While Satoshi Kanai's works have morphed into more pop and manga influenced portraits in recent years, the essence of his creativity and fascination with human figures has not changed. Experimenting with the oil medium at the age of 15 and later with gold leaf, Kanai astutely observed how various art movements prompted unique approaches to figurative representation. Between 1980 and 1992 his works had already received awards from the Dokuritsu Art Association in Japan, further encouraging his creative practice. Citing pre-Renaissance church paintings, manga and the Rimpa school of Japan as compelling artistic influences, Kanai's creations filled with select contradictory elements are provocative and equally traditional as they are contemporary.
Two in the bathroom (CON VOI) (Lot 1633), the earliest work of Kanai presented this season is compositionally similar to that of a church diptych yet their playful interaction in the bathtub interjects humor and lightheartedness unseen in church altarpieces. Composed of rich lines and linear colouring, this painting exemplifies Kanai's early research of various art movements that steered him to become "entangled in concepts of line and form and [search] for something simpler and idyllic." He further states that "in JapanK people tend to prefer quiet atmosphere and ambiguity. Perhaps it is because I too am Japanese that I feel the same way. I sought my form under these circumstances and from contradictory terms such as 'dry and wit', 'clarity and ambiguity.' From there I have picked out 'dry', 'simple clarity' and strength' as themes. (Satoshi Kanai, Face, CAIS Gallery) In Debut (Lot 1634), we begin to distinguish the true pursuit of these ideals, in Kanai's clearer negation of contouring with colour and greater reliance of meandering lines to convey every three dimensional creases, fold, horizon line and facial expression. Surprisingly, the reflective golden lines provide remarkable visual stimulus against the deep purple background, highlighting the central figure. This reversed use of gold leaf is a refreshing approach by Kanai, contrasting to the traditional Japanese screens where it merely served as a decorative backdrop.
The 2008 works Hommage (Leonardo and Corot) (Lot 1636) and Hommage (Coco) (Lot 1635), though echoing works by Leonardo and Corot, entirely lack fine, realistic detailing yet the sense of grandeur of the classical painters is presented in the gold leaf lines, only to be negated again by speech bubbles. These speech bubbles each hold one small hiragana (Japanese alphabet), as if the women were caught mid-word, providing a static quality to the overall portrait. Kanai cleverly obliterates elements of time, replicating a single comic frame while her cream coloured skin and pink nails are cliched characteristics of an illustrated woman to elevate a sense of artifice seen in comics. In this provocative manner, Kanai inadvertently pays an additional tribute to the manga he loved reading as a child.
The deliberate intertwining of modern mediums, traditional techniques and childhood influences expresses Kanai's constant desire to represent his subjects in a new light. As Kanai describes, "paintings to me embody modern objects, people, ideas and attitudes, and in a way, to paint is like playing the ultimate game of creation. And in this world, there is no shortage of tool[s] for such play." (Satoshi Kanai, Face, CAIS Gallery) His unwavering spirit recognized by the Agency of Cultural Affairs led to their purchase of Kanai's work while the Tokyo Central Museum of Art awarded him for his oil paintings as early as 1995, marking him as a predecessor for many contemporary Japanese artists today.