There are layers and layers and more layers of time, energy, ideas and even, as Japanese contemporary artist Soichiro Shimizu says, “intentional accidents” in his latest work on exhibit now in Bangkok – enormous reliefs that he describes as “wood becomes metal” and that loom as mystery yet comfort.
If your eye is drawn to the deteriorating beauty of an abandoned urban wall with peeling layers of faded paint, tattered posters or dripped rust, you will be transported by the five compositions that comprise the exhibition, titled “Deeply Rooted.”
If not, the sheer wonder of his labor-intensive, very physical process will mesmerize.
Deterioration and nature are driving forces for Shimizu, 52, who studied business and played water polo at university in his native Tokyo. A previous chance encounter with American graffiti artist Keith Haring while a teenager absorbed in art class later drew him to New York’s School of Visual Arts.
Haring was working on a museum commission in Tokyo and unexpectedly showed up at Shimizu’s high-school art exhibition and liked what he saw.
“He came from New York, so I thought I should go there if I wanted to make art,” says Shimizu, who found that city of little mercy to be welcoming. Haring died before Shimizu arrived.
Although only working then in paint, the layering that embodies his work today gained him solo and group shows through the 1990s, not only in New York but Chicago, Paris and in one of Tokyo’s premier modern art galleries, Itochu. It even brought him, as an emerging artist, a surprising commission for Sony headquarters in Japan.
By 1999, New York gallery owner Jeffrey Deitch, who later became director of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, likened him to Marcel Duchamp and Jackson Pollock in the brochure for the Itochu solo exhibition.
“Soichiro Shimizu’s work is the unique fusion between action and meditation, nature and artifice, tenacity and delicacy. The artist is inspired by Japanese, American and European sensitiveness and creates an original vision that embraces the artistic national traditions but also overcomes them,” the brochure read.
It was as if Deitch were writing of the current work, which just opened at YenakArt Villa gallery, a modern airy house at home with Shimizu’s dimensions of 244 centimeters by up to 488 cm. When compared with the many iterations and materials that go into his latest generation, his earlier work seems almost simplistic in its multiple layers of paint he scraped down.
After moving to Bangkok from London in 2003 (where he’d gone after New York), Shimizu unexpectedly moved away from art for more than a decade – then found his way back. Living in Bangkok eventually allowed him to explore a formidable approach to the complexity that defined his paintings and experiment with multiple materials.
His current process begins with two separate but continuous lines that loop repeatedly over themselves in parallel symmetric columns on a small piece of paper, drawn ambidextrously at the same time. He scans that image some 20 times, placing one on top of another through a kind of computer sculpting, deleting bits where he feels necessary.
Shimizu takes the computer file to a factory two hours outside Bangkok that machine engraves seemingly thousands of incisions into plywood, going several layers deep. He chooses the manmade pressed plywood for its fragility, knowing that accidental chips likely will lead him to a more precise emotion.
In another factory in another province he uses thermal or plasma sprays of zinc or other melted metal, then copper or bronze, sometimes torching a section and drilling deeper cuts before sanding and polishing by hand. For “Deeply Rooted” he took one three-paneled piece to a foundry to cast it in aluminum.
Up close each piece appears as a topographic map. From afar it could be oxidized tree bark, a rusted Japanese landscape, a flattened diorama of Bangkok or even the ancient city of Ayutthaya.
They are not those ideas to him, though. He sees an amalgam and an amplifying of urban energy and decay, nature and alchemy, industrial spew and organic purity, gravity and circulation, raw and refined, destruction and reinvention and more.
“I am not trying to make a statement,” he says, carefully, after suggesting that decay or eruptions are a part of nature that can lead to beauty.
The flow of emotions and ideas that lead his lines and his layers are his private journey. But the soft-spoken artist with a slight beard and a sheepish smile seems to delight in hearing where his work takes others.
For one woman visiting from New York, “Deeply Rooted” took her back to her favorite storybook images, “the kind you want to stare at for hours.”
“Deeply Rooted” runs until February 3, 2019, at YenakArt Villa, 69 Soi Prasat Suk, Yen Akat Soi 2, Bangkok.