Yuji Oki is a artist who was born in Japan in 1949 and now lives and works in London. I’d like to tell you more about him but there’s a surprising lack of information on the net. Even the gallery that represents him, the Beardsmore Gallery in Kentish Town, doesn’t give away much in the catalogue of his most recent exhibition; just a bare list of four dates telling us where he studied and that he once won a prize for painting. A bit of a challenge, then. But at least I can show you what his art is like.
So let’s get the bare facts on the record; Yuji Oki graduated in political science from Meiji University in Tokyo in 1973, studied at the Byam Shaw School of Art in London from 1977-81, won the James Byam Shaw painting prize in 1981 and was visiting artist at Middlesex University School of Art from 1997-98. Some interesting gaps in that record, not least what changed his direction from political science to art.
His current exhibition is titled When Cicadas Cry, which is also the title of one of the largest works in the exhibition. It’s mixed media on canvas and is highly abstract (like all the paintings on show), a mix of scribbled lines and shapes.
The catalogue notes, by Oliver Gosling, don’t try to interpret the pictures. He confines himself, perhaps wisely, to description and a suggestion of what we might see in the paintings. When Cicadas Cry, he suggests, confronts us with a transparent wall, shadows on the edge of vision and continuous buzz of pulsing marks. The pulse, he tells us, is key and ‘has a life that sustains rhythm like breathing’. All well and good but where are the cicadas?
Back to Rajasthan, he suggests, is ‘scorched earth dancing in the burning air, it is scrubland in oppressive heat, seared by cool sprinkles…like a mirage.’ And actually, looking at it like that, you think so it is.
He finds ‘a strong sense of dense foliage’ in Cicadas in the Forest and suggests that the flurry of short, angled black marks in the centre could be the elusive cicadas. At last.
Sadly, Gosling leaves us without help on the rest of the paintings, so we’ll have to make do with the titles. I’ll leave it up to you to see what you can find.
This one is titled Back to Rajasthan: Three Moons.
And this one is Back to Rajasthan: in white.
I hope you’re getting the hang of it by now.
There are also works on paper on show.
I’ve been a bit jokey about interacting with some of the paintings in this exhibition but don’t get me wrong – I think abstract art can stand perfectly well on its own terms without necessarily having to be anchored in reality. And I liked Oki’s work very much. It’s big and bold (something that’s hard to tell from just photographs) and has depth and interest. Go and take a look for yourself. The exhibition runs until 22nd March and the Beardsmore Gallery on Prince of Wales Road is open Tuesday to Saturday 11 am to 5 pm.
And if you want to know what number Price of Wales Road it is, well, the sun shining on Cicadas in the Forest gives you the answer: