Joshua Liner Gallery is pleased to present Memento Mori, an exhibition of new paintings by the New York-based artist Tat Ito. This occasion marks Ito’s solo debut in New York, and is his fourth appearance in shows at the gallery.
Tat Ito was born and raised in Japan, but he later made his art studies in the United States. Consequently, the artist and his paintings are a dynamic confluence of East and West, traditional and contemporary. The poetic analogy of “oil on water” describes Ito’s approach to both imagery and cultural references; in his vibrantly colored work, traditional Japanese aesthetics are a foundation upon which floats a contemporary (i.e., Western-influenced) viewpoint. Like a skim of oil on water, the beautiful, reflective surfaces of his paintings fascinate viewers. These top layers never mix but, rather, are presented in dialogue with the substance beneath.
This compelling relationship is explored to lustrous effect in the eight medium- to large-sized paintings of Memento Mori, which include both tondo and rectilinear canvases. In Lotus Flower and Goldfish, an acrylic on canvas tondo, Ito appropriates the pools-and-waterfalls motif from medieval Japanese painting as a palette for a contemporary overlay of Warholian silver leaf, purple polka dots, and miniature frolicking swimmers with scuba fins. Cosmos, Chrysanthemum and Dalmatian—a scroll-like, rectilinear painting in acrylic, gouache, and gold leaf on canvas— combines a running floral motif with running dogs (nearly 101 of the variety made famous in Western animation).
More than merely a visual style, Ito’s use of the oil-on-water analogy comments on the experience of contemporary Japan and its deference to a Western cultural and artistic paragon. The artist aims to counter the aesthetic “semantics” of his paintings with a mysterious new context—a hybrid of East and West—that may arouse a new inquisitiveness in viewers. To this end, his work is a consideration of the ambiguities and anxieties of being in a world of two unmixable substances.
Perhaps even more important to Ito, the artist, is the traditional role of the artist’s hand in creating meaningful works of art. “My hand-executed paintings, imbued with intentionality and meaning, are a direct response to the trendy ‘Factory Art’ of certain Pop and post-Pop artists and an art market fueled by brand-name investing,” says Ito. “The bustling compositions become metaphorical representations of the contemporary art world and visual culture in general. Outrageously costumed figures inhabit a stylized landscape that is simultaneously reminiscent of Japan’s high-voltage electronic age and its gold-leafed medieval era. The paintings become an arena in which my frustrations, disappointment, and hopes regarding the art world take shape with subtle irreverence and humor.”
Born in 1978 in Nagoya, Japan, Tat Ito received a BFA from Academy of Art University in San Francisco and an MFA from New York Academy of Art; he currently lives and works in Queens, New York. Selected group exhibitions of his work include: From Kojiki to Modern Heroism (with Hiro Kurata), Joshua Liner Gallery, New York (2010); Old School, Jack the Pelican, Brooklyn (2009); Art in Free Fall, Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition (BWAC) (2008); and Asobi, Sutter Gallery, San Francisco (2006).