Red Lounge is one of the largest and best examples of Hiroshi Sugito's 'theatre' paintings. Entirely encompassing the viewer's field of vision, the monumental scale of the canvas entices the viewer to be absorbed completely into the fiction of the painted space. Yet, on either side of the composition, voluminous proscenium drapes frame the imagery, setting the viewer apart from this alternative realm of fantasy and imagination. As if in a theatre, the final curtain is poised ready to fall on the scene, drawing the fiction to a close. This formal device, employed by Sugito in many of his best works, serves primarily to make the viewer acutely aware of the act of looking and to reinforce the artificiality of the fiction. On a more universal level, however, it reminds us that all the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players.
In the depicted space of Red Lounge, like in a theatre, the stage is set for the fiction to unravel. Yet, as we study the mise-en-scne, we are presented with a deserted space devoid of drama. In the background, a hazily painted backdrop of mountains is redolent of traditional Japanese ink painting; in the foreground, close scrutiny reveals an ensemble of miniscule seats whose scale is at odds with the framing curtains, as if we are peering into a diorama. Unlike other works by the artist - often depicting tiny jet planes and rocket ships and the imagined warfare of boyhood fantasy - there is a pronounced absence of narrative here. Instead, we are left with a sense of limbo, silence and stasis.
Painting in thin, layered washes the artist creates a spacious, finely tuned luminosity and an exquisite material delicacy across the entirety of the canvas. Presenting the viewer with a unique mix of Eastern and Western aesthetics, Sugito's style derives from a fusion of American painting - references to artists such as Robert Ryman and Agnes Martin are evident in his pared-down technique - with the Japanese Nihonga style that evolved as a result of the introduction of Western influences in Japan in the second half of the Nineteenth century. Here the layers of pale, thin, translucent acrylic and brushed-on dry pigment leave a fragile, powdery surface which contrasts with the sensuously delicate handling of the white curtain trim, hovering over the scene like a paper doily, echoing the forms of the mountains below.