Masami Teraoka at Samuel Freeman Gallery

Over at Right Some Good this week there's an announcement of a current show by Masami Teraoka. The show is at Samuel Freeman Gallery in Santa Monica, and it closes May 24. So if you're in the area run on over. Venua and Pope's Workout by Masami Teraoka

Venus and Pope's Workout by Masami Teraoka.

Masami Teraoka has long been one of my favorite painters. His watercolors from the 1980s about the AIDS crisis are an evocative mix of beauty and terror, sensual forms startled into abrupt mortality. (Dear Lord Baby Jesus, if I work really really hard, can I be this good a painter someday?) His new series, The Cloisters' Confession, draws upon the traditions of early Renaissance painting from Europe, particularly the altarpiece form. (I'm seeing both northern and southern elements here, even a play on Botticelli's Birth of Venus.) There are even some oil-on-canvas miniatures -- quite a departure from his earlier large-scale watercolors. Is it too cliched to characterize this as East Meets West? Possibly. At any rate, let's not pigeonhole.

In recent years Teraoka has been painting flesh with a curiously post-mortem pallor. The corpse-like appearance of these figures, treated with rolling Florentine sensuality, plus a generous dose of taboo sexuality, sends us straight to Bosch and back again.

Teraoka points out a similarity between European early renaissance and ukiyo-e painting: the tendency to flatten physical space into a series of stacked planes. The paintings in Cloisters' Confession recall Flemish horror vacui. The resulting scenes are not what you would call realistic -- in other words, not what you would see with your own eyes out in meatspace. Instead it's a melding of learned visual information (what the eye sees, further processed by memory) and graphic language used for narrative purposes. This concoction elevates the image's importance beyond the need to represent a scene realistically. Taraoka is using pictures to tell us something.

Geisha in Bath, from the AIDS Series by Masami Teraoka

Geisha in Bath, from the AIDS Series, by Masami Teraoka

(A side note -- I see in several of the altarpiece paintings that Teraoka has placed Venus figures and geisha side-by-side. A few years ago I enetertained the notion of combining the features of a Botticelli beauty with the feminine ideals presented by Kitagawa Utamaro. I wondered what would happen when two disparate paradigms of feminine beauty were put together. Teraoka's works remind me that I should dig out those images and post them.) Right Some Good is where Kirsten Anderson (of Roq La Rue gallery in Seattle) has been blogging about some of her favorite contemporary and historical artists. In the post about Teraoka's show, she mentions an essay in the works about the return of the grotesque in contemporary art. I'm looking forward to that.