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Art Review:
Arika Someya—New Work

Arika Someya abuses her materials. She covers sheets of wood with motor oil and dabs bleach onto velvet fabric. These methods may seem destructive, but they yield visually seductive results.

Someya, a winner of the 1999 Phillip Morris Art Award, marks time in the patterns of seepage and draws monochrome trompe l'oeil paintings in controlled fades. Paintings from two of her series, "Decolor" and "Soak," are up now at Kenji Taki Gallery in Nishi-Shinjuku (not far from Tokyo Opera City Gallery).

Soak-Black (curtain), 1999-2002, plywood, India ink, and motor oil, 243 x 244cm

Someya applies bleach to red and crimson velvet in the "Decolor" paintings. As the name suggests, the bleach de-colors the fabric. Soft, blurry, watercolor-like images fade into the rich surface, evoking the fuzzy photorealism of Vermeer.

Only, being velvet, they really are fuzzy. Seen from different positions, the fabric is first shiny then matte, the image appears then disappears.
On squarish pieces of red velvet, Someya has painted round trompe l'oeil frames containing details from Rembrandt and Goya. These unstretched paintings hang casual and loose from the wall. The double illusion—fake depth on wavy fabric—is enhanced by a ray of bleach that seems to shine across the painting.

Level and Level 1, two long rectangular pieces where deep crimson velvet is stretched like canvas, are the most striking. Abstract patterned floors (a darkened mosque, the edge of a rug?) appear on the bottom edge of the paintings. The extreme perspective is like the view of a dog lying with its chin on the ground. Only the dog can't see more than a few feet ahead because the illumination stops at the doorway behind him: The de-colored image, strong and clear at the bottom, slowly fades into the light-swallowing depths of unadulterated fabric.

Patterns are another recurring motif in Someya's work. In the past, she has dabbled in jam and used the carbon layer left from barbecued meat to form her delicate interweavings. For the two "Soak" pieces here, she uses motor oil and ink on wood panels.

These paintings take an almost opposite approach to time and control to the "Decolor" pieces. Whereas Someya arrests the bleach by washing the "Decolor" paintings in water, her "Soak" works continue to evolve as the motor oil slowly saturates the wood. The two panels of the large diptych Soak-Black (curtain) 1999-2002 were painted years apart. The side-by-side comparison reveals how, over time, carefully constructed geometric patterns in oil (what could pass for silk-screen) flow into and along the wood grain, running together to form new, meandering paths.
"Soak" paintings are also sensitive to seasonal changes, especially airborne moisture. Though still basically shades of dark grays, the contrast between the oil and the inked wood is greatest in the dry winter. During rainy season, the distinctions blur and nearly disappear.

The distinct smell of the panels permeates the gallery. Not exactly a car repair shop. Maybe a German auto parts store.
Someya, 41, lives and works in Mie Prefecture.

Kenji Taki Gallery
Until Mar 9. Hatsudai stn (Keio New Line), east exit or Tochomae stn (Toei Oedo line), exit A4. Nishi-Shinjuku 3-18-2. Tue-Sat 1-7pm. Tel: 03-3378-6051.

Photo courtesy Kenji Taki Gallery

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