Shintaro Nakahara’s studies in pure colour are played out in his vast, calligraphic paintings that joyfully defy any accepted notion of colour theory. Crisp, even sequences of intense (sometimes lurid) colour diverge, align and intersect across the surface of his works in combinations that simultaneously bewilder and delight the viewer. His fields of flat, solid colour, defined by razor-sharp lines, retain the overall surface consistency used by the Colour Field artists of the mid-twentieth century.
Nakahara is a colour-savant, seeing esoteric interrelationships within the chromatic scale with intensity and clarity. His tonal pairings are both masterly and a bit nuts. While at first glance his works glow with brilliant, florescent colour, closer readings reveal equally compelling neutrals, pastels, mid-tones, and earthy tertiaries. His compositions overlap identical offset forms that imply a bizarre translucence with their visible intersections. Viewed through Nakahara’s psychedelic lens, mauve and grey may converge to create burgundy but just as easily could lead to ochre or lime green.
Nakahara has developed his own abstract language to convey colour-as-subject – influenced by Japanese shodo or script, yet almost never using established of real characters. With a fundamental understanding of its principles, having studied shodo since childhood, Nakahara’s ‘characters’ are pure, aesthetic forms that mimic the calligrapher’s vociferous left-to-right, top-to-bottom gesture. In fact Nakahara uses the traditional Japanese inkstick and washi paper when drafting the forms that he later translates to his paintings.
Zen Buddhism holds that the art of calligraphy can create a path to one’s original self through brush with the loose movement of the artist’s body used to guide the stroke in a single, unerring motion. The rigidly-controlled lines of Nakahara’s painting seem to challenge this freedom; rather than created unflinchingly in a moment, requiring gestural confidence and immediacy, Nakahara’s forms de-emphasise gesture and brushstroke. The transformation from initial inkstick sketches to precise, grid-like canvases results in a paradox; works are both gestural in form and anti-gestural in execution. Effused with such restrained elegance, it’s difficult to imagine the artist – messy in his studio – concocting the colours that are the core of his painting.
Even with his prodigious eye, colour choice can be a tricky thing. With each painting Nakahara begins with a basic idea for the palette, but many subsequent colours will be improvised. Sometimes, he admits, a newly applied colour will create a discord. He responds by continuing to paint; often he will find that another impulsively chosen hue will resolve the tension, leading to the desired ‘unbalance’ that eventually leads to overall compositional amity. Nakahara’s clashing combinations do not make sense on their own but in the din of so very many others pairings, ultimately each is sublimely offset by its counterpoints.
Alongside his solo practice Shintaro also works in collaboration with Yoshiko Nakahara, his wife and an artist in her own right. Yoshiko’s medium is ink, often monochromatic and also tortuously detailed. With visually diametric styles, the two still share an intuitive approach and an obsessive, manual process. Their collaborations are unusual, taking place transactionally on the canvas rather than through conceptual exchange. Yoshiko first provides the line-work, presenting Shintaro with an empty ‘colouring-book’ composition that invites him to project his palette onto her more figurative forms. Exploring the dynamics of their collaboration/marriage, Shintaro does not always ‘colour within the lines’; sometimes he ignores elements described by Yoshiko’s line-work by blocking several areas with a single colour. While the composition is essentially not his, he controls the weight of the works and often how we read them. His colours can make Yoshiko’s terrestrial landscape shift under the ocean; make a pensive scene jubilant; eclipse a forest with the force of wind.
Across all of his work, Shintaro Nakahara’s blithe, astonishing compositions leave us to consider our own prosaic ability to comprehend the colour spectrum.
Essay by Jane Apperley
Born: 1972, Saitama, Japan
Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts, Tama Art University, Tokyo, Japan
Collections: The James Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland
Public Exhibitions: The Whittaker’s Big Egg Hunt NZ, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch (2015);ArtDEGO, Artweek Auckland,Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki(2014); Recent Acquisitions Part II, Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, Auckland, (2011); Double Vision: When Artists Collaborate (with Yoshiko Nakahara); Pataka Art + Museum, Wellington (2010)
Publications/Articles: "The Mark of the Modern Moko" by TJ McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, 22 Aug 2015; ‘Clockwise double dip’ by Rhiannon Horrell, East and Bays Courier, Nov 2011; Double Vision: When Artists Collaborate Exhibition Catalogue, Pataka Art + Museum, Wellington, 2010; ‘Opposites Attract’ by Sharu Delilkan, The New Zealand Herald, May 2009; ‘Contrasts a fine fit’ by Sharu Delilkan, The Aucklander, May 2009