NAOTAKA HIRO : Again, art is a mental thing

(I used the same title for the post about Marisa Merz.

NAOTAKA HIRO, Armor (Blue) 2021, cast 2021, Bronze and stainless steel with patina Courtesy of the artist and The Box Gallery LA


at THE BOX, Los Angeles, June 29-July 24 2021

text by Rosanna Albertini – photos by Peter Kirby

The artist tries to see, and grab, the undefined images that are ghosts of reality drifting in his thoughts, in his feelings, in his guts. It’s surreal and it is work. Before they become drawings, sculptures, and paintings, things randomly absorbed aren’t necessarily visual. Somebody’s scream, explosions, crows whining a perpetual discontent, the dust in the wind along with a tormented flag that would like to cover all the stories of intolerance in our time, and fails. 

Naotaka Hiro could recount the poet’s words as if they were his:

I am the truth, since I am part of what is real, but neither more nor less than those around me. And I am imagination, in a leaden time and in a world that doesn’t move for the weight of its own heaviness

(Wallace Stevens)

And he could say — art is my armor making me the blue warrior, a skin without body because all of my inside has been invaded by the pandemic, the news, the riots, the killings, my living space has been devoured, my only strength is my art.  

Reality found a place somewhere under the skin, as every experience of life gets sucked up, filtered, and sits in us if we feel and think about it long enough. No no, memory is not the major actor.  Imagine particles of reality becoming parts of us. We don’t even know we have them. Unconscious? Who knows? Physical rather, what and who merge into each other.  

What the eye beholds may be the text of life. It is, nevertheless, a text that we don’t writeWallace Stevens

Here we are. What am I doing? I replace one absurdity with another. Naotaka Hiro’s own world, squeezed out of his body (somehow like playing an accordion) appears on board or canvas giving an external presence to some things that were already deposited, or crystallized in each of his organs. Impossible to separate real world and the imagined. That’s the secret dance of the living. Everyone has a share of this destiny. But Nao discloses the mental offsprings he generated in unique visual partitions gushing and spilling from his hands like music.  Flat bodies whose parts fluctuate spreading layers of colors. Lines have their inscrutable developments, forms don’t have any resemblance to what comes from nature’s womb. Even less they meet words able to express them. I might be delusional, yet I see a few eyes, or crickets? things that are more masks than faces, leaves here and there. Tunes trying to be images without leaving the aerial freedom in which they vibrate.  

NAOTAKA HIRO, Untitled (Forum) 2021, Acrylic, graphite, grease pencil, crayon on wood
 96 x 84 x 2 1/4 inches.
Courtesy of the artist and The Box Gallery LA
NAOTAKA HIRO, Untitled (Rhyzome) 2021, Acrylic, graphite, grease pencil, crayon on wood,
 96 x 84 x 2 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and The Box Gallery LA
NAOTAKA HIRO, Untitled (Belle Vue) 2021, Acrylic, graphite, grease pencil, crayon on wood
98 x 84 x 2 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the artist and The Box Gallery LA

I can see from my keyboard how desperately the artist wants to export something, intuitions that push him to bring them out, he is obsessed by his blindness about them. Imagination has already reshaped them. Restless, they change and change, they slip away. They must be stopped. Nao gives four legs to each board, two feet high, so he can introduce his body underneath the board. It’s surreal and it is work.

I crawled underneath the wood panel and laid flat with a face-up position. With the physical limitation, I have to keep my body quite close to the surface. I drew, often with both hands, reflecting my body parts, positions, and movement. I flipped the board over, stood, and sat on it to analyze, edit, and paint colors in. I repeated until the distinctions and binary systems got blurry and abstract, merging the two personal worlds. (Naotaka Hiro)


The finished pieces reveal the accomplishment of these magnificent self-portraits of an artist facing the constant transformation through time (the six wooden pieces at the center of the exhibition) and the endless variations that follow board by board, half conscious, and half blind. Although impossible, his desire to resemble himself is so strong that his hands at times stub the wood, inflict exasperation and pain, you bring me in, stubborn surface! There he is, painted and sculpted in bas relief on the same surface. Our sense of reality in front of the hidden conflicts of cells, organs and limbs, grows emotionally and mentally.      

When we look at the blue of the sky

“…we live in the center of a physical poetry, a geography that would be intolerable except for the non-geography that exists there —few people realize that they are looking at the world of their own thoughts and the world of their own feelings.” Wallace Stevens

When we look at Nao’s self-portraits, we are as well in the center of a physical poetry. Because we are as humans as Nao is we can try to be him, and admire his challenging work while our body, inside, kicks our brain: I am your real treasure, and you don’t know me. Ha!