‘Our Traits’, Toshiyuki Konishi’s first solo exhibition at Aike-Dellarco, presents a curious and campy reflection on humans as social animals. Relationships, particularly family connections, play out across the more than 100 paintings on canvas and paper that comprise the show. Highly stylized figures populate these pieces and are posed in tightly knit groups, in touching pairs or as lone faces looking back at the viewer. In these painted tableaux, based on the artist’s own family photographs, Toshiyuki attempts to create a typology of the intimate moments that bind together next of kin and, by extension, each of us to one another.
The selection of works has been culled from the artist’s output over the past three years and provides a thorough introduction to his idiosyncratic visual language. In Untitled (2016), a group of adults and children are painted in a shallow, emerald-green space. Their bodies are rendered in a simple, almost naive, manner and the artist conjures faces from a tangle of brushwork through his deft positioning of eyes, nostrils and lips. The fluid paint handling – the way it playfully loops and weaves between figures – serves to dissolve the barriers between bodies and acts as a signifier of social and emotional connections.
Most of the works are large to mid-sized with the exception of one long wall covered by a sprawling, salon-style hang of small paintings on paper, which reads as a family photo album made public. Scanning across this grouping, repeated scenarios emerge: figures enjoy the outdoors; people playfully pile up on top of one another on a couch; a parent and child sleep side by side, their poses identical. In these diminutive works, the artist often forgoes a brush and, instead, paints directly with his fingers: the immediacy of this gesture and the index of the fingerprint is an endearing touch.
Toshiyuki draws on a number of painterly languages and compositional structures: from cartoons to cubism to gestural abstraction. The artist readily acknowledges his stylistic debt to Willem de Kooning and Francis Bacon and, while these influences are apparent in the work, Toshiyuki falters a bit as he tries to repurpose their techniques to his own ends. De Kooning and Bacon deployed expressive gestures to communicate violence and human depravity; Toshiyuki struggles to adapt this syntax to more intimate sentiments. Certain works also feel slightly restricted in their faithfulness to the conventions of the source material – namely, the family snapshot. I almost wish the artist had gone off script to find a space of improvization beyond a painterly take on the photographic record: it might have communicated something more nuanced about the nature of human bonds.
In his attempt to highlight basic patterns of socialization, Toshiyuki may have also been overzealous in his approach, erasing key details that would link the individual and the archetypal. These paintings rely mostly on a depiction of physical connections, which are reinforced through mark-making that literally binds the figures together; yet, without psychological or narrative content to bolster these ties, the gestures can sometimes feel inconsequential. While Toshiyuki’s paint handling is sumptuous and there are some touching moments in the work, it is debatable whether ‘Our Traits’ ultimately attains its goal of elevating the prosaic to the realm of the universal.
First published in Issue 188