Saturday, May 24, 2008

Masami Teraoka: Cloisters' Confessions

Masami Teraoka and Samuel Freeman Speaking at the Opening of Cloisters' Confessions at the Samuel Freeman Gallery on April 19, 2008.
The painting behind:
Masami Teraoka
The Cloister/Venus and Pope's Bullfight
101"x300.5" oil on canvas with gold-leaf frame 2006-7

Masami Teraoka's powerful exhibition Cloisters' Confessions closes today at the Samuel Freeman Gallery in Santa Monica, California. During the show's run, I have slipped into the gallery frequently to witness the incredible mix of hope and horror in Masami's masterful paintings.

"In Teraoka's new works, where the floating world of pleasure-seekers has been replaced by the Spanish Inquisition, sex is no longer about pleasure. Rather, it has become the theater in which political power plays are enacted before a voyeuristic populace seeking titillation from the sexual misdeeds of the mighty, and where religion and morality can become weapons against freedom. A recurring theme in these paintings is how the religious and political right in America has wrested control of the definition of morality in order to further its own purposes."
- Eleanor Heartney, Pictures from an Inquisition,
Art in America April 2001

Masami Teraoka Speaking at the Opening of Cloisters' Confessions at the Samuel Freeman Gallery on April 19, 2008
The painting behind:
Masami Teraoka
The Cloisters/Holy Sea Pregnancy Test
119"x112.5" oil on canvas with gold-leaf frame 2007

Samuel Freeman writes in the catalog:

"These paintings show the horrors of our time retreating before the sensory pleasure of corporeal experience. The negative is pushed aside by the glowing curves of pregnant bellies and the impending, potential, rediscovered kiss of bright red lips."

Masami Teraoka
Virtual Inquisition/Reclining Eve(detail)
92.5"x168" watercolor on paper mounted as a four panel screen 1997

Masami Teraoka came to the United States from Japan in the early 1960s. Peter Clothier writes in the catalog:

"Long before most of us became aware of the problems inherent in what we have come to identify as "globalization," Teraoka was busy making those deservedly famous, delightfully irreverent images of McDonald's hamburgers and Baskin Robbins' 31 Flavors invading Japan.... Teraoka often included himself in these paintings as a wily co-conspirator, impishly complicit in the devil's bargain between two cultures."

Masami Teraoka
McDonald's Hamburgers Invading Japan/Chochin-me
color screenprint on Arches 88 paper, ed. 41/91 1982
Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

In 1996 in a review of Masami's exhibiton at the Sackler Gallery in Washington DC, Joyce Jones explained that "Masami Teraoka frequently e-mails his sensei (or teacher) Utagawa Kunisada, the famous Japanese woodblock artist. That's a neat trick, considering Kunisada died in 1865.But after viewing Teraoka's Coke-swilling geisha or punk rock samurai -- his fusion of traditional Japanese art with icons of American influence -- e-mailing the 19th century doesn't seem unusual."
The Sackler show paired Masami's AIDS series with Kunisada prints from his personal collection.

Masami Teraoka
AIDS Series/Geisha and Fox
14 3/4" x 25" watercolor on canvas 1988

Masami Teraoka's current work is dark in theme but not in spirit. In a telling comment during his informative lecture at the opening of Cloisters' Confessions at the Samuel Freeman Gallery, Masami explained that many of the horrific scenes exist only in the mind of the painting's protagonist. In Semana Santa/Venus’ Security Check the Policewoman in the checkered-banded bowler cap only imagines that the blond venus disrobed before her eyes is strapped with explosives. The painting comments on the ludicrous culture of fear that we currently inhabit and was inspired by a humorous and frightening experience that Masami's San Francisco art dealer, Catharine Clark, went through with her family at Heathrow in London.

Masami Teraoka
Semana Santa/Venus’ Security Check
119'' x 96.5'' x 2.75'' Oil on Panel in Gold Leaf Frame 2004

Across his fruitful career, Masami Teraoka has used depictions of the figure to grapple with the pain and poke fun at the foibles of our human existence. Masami looks back to the art of the past, at times ukiyo-e prints and other times as evidenced in the Cloisters paintings to Renaissance Italy, to find clues to help unravel the mysteries of art and life.

(I am off to view the show for one last time)

More at:
Peter Clothier
Masami Teraoka's website
Samuel Freeman Gallery
Catharine Clark Gallery


roj said...

I take heart from the fact that Masami Teraoka looks older than I. I tell myself there's still hope, just keep painting.

gregg chadwick said...


You are so right. Just keep painting.

Bobster said...

Your link to Masami Teraoka's website is broken