Recognized as a leading Japanese contemporary artist, Tomoo Gokita started off his career as a successful graphic designer in the fashion and music industry in the 1990s. He gradually established himself as a full-time artist in 2005. Interestingly, this transition also underscored Gokita’s career breakthrough within the same year—when the discovery of his book Lingerie Wrestling (2000) led to an invitation to participate in a New York group exhibition “Stranger Town” at Dinter Fine Art in New York. Due to financial limitation starting off as a novelist, he painted with a limited monochromic palette of black, grey and white, an aesthetic which was cultivated over the years and now became a representation of Gokita’s iconic oeuvre. His paintings often drew inspirations from a variety of sources in Western pop culture— including photographs from the 1960s and 70s, advertisements, pornography magazines, vintage postcards and record album covers. Initially, he started off with doodles and drawings in pencil, charcoal and ink on paperwork, which helped establish his presence in the New York art scene.
This present work, Vanity, 2015, is created just a decade after Gokita has transitioned to a full-time artist. It is a classic representation of Gokita’s talented artistry displaying various painterly method—from total ranges of bold smudges and smears outlining the subjects’ hair and face; to the velvety soft brushworks accentuating different layers of texture in each outfit. Over the years, he has evidently mastered the technique of manipulating gradients of black and white, emphasizing the individuality of each figure with such a limited palette. Vanity is one of the large-scale works Gokita has created; it is his fifth showpiece displaying three or more figures to be offered in the auction market, making it extremely rare to find. He overturns tradition mode of documenting group portraiture, as the trio shown here alludes a complex group dynamic. Additionally, the use of vivid chiaroscuro brings a considerable amount of heft to these figures while provoking a film noir ambience. Gokita successfully blurs the line between the figurative and the abstract and engages his viewers in a sensational experience.
Gokita’s work also echoes that of the psychologically charged work of Adrian Ghenie. Much like Ghenie’s iconic series of Vincent Van Gogh’s self-portraits, which he worked solely on obscuring a reproduction of the same Van Gogh portrait with cut-outs and pieces clipped from magazines and other print material. Comparably, Gokita also employs found imagery as a starting point, which subsequently led to deliberate distortion of his subjects’ faces. As Ghenie’s once said, “I work on an image in an almost classical vein: composition, figuration, use of light”. In similar resemblance of Gokita’s stylistic approach, both artists employ elements of light and spatial composition to challenge the viewers to make sense of the underlying structure of images. In Gokita’s own words, the obscuring of faces might reveal a kind of transformational desire : “to hide a face and to become a different character”. (the artist cited in interview with Steven Cox, 2013, Blum and Poe website, online).