E’wao Kagoshima: WHITE AUTUMN and other visual stories


at THE BOX, Los Angeles, June-August 2018

After his exhibition, the artist started a mail art communication with the gallery and Mara McCarthy. 

E’wao Kagoshima, White Autumn 2016. Acrylic, pastel, ink, and collage on paper, 15″ 1/2 x 18″3/4 (framed dimensions)  Courtesy of the artist and The Box Gallery









— about E’wao Kagoshima’s world of physical language —

By Rosanna Albertini

Maybe the autumn wants to be white. A flood of summery red brightness fills his memory, he can’t get rid of it. Dryness is drifting across his eyes. The place is real and inscrutable. Shrunk to the bones or happily swimming in water, fish pull my hair and push my brain into an unfamiliar space, as if “rejecting the idea that everything is in its right place; there isn’t any.” (Robert Rauschenberg) A tree grows from a bone and a pink branch from a woman. There is no land or sky, we see an abstract space of transformation. The artist’s duty is to an absolute living, out of time or common sense.

Let’s pretend the alphabet starts with B. Art, area, affection, affliction, adoption, adulthood would disappear from language. Same kind of displacement wrings the world of physical language, E’wao Kagoshima’s pictorial world, out of any expected grammar. Every thing, and each form, have a mind of their own. Humans along with butterflies, toys, birds, plants and words communicate with the living landscape they are in as they like it, as they dream, without rules or restrictions. The same happens to humans, animals, objects or undefined figures.

Everyone is right. Things become true as soon as someone believes in them. Reality is within us; our mind creates its truths. And the best truth will not be the one sanctioned by reason.”  

André Gide, The White Notebook

Kagoshima’s colors might be the prevailing message, they fade or intensify like the daily mood. The artist has absorbed the natural beauty and sends it back as luminous islands from his brain: sometimes dry, often wet images, can he feel his brain is wet, as neurobiologists have discovered? They didn’t see red fish though, with smiling lips after swallowing dreams of government (John Kennedy), a cat, now part of their aquatic body — red fish looking after a red human baby.  But E’wao did. 

E’Wao Kagoshima, Parallel Case 2012. Pastel, colored pencil, ink, graphite, and collage on paper, 10″ 3/4 x 13″ 3/4 (framed dimensions)  Courtesy of the artist and The Box Gallery  

E’wao Kagoshima, Breathing Skin 2012. Pastel, colored pencil, acrylic, ink, and collage on paper, 10″ 3/4 x 13″ 3/4 (framed dimensions)   Courtesy of the artist and The Box Gallery

It’s a space beyond limits where some artists like to be. John Baldessari taught a plant the alphabet in 1972. He showed the plant the letters with patience, repeating their sound to make sure that the plant’s brain could grasp and memorize. And Nico Muhly composed I drink the air before me in 2010. Sounds and atmosphere of the living environment enter his entire body, not only filtered by the ears. Steve Galloway placed American alligators walking on the clouds in mid-air. Many other artists can probably be added, but these I know well, as well as Haruki Murakami’s books in English translation.  

E’wao Kagoshima, Saving Diaspora 2016. Pastel and colored pencil on paper, 15″ 5/8 x 18″ 3/4 (framed dimensions)  Courtesy of the artist and The Box Gallery

But in the end, I see what I see, missing Japanese language and Japanese life experience. I don’t understand Kagoshima’s images, like a blind woman talks of colors never having seen them. Simply, I love them. There is a stark naked reality in his painting and drawings: a spellbound territory, completely personal, that seems to me distant from either Japan or New York, where E’wao  moved  in 1976. My illusion? Could be. I hoped to learn from Japanese literature, only to realize that many characters and situations of Murakami’s books also belong to the Western tradition; they circulated all around the world in fables and stories for centuries. As I would like to pick out some Japanese evidence in Kagoshima’s images of Saving Diaspora, I could cry like his blue mouse, my mind lost and taken by the transparent lines of a butterfly, almost invisible, which to me is the feminine organ — as my grandmother called it since I was able to understand language. Of course I loved to detect the butterfly in such a claustrophobic room where a face cries blood and memories are petrified on her forehead.

 Storytelling is a universal art, each artwork by Kagoshima is a visual story. A woman slips out from the elephant’s trunk, maybe the cats dancing around her came from the elephant’s nostrils. The elephant seems happy to throw a shower on her and the cats. There is no separation between the three different species.   They bear the same light colors of nakedness and celebrate their closeness.

E’wao Kagoshima, Distortion One 2015. Acrlic on paper and pencils, 24″ x 19″ 1/4 Courtesy of the artist and The Box Gallery

E’wao Kagoshima, Nose and Tails 2018. Acrylic on canvas, 80″ x 60″ 1/2 Courtesy of the artist and The Box Gallery

Breathing Skin opens an incongruous series of dialogues: a fish with a crab, a bird to a fox, a woman to another identical woman, an undefined human creature bubbles water in a tank that could be a head. An exquisite gentleness permeates the drawing, lines are smoothed by water. It could be mist, or a layer of air flattened on paper.

Kagoshima’s life wasn’t easy at times, his art congealed feelings into poetry of distortion, and open-eye dreams. In his personal new world fish are bigger than the Statue of Liberty, and Sleeping Beauty floats in a miraculous clarity in the middle of an intestinal maze. The forest around the castle grows in green spots so powerful they cannot be contained, and spread on the frame. Happy birthday E’wao, it’s so good to meet your dreams. 

