Studying a paradox provides exquisite food for thought. And Art Brut is not ungenerous in this respect. Or at least it is the diet to which the explorers of this field are accustomed. Dubuffet had begun, in 1949, by inscribing an exemption from artistic culture on the pediment of his Brut temple. Though he would admit, three decades later, “that there are still references to cultural conditioning.” Even adding that “the ways of distancing oneself from cultural art are infinite.”
Japanese Art Brut is a striking example of this. First because we can, as occidentals, observe it with our own cultural distance. And thus uncover – beyond the thin layer of exoticism – particular characteristics, while at the same time being touched by the element of universality that these works contain.
In 2017, the exhibit Komorebi, at the Lieu Unique in Nantes, had provided us with the most brilliant example of this harmonious heterogeneity. The nine artists that we have selected for the Yamanami Workshop in Konan – certain ones of which were presented at the Asia Center at Harvard University at the start of the year – give us a taste, once again, of this striking paradox.
This includes Kamae and Yoshigawa, who generates congregations and hieratic monoliths of clay ; Kawai, whose embroidered navels swallow us in their concentric rush; Miyashita, propagating words foreign to him like insects on the page; Morita, with figures dancing like lanky Giacomettis; Oji, drawing up completely psychedelic peninsular cartographies; Mori and his serial processions and molecular agitations; Nakagawa, going from the undulations of colored frequencies to the stamping of numbers in halos of coffee; and then, there is Ukai, a sort of Japanese Bosch of the 21st century who would have passed for a master in the proliferating uchronia.
Their works break free from standards, from their own as from ours. If we didn’t know anything about their authors, or about their creative process, we might even take them for the most contemporary art that there is. And it wouldn’t be an insult to them, it would simply be reductive. As if, looking at the moonlight, we were only to see the moon, forgetting the sun that hides behind the mountain chain (Yamanami in Japanese).