, correct?
Yes, I grew up reading the Japanese edition of Playboy, and I would say, for sure, that has had a large influence on my female figures. I want to draw the bunny girls again and again. Why? I don't know!

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