East Meets West

Gajin Fujita's paintings of Japanese print imagery and urban graffiti would be easy to knock if they weren't so damn perfect. There are maddening questions to chew on: Where is Fujita's style? His voice? Is his vision unique, or is he lifting work that's been done before? And how does one qualify these aspects and still like the work?It's true that Fujita builds from a foundation poured some time ago: there's the pop-culture vs. high-art antics of Warhol and Lichtenstein; the appropriation of Duchamp, Johns, or Levine; and the graffiti to gallery trajectory of Basquiat and Haring. But this is not to say the guy is a hack-he's not. L.A. native and child of a Japanese art conservator, Fujita is by all accounts adhering to age-old artistic advice: Paint what you know. Should he be persecuted for boldly wearing his influences on his sleeve?Besides, as anyone who has tried to mix beats or even cook a new recipe knows, there is more to blending than throwing things together. There's a finesse necessary, a feel for nuance that makes a work work, which is precisely Fujita's coup.West Dragon works it in just this way. The Japanese dragon snakes across the wood panel, looping in and out from the L.A.-style graffiti, it's tendrils blowing and eyes wild. Waves finger out in the opposite direction; nested within all this is the word "West," immediately recognizable as urban American in style. By layering the images, Fujita creates a deep visual field that pulls the eyes and keeps them moving, circling around and digesting these cultures removed from one another in time. [![][1]][2]To say these bold paintings are engaging would be true but bland; to say they grab you by the balls would be hyperbolic, but just barely. Ride or Die builds movement with Fujita's use of tagging as a background to the Samurai warrior. The lines undulate, a balance of nonsensical letters that develop an expressionist table that is pierced with the straight lines of the arrows coming at the figure. Again, Fujita grabs you, moving your eyes around the panel at a speed exhausting and exhilarating, pushing you back and forth across time, culture, style, and technique. It makes the heart beat, to say the least.[![][3]][4]Fujita's paintings bear a resemblance in language to Lawrence's [Roger Shimomura][5], who has spent his career interested in the dichotomy of his Japanese and American biculturalism. Shimomura's work differs in its memoir stylization and flat planes-Fujita's paintings are less a statement about him as an artist than as graphic images merging cultures. It will be interesting to see how Fujita's iconographic language evolves in comparison to the older Shimomura's career.The Kemper curatorial team should also be acknowledged for their graceful inclusion of Fujita's more risque paintings inspired by Japanese prints of "pleasure districts"-coital depictions complete with exaggerated sexual organs. These are not for most children, much less the varied audience the Kemper has worked hard to attract. Yet they are here, discretely displayed in a temporary gallery to the side with a sign warning viewers. It allows visitors to be in control of what they see, provides a thorough exhibit for the artist, and yet is designed well enough to not interfere with the show at large. : : : : : :Zephyr: Paintings by Gajin Fujita at the Kemper Museum for Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Mo., through November 5 ([More info][6]). [1]: http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/art/fujita1-sm.jpg [2]: http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/art/fujita1.jpg [3]: http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/art/fujita2-sm.jpg [4]: http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/art/fujita2.jpg [5]: http://www.lawrence.com/news/2004/may... [6]: http://www.lawrence.com/events/ongoing/15200/


Patrick Quinn 13 years, 9 months ago

Interesting name. Is not "gaijin" a deprecatory Japanese term for "foreigner" or "alien" or something like that?

Kelly Powell 13 years, 9 months ago

Reminds me of the super pimped out japanese 18 wheelers....I forgot the name they give em, but they are awesome.

leslie 13 years, 9 months ago

Thanks, Todd. A source tells me "gaijin" also means "foreign barbarian." So maybe context is everything.

Todd 13 years, 9 months ago

Naw, gaijin isn't an impolite thing to say in Japanese. Now baka-gaijin would be rude. I would think of it as equivalent to stating if someone is male or female in American-English. More matter of fact but when mixed with some other words can be bad. (ex: woman driver, pretty boy, etc...)

Bill Woodard 13 years, 9 months ago

Bravo, Leslie. As you mentioned, I think it would be quite interesting to see Fujita's work mixed with Shimomura's in an exhibition.

Local tie to the Fujita show: The Spencer is working with the Kemper to present a College Night focused on this exhibition. It'll happen on the first Friday of next month, Nov. 3. Members of our Student Advisory Board are training as docents for the show, so that they may give gallery talks to their peers.

Here are the details:

The evening starts in Lawrence in the Spencer's Central Court and galleries, where from 7 to 8 PM, you can enjoy gallery talks, activities, refreshments and music by KJHK deejays / At 8 PM board a chartered bus and travel to Kansas City's Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art for College Night. / From 9 to 11 PM, KU students from the Spencer's Student Advisory Board will serve as tour guides for Zephyr, an exhibition of paintings by Los Angeles artist Gajin Fujita. There also will be short films by UMKC students, henna tattooing, and music by D.J. Sike, who'll spin hip-hop, funk, and soul. / At 11 PM, return to Lawrence via chartered bus. / This event is free, including the bus ride. / Sponsored by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Spencer Museum of Art Student Advisory Board; made possible by a grant from the Richard J. Stern Foundation for the Arts.

kdocent 13 years, 9 months ago

FYI, Gajin Fujita told the Kemper docents that Gajin means "harmonious person". Fits, don't you think, for someone combining high art with hiphop, east with west, ancient with pop, ...?

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