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Friday, July 31, 2009


Toshimitsu Baba Exhibition

Special to The Japan Times

Base Gallery, Tokoyo

Before making the first stroke of a painting, an artist must surely agonize over the decision to defile something as clean and pure as a blank canvas. If this process is troublesome for painters working with traditional, coarse cloth, then one Japanese artist seems to compound his distress by choosing to paint on the less-conventional surface of sleek, virgin metal.

News photo

Case in point: Toshimitsu Baba, who recently completed his postgraduate studies at Tama Art University. Until Aug. 7, Base Gallery, located in Tokyo's Chuo Ward, is exhibiting eight of Baba's paintings, six of which are oil on aluminum.

Baba's choice to eschew more traditional painting surfaces seems quite appropriate for "Landscape in Blue-1" (2009), a stylized cityscape that seemingly melds with the metal's surface. With a restrictive use of blues and grays, Baba simplifies the urban image to an almost cartoonish level, which is further sterilized and made less real with the exclusion of the city's typical bustle — cars, people, etc. Baba's brush abstracts the harsh metropolis into a calming silhouette that celebrates the city's lines and shapes, which are often difficult to appreciate in the haste of the real word.

While "Landscape in Blue-1" calls upon its differences from a real city and invites you to recognize that it's a representation of reality, some of Baba's more natural depictions do the opposite. His "Landscape in Sepia-1" (2009) shows a path, which reaches out to you, beckoning you to follow it. Unlike the cityscape, this depiction of nature involves you in its artificial environment. But after a second, more thorough, glance, you might feel foolish for being sucked in by a painting that proves to have little desire at realism. In fact, many of the trees are nothing more than slender poles.

Also on display are two of Baba's earlier works, "Nude-2" (2006) and "Nude-1" (2005), which are both oil on panel, rather than aluminum. Each of these paintings depicts a nude woman, and they beg for comparison to Baba's more recent "Nude-5" (2007), which is oil on aluminum. Missing from the older works is the seemingly intimate bond between paint and metal, which, in this case, strangely highlights the subject's unusually gray hair and tranquil gaze.

Over all, this artist seems to tackle each of his subjects on a very personal level, whether depicting the vastness of a metropolis or the frailty of a naked human being. The strange intimacy of Baba's paintings might be, in part, due to the unusual marriage of oil and aluminum.

Toshimitsu Baba Exhibition will be held at Base Gallery until Aug.7. Admission is free. See www.basegallery.com for details.

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