NAOTAKA HIRO: Gibbousby Will Whitney
BRENNAN & GRIFFIN | SEPTEMBER 8 – OCTOBER 15, 2017
Patience is often spoken of casually, but, in fact, it is a hard skill to master. In Gibbous, his fourth show at Brennan & Griffin, Naotaka Hiro has seemingly done just that. In making his latest works, Hiro lets his mind wander, exploring different ideas as they appear, in a patient meditation. This quest to better understand the inconsistencies of the human body, starting with his own, has led Hiro to make use of a multitude of mediums in his young career. He draws, paints, makes films, and sculpts; all with consistent intensity and unwavering patience, eager to see where each different position leads him.
Hiro’s sculptures seemingly mix the work of Zadok Ben-Davis with that of Bruce Nauman, leaving body parts identifiable yet causally distorted. The exhibition’s titular sculpture, Gibbous (2017) is a bronze cast of the front part of Hiro’s body. Hiro modeled himself in a dark room with only a flashlight to illuminate his torso, marking the boundaries of the light to designate the area to be cast. Subsequently, this self-casting not only requires patience, it also prevents the demarcation of a perfect shape, because Hiro inevitably moves as the cast is drying and welcomes the inconsistencies that come naturally to the human body over time. Gibbous is an allusion to a particular phase of the moon: when it is not quite full, but is visibly larger than a semicircle. Hiro’s title piece encompasses the artist’s desire to both test the physical limits of his body as well as to gain further understanding of it, beyond what is perceivable on its surface. It is the body in its most natural form, a series of micro-reactions that account for palpable motions.
This athleticism is not limited to Hiro’s sculptures. Often, his recent paintings—gestural abstractions on canvas—proudly display the cut-outs where Hiro has positioned parts of his body directly on the canvas while painting. As with his sculpture, Hiro often uses ropes to suspend himself, allowing at most one part of his body to come in contact with the canvas, which he paints around.
This contrivance allows for unique layers to build over multiple two-hour sessions, which are represented by different colors, like a code. Hiro assumes a position and lets his mind wander, adding to previous sessions as he creates enchanting abstract works in the process. In Untitled (Grotto) (2017), two grotesque holes represent where Hiro hung his feet. Both sides of the canvas feature drawings in the vein of Joan Miro; shapes that are remotely familiar while also main- taining enough ambiguity to allow the viewer’s mind to question what exactly it is being shown. What’s captivating in this piece is how the holes represent both the beginning and end for Hiro, like an ouroboros, where the work revolves around the holes until Hiro deems it finished, at which point he removes himself from the canvas.
Untitled (Fulcrum) (2017) is similar in how it presents viewers with a primarily green and black canvas laden with unfamiliar animals and a heart-shaped pattern of silver dots. Rather than cutting holes into this canvas to trace his body, Hiro cut straight down the middle and lay inside the piece, positioning himself to draw from a stationary position. Each position, while also testing Hiro’s bodily limits, informs how the piece is made, due to the importance that a starting position has on a work. By only addressing each canvas from one position, albeit multiple times, Hiro is both literally and physically giving each painting its own ambiguity and uniqueness. Each session is a call and response, which inevitably leads into the next.
Gibbous also recognizes the importance of Hiro’s drawings of his own face, which preceded his works on canvas. In an interview with The Metropolist, Hiro discusses how the drawings are the most important part of his work, as they often “bridge the gaps between productions of larger works.”1 As Hiro works with multiple mediums, the drawings offer some stability to his practice, making his transitions between video, sculpture, and painting more fluid. They offer much of the same intensity as the paintings; however, as works that are done prior to Hiro approaching the canvas, they seem a bit more composed and put-together; offering concrete displays of distorted imagery. Due to their size, the drawings are more compact, and thus come out at the viewer, in contrast to the paintings, which invite the viewer into their space. In them, Hiro most confidently expresses his desire and underlying belief that one should never stop testing boundaries.
- Rachel Holmes, “Interview: Frieze London artist, Naotaka Hiro,” The Metropolist. October 21, 2015.
Will Whitney is writer who lives and works in New York.