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Seventh Work, "dedicated to my mother" (Japanese: oka-sama ni sasagemas), Signed on the back in Japanese: Shu, Shuichi, In Hebrew: Shuichi, acrylic on canvas, Dec. 26, 1996



April 5 - July 27, 1997

Curator: Dr. Ilana Singer


I first met Shuichi Nakahara in the summer of 1996, and this essay is based on conversations and meetings we have been having ever since. He prefers to be called by his given name, Shuichi, and not by his family name, Nakahara (with the honourable suffix "-san", which is the formal mode of address in Japan). In his room in the kibbutz, Shuichi stands facing his easel. He wipes the broad brush he is holding on his jeans, which are covered with red, orange, and yellow stains. He dips the brush directly into a tube of colour and begins to paint.


In his paintings, Shuichi tries to maintain the simplest of forms - a square exactly in the centre of a square or rectangular canvas. "The simpler the subject, the greater the struggle with the painting" he says. "A square is a clearly defined and standard geometric shape. You can't just scribble something down and say it's a square. They call people "square" when they mean that they're rigid. When I paint a square I don't think about anything else. I don't plan or anticipate a specific result. The painting happens naturally, as if a child were doing it. But I am not a child".


The symmetry and balance of the square give him a sense of contentment and security. In the seventies Shuichi began to draw squares in pencil on rectangular sheets of paper turned sideways. Today he paints in acrylics on canvas. He first selects the size of canvas, and then places his square in the centre. He doesn't just guess, but measures the position of the square exactly. "I start from emptiness, from the pure white canvas" he declares. "I take everything from myself, my brain, flesh, bones, nerves. I don't know how this happens, so I think everything must begin from nothing. The painting expresses what I'm like inside. I don't yet think I've completely solved the problem of painting a single square."


"The square is like a field or a piece of earth that has been abandoned and not cultivated. You must sense it with your eyes, and even perhaps by handling it." He adds "You don't always get an abstract idea straight away, so you have to start with a concrete, realistic subject". While in Israel, Shuichi worked for a long period in the pardess which is near the Megiddo Junction. When he began to apply himself to painting the square, he thought about the pardess. The grove was square, hedged about with cypress trees. "The grove is the grove of life; not just of man, but of trees, animals, sky, water, air, of the whole of nature. The cypresses stood erect and tall all around, and I was closed and enclosed in the square grove. As someone who has 'broken the boundaries' all his life, I'm looking for my 'boundaries'. The physical labour in the pardess released me inside'. The square in the painting defines his natural interior 'boundary' - "And we're not talking here about philosophical mysteries which are intended to bring the observer to comprehension of hidden realities" but rather to immediate and direct experience.


Rather than bring his paintings from Japan, Shuichi decided to stay in Israel and paint here. He uses warm, dynamic colours - red, orange, yellow. His relationship, "both deliberate and  uncontrived" as he defines it, with the Israeli experience, is present in these colours of the Israeli sunshine. "Nature in Israel is like that, and so is my nature". When he was a child, his father chose for each of his children a colour which would personify them. Shuichi's colour is yellow. Aside from which, he paints in these colours because he likes them.


Shuichi's art embodies the conflict between the modem Japanese artists with their basically western aesthetic concepts, and the traditional Japanese aesthetic. The absolute symmetry of his works shows the influence of western aesthetic ideas. Whereas the empty space which occupies about three-quarters of the canvas, and the symmetry broken by means of line or splash across the canvas to slash that "completeness" indicates his awareness of basic Japanese aesthetic tenets. The dynamic colours he uses express his revolt against one aspect of Japanese aesthetic restraint, its subdued colours - browns, greens, greys. Shuichi often dresses in the colours of his paintings, which makes him conspicuous and individual in the streets of Tokyo, teeming with the dark grey suits which are virtually a uniform. For all that, Shuichi is an artist who has come out of the traditional Japanese aesthetic by breaking through all those social boundaries of Japan in which society takes precedence over the individual.


The balanced and static square lying on one of its sides 'opposes' the dynamic colours. The strident colours burst out of the hermetic insulation of the square. "I need control and restraint in my art, because they are not to be found in my personal life. I'm argumentative. I let myself go and say everything straight out, while the Japanese find it hard to do this freely because of social conventions and their strict code of behaviour." The order and control created by the square in Shuichi's paintings may be contradictory to his fiery character, but are well suited to the Japanese reserve.


"When I'm working I feel, at a certain moment, that the painting is finished. The painting tells me, and I never know in advance when the final moment will arrive. If an artist feels self-satisfied - that's bad. It's impossible that his work should ever be complete. There are good and bad things in my paintings, so I have to keep going, and start afresh each time. I don't believe I'll ever reach completion. When an exhibition opens, I'm on display, naked. I'm ashamed. Shame makes me work harder, to cope with it, to carry on. A good artist should be ashamed of his work. Isn't he making something you can manage without? I'm ashamed of doing this, even though I love it. I live alone, and paint alone, and I don't like to be watched while I'm working, because I'm exposed."


During the course of Shuichi's preparations for this exhibition, his approach to colour and space has changed - from monochromatic colour covering most of the area to a torrential explosion of different colours on the canvas. In the Jewish Kabbala, with which Shuichi is not familiar, the letters of the word "Pardess" from an acronym signifying "P'shat" (simplicity), "Remez" (hint), "Drash" (interpretation), and "Sod" (secret). In Shuichi's paintings the square embodies Simplicity; the empty space and the broken symmetry hint at the influence of Japanese tradition in his work; the comprehension that simplicity, the most difficult to achieve, is the Interpretation. As for the Secret - Shuichi is still trying to discover it.

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