(Japanese, B. 1967)
signed with artist's signature (lower right)
oil, pencil and silver point on canvas
64 x 52 cm. (25 3/16 x 20 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1998

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Felix Yip
Felix Yip

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Lot Essay

Madrid (Lot 1421) is a monumental painting produced during the early 1990s when Atsushi Suwa stayed in Spain, and began to draw attention from the international art world with his exquisite hyperrealist painting. It depicts the elegant beauty of Madrid with the Metropolis Building, one of its best known landmarks, as the central figure. It illustrates his influence from Antonio Lopez Garcia, a representative figure in Spanish realism, and shows Suwa's restless devotion to find his own style through a painstaking observation on the subject. Rendering the historical city image in hyperrealism mode and intentionally covering the bottom half of the canvas with a washed dark tone, Suwa successfully infuses traditional Western oil painting with new expression through his skillful techniques of the brush and silver point that captures his acute impressions toward life and emotions.
Suwa's effort to capture the intricate nature and core soul of his subject has naturally driven him to portrait someone he fully acquainted with, as we can see in Lady (Lot 1463). The artist chose to draw one of his close family members in order to have better understanding of the psychological state of his model; as such their trustful relationship allows him a meticulous observation and documentation without discomforting the model and himself. In spite of this careful investigation on the subject, paradoxically he admitted there is an inevitable distance between them. Suwa's scrutiny on his subject matter is reminiscent of Lucian Freud's vivid portraitures that penetrate the psychological examination on the intimate, yet isolated relationship between the artist and model. As such, the painting displays Suwa's profound narrations on the psychosomatic state of his subject, which also captures and reflects his own state of sentiment generated during the very moment of observation.
A compelling work, Sleepers (Lot 1420) from his most celebrated series under the same title, was produced right after Suwa's thorough study on a legendary dancer Kazuo Ohno (1906 - 2010), who established Japanese avant-garde Butoh dance. Marveled at the power and beauty of Ohno's dance, Suwa was led to transcend representative realism through a deep understanding on the significance of perceiving the subject matter within its physical context and psychological environments together. The work, Sleepers is an excellent example that reflects on Suwa's precious lesson from meeting and painting Ohno for more than two years. In the painting created throughout a decade from 2000 to 2010, Suwa focuses on depicting the upper body of an asleep girl, bringing the subject to life through meticulous rendering of the contours on the girl's face, the texture of her skin, and her fine, silky black hair. The artist carefully captures the moment when the young girl falls into a deep sleep, seemingly unaware of the artist's presence. The creases of the bed sheet help emphasize the smoothness of her skin, her youth and purity of her soul. His exceptional depiction of the human form is achieved by his attentive interaction with the subjects, scrutinizing each body part with conscientious diligence, subsequently building an appreciation of his subjects which is reflected in his precise calculation of each depiction, unveiling his acute vision and comprehension of his figures as physical entities and psychological subjects. The minute detailing of her skin's texture and wispy black hair, which vividly juxtaposes with the stillness of the girl herself, conveys a live woman yet the cold undertones of her body suggests otherwise, as if she were straddling being alive and not. She is eerie yet beautiful in her serenity, a fascinating mystery which the viewer desires to solve as Suwa blatantly accomplishes in the precise rendition of his subject.
A Handful of Water (Lot 1462) is one of the best examples from his conceptual Japanese Beauty series, which takes Suwa's research into the territory of bijinga (pictures of beautiful women), a traditional Japanese subject matter. Unlike a traditional bijinga produced to entertain male audience, Suwas's one is a result from a critical research on social agenda of Japanese identity. For this series, he selectively met and interviewed eight Japanese females of varied backgrounds such as Ainu-Japanese and half-blooded Japanese, who inevitably question their identity as Japanese despite their residence in Japan. A Handful of Water is a portrait of a young girl who succeeds the third generation of her Korean family living in Japan. Suwa keenly captures and reveals her inner struggles in finding peace and compatibility with her identity as a Korean Japanese living in Japan. His amazingly vivid depiction on her facial expression and subtlety in her pose, especially the eyes that embrace her insecurities and alienated wounds, evokes within us a sympathetic attachment to her as if we met her in person. As Suwa's paintings here show, he opposes the general definition of objective perception in achieving realism, and believes probing further into bodily experiences and personal connections with his subjects for a truer style in his works. They prove that he is not a mere hyperrealist painter who only pays attention to acute description on surface of the subject, but a truly conceptual artist who can throw serious questions on all existence's fate of life and death by unveiling the subject's innate spirituality beyond materialistic surface.

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