The Richness of Vision
“Skin behind the eyes”, “Beyond the gaze”, “Meaning of seeing”, “What you see and What you can't see”, “Deep breath of seeing”…
Above are some of the titles of painter Seigo Aoki’s solo exhibitions. All associated with the act of “seeing”, these titles reveal Aoki’s strong concern towards vision and his wariness towards its absolutizon as an exceptional form of perception. For example, the title “Skin behind the eyes” shows the artist’s intent to explore tactile sensations in vision, while in “Deep breath of seeing” we see his aim to redefine the act of “seeing” as a full-body experience.
As an object of sight, painting can only come into effect in the visual world. While accepting this obvious condition, Aoki does not adhere to the idea of vision as an authoritative perception characterized by purification and disembodiment. For Aoki, the eyes are a bodily organ and nothing more. His understanding of vision lies in its relation to the other senses (including the dissonances that occur between them) and it is in this interpretation that Aoki’s seeks to find a meaning for his paintings.
Aoki’s understanding of vision is expressed more directly in his recent paintings – a constellation of circles, triangles, and rectangles, a few millimeters in size depicted on a flat white background. These innumerable geometric shapes in primary colors of red, blue and green amass to form a specific image such as a human figure. This relentless repetition of tiny shapes is not that of compulsion. Contrarily, they exude an air of rationality and detachment and yet have managed to elude the impression of rigidity. Though systematically executed with limited components, the loose aggregation of these hand-drawn, minuscule, trichromatic shapes create a subtle movement that imbues the painting with a nuanced atmosphere.
This quality of Aoki’s paintings can be ascribed to his creation process, where he considers the details of the image as the starting point for his work, rather than the overall composition. The reason behind this is the fact that the tiny shapes, reminiscent of a self-organizing cell, autonomously merge to form the image as a whole. These paintings are created by the sum of its individual parts while at the same time, each detail maintains its autonomy without being absorbed into the overall image.
Inherent in these minute autonomous components are the tactile sensations of the brush touching the canvas. The paintings are realized by meticulously weaving together these felt sensations of touch. This anatomy of the paintings is what consequently results in Aoki’s stance of presenting his paintings as an expression that entails a rich bodily sensation rather something founded on the visual.
Upon studying the actual work, we see that the tiny geometric patterns work to disrupt the consistency of vision. Visual purity is fully achieved only when our eyes are completely immersed into a seamless and transparent world. However, these miniscule shapes create ripples in the smooth surface of the image, evoking a sense of “noise” in the visual landscape. Here, vision has intermingled with other bodily perceptions, giving rise to a dissonance - the very place that a rich sensitivity is aroused. This aspect of painting has also been an area of concern among prominent painters of the past.
One such artist is Neo-Impressionist painter George Seurat. Though Seurat is known for his pointillist technique based on optical color theories, the allure of his work goes well beyond the realm of the visual. His meticulously plotted dots exude a strong presence that hinders the transparency of vision. The paintings elude being labeled as a purely visual phenomenon. Here each particle of the pigment evokes a rough texture and materiality that elicit a rich perceptual experience.
This quality of Seurat’s work is even more prominent in his drawings done in conté crayon, a magnificent gradient of shadow and light realized by skillfully incorporating the coarse grains of the paper as part of the image. Seurat’s luminous drawings, which appear as though light is literally seeping through the grains of the paper, is pieced together by the remnants of the tactile sensation of the conté crayon coming in contact with the paper. The key element of Seurat’s work is not the achievement of vision in its purist form, but rather the intervention of the visual world by other bodily sensations.
Through a different method, Aoki has produced numerous drawings similar to Seurat’s, where he also employs the grains of the paper to create his images. His most representative work in this style is a series of silhouette portraits titled “shadows”. Human figures are a recurring motif in Aoki’s paintings however, they have always been rendered as an abstract image of amalgamating geometric shapes. His “shadows” series on the other hand, portray images of specific individuals. Using photos of mainly his acquaintances as his reference, Aoki layers the same color scheme of red, blue, and green as with his paintings, utilizing the texture of the paper. As the primary colors are layered, one on top of the other, the figure gradually transforms into a dark shadow. The gestures of the color pencil touching the paper accumulate, while the darkness of the figure intensifies as though rejecting its transmutation to an object of sight. This series show a unique process where sight and touch are inversely proportional to the other.
An important feature of Aoki’s drawings is the fact that his figures are not depicted as a completely flat form. Upon careful observation, a discernable dimension becomes apparent and upon further scrutiny, the expressions of the individual faces emerge from the drawings like an afterglow. As the tactile sensations of the drawing process accumulate on the paper and the drawing nears completion, the images seem to struggle to remain in the visual realm. Whether unintentional or deliberate, this creates struggle and conflict between visual perception and the other senses, creating depth in its expression. The reason we perceive a profoundness in the faint presence of these portraits lies in this discrepancy between the visual and the tactile.