Authorship and ownership are integral components of contemporary art. For the majority of artists, artistic production is a private affair and so are the ideas, the success and the ego that go along with it. With that said, ironically, collaboration is also an integral component of contemporary art production.
Looking at dictionary definitions of collaboration as both “the action of working with someone to produce something” and “the traitorous cooperation with an enemy” is perhaps an insight into the art world’s strange relationship with this method of practice. For a number of artists, collaboration has been hailed as incredibly beneficial to each of the individuals involved; others struggle to let in potential collaborators because of the competitive relationships that artists seem to have with each other.
Throughout history we have seen many forms of artistic collaboration – from the silent community behind the scenes that helps to develop an individual’s work, to the formation of a group who author their work collectively revealing no signs of individuality. For Yoshiko Nakahara and Shintaro Nakahara we see another common form of collaboration; the joining together of artists who are already successful in their own right.
The Japanese-born husband and wife were each formally trained in separate art schools in Tokyo – Shinataro at Tama Art University and Yoshiko at Musashino Art University. In Yoshiko’s individual practice she works on a relatively small scale exclusively in black ink. She combines her formal concerns with philosophical ideas. In particular, she invests in a world view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The notion is derived from the Buddhist teaching of the “three marks of existence;” specifically impermanence, suffering, and emptiness or absence of self-nature. Her works are painstakingly built from thousands of deliberate individual strokes and subtle washes. Yoshiko uses this mark-making process to create multiple levels of patterns which often result in natural forms. The complex detail reveals the contemplative nature of the artist and require equal contemplation from the audience.
Shintaro’s work has many influences, however one in particular is undeniable; the art of calligraphy. The calligrapher only ever has one chance, as the brush strokes cannot be corrected, revealing any lack of confidence or slip of concentration. Masters of calligraphy are required to use a ‘no’ state of mind, allowing forms to flow without conscious effort. Shintaro studied shodo or script since childhood; however in his work he uses pure aesthetic forms that mimic calligraphy, often revealing themselves to look like ‘real’ or existing characters once the painting is complete. In almost total contrast to traditional calligraphic brushwork Shintaro uses strictly bright, solid colour and rigidly-controlled lines that suggest gestural actions rather than embodying them.
In this way, though each possess very distinct outputs, both Shintaro and Yoshiko’s practices are concerned with precision and planning. They share an intuitive approach and an obsessive, manual process. It is perhaps these qualities that have helped the two artists to successfully develop the “third artist,” a term they use to describe their collaborative practice. While it is easy to draw out the individual artists from their collaborative works – colour from Shintaro and black line work from Yoshiko – the “third artist” is actually inseparable.
The collaborative works form themselves on the canvas, often ending in unexpected outcomes. Yoshiko starts the process with her black line work, creating forms and patterns to compose an empty “colouring-book” composition that invites Shintaro to project his palette onto her more figurative forms. Shintaro then intuitively responds to the existing forms with solid colour. Exploring the dynamics of their collaboration, he may not always “colour within the lines;” sometimes he ignores elements described by Yoshiko’s line-work by blocking several areas with a single colour. It is this ability to follow or disregard Yoshiko’s line work that frees Shintaro to contribute equally to the final form. He controls the weight of the works and how our eye perceives them. Each artist’s unique understanding of the other allows the pair to achieve the balance and compromise required to give physical form to the mental collaboration taking place between them. This exchange of contributions continues until both artists agree that the work is complete.
It is not the colour or the lines that determine this collaboration but instead the relationship between line and colour itself that is the “third artist.” In collaboration, Yoshiko and Shintaro lose themselves as individuals to work toward a greater good, generating a distinct painterly style.
Essay by Lana Lopesi
BORN: 1972, Saitama, Japan
EDUCATION: Bachelor of Fine Arts, Tama Art University, Tokyo, Japan
COLLECTIONS: The James Wallace Arts Trust, Auckland
AWARDS/DISTINCTIONS: The Wallace Art Awards - Finalist (2016)
PUBLIC EXHIBITIONS: The First Flower People, Nathan Homestead, Manurewa Arts Centre, Auckland (2017); Collaborations, Papakura Art Gallery, Auckland (2016); Wallace Art Awards, The Pah Homestead, Auckland (2016), Pataka Art + Museum, Wellington (2016); Wallace Gallery, Morrinsville (2017); 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, Pataka Art + Museum, Wellington (2010)
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY: Denizen 2016; ‘The Mark of the Modern Moko’ by TJ McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, 22 Aug 2015; 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
BORN: 1978, Kanagawa, Japan
EDUCATION: Bachelor of Fine Arts, Musashino Art University, Tokyo, Japan
AWARDS: The Wallace Art Awards - Finalist (2016, 2008)
PUBLIC EXHIBITIONS: The First Flower People, Nathan Homestead, Manurewa Arts Centre, Auckland (2017); Collaborations, Papakura Art Gallery, Auckland (2016); Wallace Art Awards, The Pah Homestead, Auckland (2016), Pataka Art + Museum, Wellington (2016); Wallace Gallery, Morrinsville (2017); The Whittaker’s Big Egg Hunt NZ, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch (2015); ArtDEGO, Artweek Auckland, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki (2014); Double Vision: When Artists Collaborate, Pataka Museum of Arts and Cultures, Wellington (2010); MORI Art Museum, Roppongi staff project, Tokyo, Japan (2005)
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY: Denizen 2016; ‘The Mark of the Modern Moko’ by TJ McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, 22 Aug 2015; ‘Art for art’s sake’ by Warwick Brown, The Listener, Oct 22-28, 2011, pp 40-41; Cranmer, Ursula, Exploring Drawing: A look at contemporary drawing, Whangaparaoa: Integrated Education Ltd, 2011; Double Vision: When Artists Collaborate exhibition catalogue, Pataka Museum of Arts and Cultures, 2010; ‘Brainstorming proves triumph for art’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Aug 2010; ‘Contrasts a fine fit’ by Sharu Delilkan, The Aucklander, May 2009