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Lightbulb Kenichi Yokono - Innocence Art Review - 06-08-2008, 05:32 PM

Tokyo art show review - Kenichi Yokono "Innocence" at Unseal Gallery.

Kenichi Yokono is a young Japanese artist who seems to be keeping busy. Since appearing in Takashi Murakami's Geisai art fair a few years ago, the artist has spent time in residence in New York, had a solo and a group show in Los Angeles, and been involved in a few shows around Japan. Last week saw the opening of his first Gallery Unseal solo show, "innocence".

Yokono is known for his medium almost as much as his subject matter. He trained in traditional Japanese woodblock carving at art college in Kanazawa. But rather than making woodblock prints like the old Japanese masters, Yokono paints the actual carved blocks themselves and displays them - the blocks, not prints - as his art. From everything I've seen of his work, he only uses two colors in his creations: red and white. Those colors are certainly the only ones in play at the new show at Unseal.

Thematically, Kenichi Yokono's works tend to lean toward darkness and the grotesque. Previous shows have featured mutant animals, references to 1970s horror movies, severed heads, and post-apocalyptic landscapes. The new show continues on with these themes, but perhaps the targets this time are a little closer to home.

The most obvious elements of most of the works in the "innocence" show are detailed scary looking trees. The setting of almost every piece in the show is the forests of Japan. More specifically, the works apparently reference the haunted forests of Mt. Fuji. Within the red and white forests in these carvings, dark elements are everywhere - ruins, insects, ropes hanging from trees, skulls, body parts, and zombies. Well, they aren't zombies exactly, but rather groups of arms (that certainly look to be of the no-longer-with-us) that reach up from the forest floor ominously. When most people think of Mt. Fuji, they immediately associate it with happy thoughts of nature and beauty. This show is not full of happy thoughts.

In a few of the pieces in "innocence", you also find mutated versions of popular international brands. A distorted and evil looking Ronald McDonald and the Michelin man appear here, hiding deep inside the forests of Mount Fuji. I have not read anything from the artist to explain these elements, so I can only guess that it might have something to so with Mt. Fuji being the most well known "brand" in Japan. This show hints at the darker side of the Mt. Fuji brand. Maybe the other brand references are included to reminding us that inside of every happy burger serving clown is a man in a mask. Or it could be a commentary on Western culture's encroachment on the traditional Japanese identity. Or, maybe it means something else altogether.

Technically, these pieces are interesting. The fine detail in the wood carving and the dense scenes in each work mean that you could spend an hour at the show and still probably miss some of the elements hiding right there in front of you. The red and white colors (which don't seem to be properly reproducible in photos) are bold and bright, and work well with the haunted feel of the subject matter. A red and white forest might sound strange - and in fact it is, which works somehow. There is one large piece (170cm x 270cm) in this show and the rest are medium sized carvings.

Kenichi Yokono's "innocence" runs through the 28th of June at Unseal Gallery in Tokyo.

Many of the artworks in this show can be seen online in this photo gallery.

Related Links:
Official Artist Website
Gallery Website
Tokyo Art Beat Page
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