Kazuo Nakamura Estate Works 1950s and 1960’s
January 13-Februrary 10 2018
Christopher Cutts Gallery
21 Morrow Ave Toronto ON
This exhibition is not only dazzling – it is important. Presented is a unique opportunity to view work of a then young artist who would develop into an incredible master painter. Here we see the seeds for the brilliant pieces Nakamura would proceed to execute later on. We can see him developing a palette and certain motifs that he would continue to refine throughout his lifetime.
Of particular interest is the fact that the paintings on display were created during the period in which the Painters Eleven were active, giving us another rare opportunity to compare Nakamura’s early work to that of his contemporaries. Unlike many of his P11 partners – who preferred loud, expressive gestures – Nakamura’s work is subtle and contemplative. While the abstract works of Town, Ronald, Cahen and Hodgson’s of the same period are almost indistinguishable, Nakamura, from this early age, was exploring his own unique vision of what abstract art meant to him and the potentiality of painting itself.
Nakamura’s family moved from British Columbia to Hamilton Ontario in 1947 before relocating to Toronto shortly afterwards. This exhibit features pieces which hung in the artist’s family home in Toronto, leading one to believe it may be the first time these paintings have ever been shown in public. Obviously these works were important in the artist’s daily life and are pieces that he and his family personally enjoyed.
Cutts Gallery is divided into two large spaces, and the rooms are utilized to separate more figurative works – landscapes and still-life paintings – from the more abstract pieces. However, there is complexity in the simplicity of these nature paintings. Nakamura is demonstrating other ways of seeing and exploring the possibilities of the one-dimensional picture plane. With a few brush strokes, black on a canvas painted white, he is able to blur the lines between drawing and painting, evoking a forest of trees that is almost three-dimensional. Another colorful pink and yellow landscape is nearly abstract in the way a painting by J.M.W. Turner is abstract. Above all, Nakamura’s mastery of shades of green is quite evident.
The most abstract pieces – and here again Nakamura seems so far apart from his P11 cohorts – feature geometric patterns with the emphasis on perception and creating other ways of seeing the world and how a painter can create depth, space and volume on a flat canvas. There is almost an Op-art element to some of these pieces with their hypnotic grids and taped straight lines. Nakamura converses with Cezanne in paintings of apples and pears, floating on a grid or hanging in a color field of blue-green. In one large piece – according to explanation offered by Christopher Cutts himself who knew the artist personally – Nakamura reflects on the entirety of art history. He translates important art movements into geometric shapes climbing the side of a grid in an all black painting. His paintings often investigate perspectives on seeing, and reflect upon the act of viewing painting and painting in-itself.
Great artists teach the viewer to see their own world differently. It is quite clear from this exhibition that Nakamura, at such a young age, was developing into one of the greatest artists of his time. And he is perhaps the most unique and avant-garde member of Painters 11.