Eight Days a Week and Respire: Koichi Sato & Royal Jarmon @ The Hole
Back in February, I had the good fortune of visiting the studios of Koichi Sato and Royal Jarmon to preview of their new works in advance of solo presentations at The Hole in NYC. Both shows are now on view at the gallery, and the bodies of work feel especially pertinent given the roiling re-examination of society in the US and beyond.
For his debut with the gallery, Hope Eight Days a Week, the Japanese-born Koichi Sato has painted a new series of idiosyncratic group and individual portraits. Unfettered from any perceived narrative, his practice is fueled by an absolutely freewheeling research of subjects to an unconventional, collage-like painting method. Sato's work mirrors his relaxed attitude and open mindedness. "I try to find a way to paint, but I don't think much about the painting techniques. For me, technique is secondary," the artist smiles when speaking about method and the creative process. Making work out of sheer love for the medium, his group shots playfully assemble a range of characters and elements that he finds amusing and complementary. Whether it's basketball team, a group of tribal men, or a mixed crowd featuring E.T., mariachi, native American, a cat, and a turkey, these images are also the artist's way of learning about his adopted homeland while essentially playing with the paint. At the same time, they document varying, even complex, images of society, seen through the eyes of an individual that might not have a personal connection with the historic or cultural legacy he is depicting.
The title of Royal Jarmon's second show with the gallery is coming from the stop-motion animation he created for the presentation, pushing his latest concept of abstracted maps of the US to a new sphere. Respire is showing the keyboard-like grid of US states "inhaling and exhaling" in a loop, presenting the country as a living, breathing organism. After a variety of different concepts Jarmon has been working on over the years, from flattened cars, over still life compositions set up on a fire stair, submerged Lego men to lighters, the artist's latest series of work is influenced by his school day drawings of the US map. The artist pays tribute to the source of these works with a large mural painted in the gallery, in which the image reminisces of a pencil drawing sketched on a sheet of wide-ruled paper. In this body of work, Jarmon is transforming the rough layout of 50 states and their two-letter abbreviations into a grid from which he builds abstracted imagery. Playing with the color scheme, surface, and techniques, he is applying effective trickery which converts this familiar matrix into an airtight concatenation of shiny plastic buttons. Seeing these paintings "as a kind of early computer keyboard, and the fifty states of America as keys that you press in sequence to tell a story," the artist is recontextualizing the national symbol in a cleaver, playful manner, without messaging or provocation. —Sasha Bogojev