It’s hard to like Masato Kobayashi’s exhibition “Artist and the Model.” He paints with his own mass, making plump and messy gestural markings with his hands that culminate in abstractions and figures with fuzzy contours. The conventional format of painting is severely altered; many canvases are ruggedly attached to jagged wooden frames with long screws sticking out, adorning the gallery walls high and low in an apparent act of apostasy against “taste.” His drawings are likewise casually folded, creased, and torn. However, they don’t speak the language of camp; these works are more earnest. In the large trapezoidal painting Model of this planet, 2018–19, we encounter a recumbent female nude facing away from the viewer. Her pose recalls old-master archetypes like Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus, though the figure is painted in lurid pinks and yellows and her heart is punctured with a crimson wound. In Portrait of the artist, 2019, Kobayashi’s equine surrogate holds a paintbrush in its mouth—a recurring image throughout the exhibition. Rendered in patchy shades of ocher with mismatched blue and green eyes, the horse is portrayed in a crude but also romantically naive manner. Joking or serious—the nuances of the countenance may be intelligible only to the painting’s maker and subject.
Hermetic works such as these seem indifferent to their audience’s response. In fact, while the exhibition’s putative subject is the intimate, centuries-old exchange between artist and model, the title of the above-mentioned nude suggests a relational scale that is planetary rather than interpersonal. Kobayashi paints as if for another cosmos—a radical gesture considering how self-conscious we have become about the politics of spectatorship. Through this selfishness he transcends our desire for the “good artist,” attaining free and fierce rein over his chosen medium.
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