“YOUR LIFE IS LEANING DOWNHILL, SLOPING OFF THE OUTER EDGE YOUR UNDETERMINED OYSTER BEDS WERE FOUND TO BE A HEDGE YOU CAUSE THE KIDS OF ELMER FUDD TO FEED THE FARMER WHOSE CADAVER’S FILLED WITH ONION RINGS AND FEET ARE FILLED WITH GLUE NOW SINISTER EXAGGERATOR, WHAT’S YOUR CLAIM TO FAME? IS STILL YOUR FAVOURITE FERLINGHETTI FOUND IN AUNTIE MAIM? YOUR ALTER LIFE IS SUPERSEDED ONLY FROM ABOVE
YOUR HEART IS LIKE A SILKEN SPONGE THAT CALLS SALIVA LOVE” Lyrics to Sinister Exaggerator, by The Residents, from the album Duck Stab (1978)
Born and raised in Tokyo, Tomoo Gokita began his career working in illustration and graphic design. His earliest jobs varied from designing nightclub flyers to ad work for lifestyle magazines. Growing up he recalls that his father, who designed ad pages for Playboy, would leave copies of the erotic magazine lying around the house, leading to an interest in printed matter and magazines. After producing a zine in 2000 that made its way to the bookstore of the New Museum in New York, Gokita was invited to participate in a group exhibition in New York. The show, held in 2005 at Dinter Fine Art in Chelsea, was reviewed by New York Times art critic Roberta Smith, who praised his work: “One of the show’s high points is the stunning wall devoted to drawings in charcoal, ink or pencil by Tomoo Gokita . . . Mr. Gokita’s vocabulary barrels across illustration, pornography, abstraction, children’s drawing, calligraphy and sign-painting, with a perfect control, velvety surfaces and tonal range that makes black-and-white feel like living colour.”
Gokita has stated, “I think that a dramatic change for me happened in 2006, when my focus on creation was suddenly transformed from drawings to paintings, as well as from paper to canvas. The whole situation has completely changed since then, and now here I am.” He now produces paintings on a regular basis, working in studio not far from his home. Yet his work remains highly graphic in style, sometimes appearing like a collage in which crisp black and white forms are layered on top of each other. His paintings are cool and crisp, and possess a distinctly machine-like quality that is reminiscent of both old photography and modernist works by 20th century painters such as Fernand Leger and Marcel Duchamp.
Music is an important part of Gokita’s interests, and often it serves as a source of direct inspiration for his paintings. Gokita declares that he will often “prefer to buy music records rather than art catalogues," and that his “creative sensibility is somehow much more stimulated by viewing the cover jackets in record shops than by viewing works of art in museums and galleries.” As a result, many of his works are given titles borrowed from songs or albums. In an interview, Gokita recalled that “the other day, I was so excited that the title of the music I was listening to, while painting, coincidentally and perfectly suited that particular painting. On the other hand, when I have trouble trying to decide the title of one of my paintings, I often look for some suitable titles that would go well by looking at the backsides of record sleeves. This is also a pleasant time.”
The song from which this work derives its name, Sinister Exaggerator, was released by avant-garde art collective and music group The Residents in 1978. Conceptual and highly repetitive, the song can almost be considered abstract in that it consists of ceaseless variations around a single theme, played forwards and backwards. The surreal lyrics are nonsensical and chanted with distorted voices, contributing to the mood of discomfort and unease. Comparing the song to Gokita’s painting, it’s easy to see how the two are related – Gokita’s painting, while entirely abstract, utilizes similar themes of repetition and dissonance. The work is unsettling in a way that is difficult to describe, possessing a wordless power that has become a trademark of Gokita’s creative output.
With no obvious subject or meaning, Sinister Exaggerator allows the viewer’s mind to come to its own conclusions, bringing our subconscious to the fore. Our minds grasp for meaning, and in doing so we become more aware of the associations that already exist in our heads. Even in the absence of a clear subject, it is immediately obvious that this is a painting by Tomoo Gokita, both because of the distinctive colour palette and the undefinable sense of unease that runs like an undercurrent though all of his work, challenging the viewer in a deeply personal way.