E’wao Kagoshima, Sleeping Beauty 2017. Mixed media on canvas, 24″ x 20″ Courtesy of the artist and The Box Gallery

“It’s all a question of imagination. Our responsibility begins with the power to imagine. 

It’s just like Yeats said: in dreams begin responsibilities.

Flip this around and you could say that where there’s no power to imagine, no responsibility can arise.

Just like we see with Eichmann.”         Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore                  

Kagoshima was born in 1945 in Niigata, one of the 4 cities destined to become a target for The Atomic Bomb in Japan. The town was spared in favor of Nagasaki.  We are both children of the war sprouting from the same year, new leaves in a time obscured by lack of imagination. Only one Italian scientist around Enrico Fermi in his laboratory imagined the scientific monster they were pursuing. He was a Neapolitan dreamer. He quit, and disappeared. To write it now, it sounds like a fairy tale. Our little brains born then did not know anything and yet kept growing as if their souls had been wrinkled by the fears and destructions around. To these days, any personal deception is linked to a primeval spot of darkness in human hearts. As an art student, one afternoon with friends E’wao was enchanted by the sunlight going through the beer falling from the pitcher into the glass. He had the idea of two metal sculptures that made him one of the few pop artists in Japan.

At the Box I saw his artwork for the first time during the summer, a one person exhibition. Immediately after, E’wao’s mail art to Mara started, almost weekly, from New York to Los Angeles, sending little by little fragments of his life to a place of trust, of friendly reception, a sort of harbor.  






After a life spent hiding his paintings in a wood shed, Paris became his scent of the rose for two years, then he died: it was September 2007


This post is dedicated to all the ‘invisible’ artists who steadily grow on the forest floor of the artworld. Often not known enough to be forgotten. Al Payne not only built his sheds, he filled them with paintings and the human scape the paintings contained, a physical density needing protection, not to be exposed to a price that could be money or intellectual evaluation or both. The colors of life, sounds and feelings collapsed, maybe, so inseparably into those pantings that the artist locked them into his inner space. He did not cut the umbilical cord.

Allan Kaprow would say, “His act is tragic because the man could not forget art.” And yes, Al Payne sacrificed himself in a romantic dream of purity, dragging his artworks into his tomb before death. It would be easy to misunderstand. Only an extreme love for life leads to such a secretive activity. Or the discovery that life, and art, are in big part beyond concept, “enactment of hope” out of heartbreak and failure. He did not want to break the common roots that keep a person and her art in only one body.

From Al Payne’s notebook:

Attempt at conjuring the unthinkable thru painting.

1987-2001 – reaction to cancer, light and passing of time, family as subject-drawings, paintings pictures of family, home. Focus on here, now.

2002-2004- Dirt paintings here, now. Existence drawings

2005-2006 -reaction to parents death, rejection by family-Painting o/c. Paintings become ‘automatic’ avoidance of photography as basis for imagery. Draw, paint.

Late ’00 – invisible sculpture, engage artworld, recovery from family rejection –


AL PAYNE, Self-Portrait, 2007, Drawing on Paper – Courtesy of The Box, Los Angeles

Paris Late ’00 seems to be a NO TIME for Al Payne in Paris, his metamorphosis from the American inchworm to an elegant butterfly. A space of existence not needing to be measured. A taste of history, beautiful people, new food, a lot of white buildings under a sky shading walls and pavements with different clouds at every hour. An upsetting light. Often for lack of it. His dreams changed as well. He told Paul McCarthy, the affectionate friend who called him twice a week when he was in Paris, that he had a dream about his paintings, they were carried one by one. Time wasn’t moving onward, wasn’t moving at all. His last piece, The Invisible Sculpture, 2006/2007/2015 is a crate whose content changes size every time the container is opened. Open Paris, here is an other man, a new Al Payne, maybe taller, flaneur. “An old debonair man in a suit,” says Mara, “interviewed by Yves Klein’s daughter!”

Who was Al Payne? “A very sweet man” Mara McCarthy says. Her eyes in search of a figure that was a name, a story heard in her parents voice much more than a real person. “I don’t know, I don’t know if it’s me or my mom, who always told Al was the sweetest person in the world.” Odd coincidence, Al Payne left his painting on earth when he moved out, for his last journey, in September 2007. The same month and year in which Mara opened The Box, an L.A. art gallery she runs in collaboration with her father Paul.

On January 24, 2015, at 4 in a sunny afternoon, the Box made Al Payne’s dream a real thing: the wooden sheds were in the building with their big mouths open: from a truck parked outside the paintings were transported one by one, by hand, into the sheds. They will stay there, unseen, the whole time of the exhibition. The moving display (theory) of paintings was art for the time of a quick, imperfect view but also, unmistakably, a mystic exposure of the artist’s body spread in his work.                        


From Shadows by William Carlos Williams

Ripped from the concept of our lives and from all concept somehow, and plainly,

the sun will come up each morning and sink again.

So that we experience violently every day two worlds

one of which we share with the rose in bloom and one,

by far greater, with the past, the world of memory,

the silly world of history, the world of imagination.

Which leaves only the beasts and trees, crystals with their refractive surfaces

and rotting things to stir our wonder.

Save for the little central hole of the eye itself

into which we dare not stare too hard or we are lost.

The instant trivial as it is is all we have unless-unless

things the imagination feeds upon, the scent of the rose, startle us anew.