Metaphysics of the landscape
by Cynthia Penna
Landscape? Again? And nature again? More horizons, places, fogs, oceans, mountains and hills? No, definitely not….!
What Yasunari Nakagomi has chosen is rather a universal place to express his art: the brain, the human mind that designs, imagines, memorized, collects and then elaborates, projects its own particular idea and vision of its surroundings, turning it into ideas, concepts, writings, music and works of art. What Nakagomi represents is an operation of purely intellectual and oneiric invention: a mere product of the human mind, rendered on a canvas.
It is interesting to trace the transition from the individual moment of the artist to the “universal” and at the same time solitary one of the onlooker.
The artist projects his experiences, his mental space on the canvas, which remains as finite and determined testimonial of the artistic moment. His own individuality, with all the baggage that has contributed to form the “self”, is transferred to the work in the magical moment when it invades the space of the painting: gesture, colour, brushstroke, knowledge of oneself, and when this is accomplished the task of the artist as individual comes to an end.
But the work continues to live outside the realm of the artist’s individuality: it is up to the spectator to project his or her experience onto that work, which evokes echoes of experiences, moments, memories, of an intellectual background formed of everything the brain has stored in a whole lifetime. What comes into play is the spectator’s soul, which reshapes that self-same landscape, associating it with personal and individual interpretations that the artists, in his turn, will never know.
The landscape is transformed and “reshaped” on the canvas through the vital contribution of the onlooker: its colours are not deformed by the visus but by the mind; lines are perceived as different from their actual shape, forms the artist never intended to create appear in the mind of the spectator who “recreates” his own painting on the basis of the work of another person. The work is no longer controlled by the ability and perception of the artist; it no longer belongs to him… it becomes the basis of other persons’ emotions, sensations and memories.
The function of the “landscape”, if we still want to use this term, is accomplished in the projection of individual experience, which is manifested through the emotion that work of art, and none other, inspires in the onlooker.
If we were to use psychoanalytical terms, we are dealing with a projection of the unconscious on reality: subtle connections with events, situations, instants in one’s own life; recollections, conscious or unconscious memories. The landscape makes us image what we can or want to visualize. It is a matter of a search into one’s own self that is purely mental, never physical: an oneiric place in which the dream is freed through the colours, the shades, the chiaroscuro effects that others have fixed on canvas.
It is a “temporal” and not spatial place, or in other words a place where the observer projects the time of his or her own experience, that is to say the accumulation of experiences and relations of his or her life. A place built by others, who make it their own, appropriating it as a place of their own self.
But has it not always been like that throughout art history? Is it not perhaps true that the landscapes of Leonardo, Piero della Francesca, or Raphael only appear to represent a concrete reality to a superficial and fleeting glance, while they are anything but real? Are they not themselves, and very much so, immaterial, unreal and essentially “mental landscapes”? What do we really know about the backgrounds that trace the contours of the faces of Leonardo’s women? The eye gets lost and confused in dreamy, evanescent and vibrant spaces; the colours surrounding his portraits are “mental” and not real. It is a matter of an aura rather than a “landscape”, of perspective effects required for purposes of composition that go beyond every concept and need to reproduce a real space.
And so all the great masters of the past have given free reins, in their landscape, to a desire for spatial freedom that is wholly and purely mental: Titian’s spaces, Turner’s and Constable’s landscape, the great Venetian landscape tradition and even De Chirico’s metaphysical landscapes are only some examples of places where even colours, shades and features are unreal: exclusively mental places that witness creative abilities and imagination that go well beyond a realistic reproduction of things and space.
Nakagomi’s landscapes belong to the tradition of landscapes of great intellectual profundity, and are characterized by a completely unique peculiarity: they find themselves on the borderline between the Japanese painting tradition and the Western one: the artist mediates the gestural quality of Japanese calligraphy, with its delicate yet powerful brushstrokes, with colours and chiaroscuro technique of a clearly Western type.
The lightness and evanescence of the background of Japanese painting is rendered as a fog which embraces the scene and evokes the historical and ritual tradition of the settings of Hokusai and Hiroshige. Sometimes, on the contrary, the brushstrokes are more decided, bringing to mind the tradition of Eastern writing. This is contradicted by the bright colours and luminescent flashes of the gold and silver finish (borrowed from the Italian and European Medieval tradition), of the gesso-primed canvas, which illuminate the composition.
Rays of light strike they eye, displacing the colour; Caravaggesque colours “struggle” with the light that shines from the background; we are no longer dealing with the Eastern calm of a traditional Japanese landscape, but with the poetics of the European and Italian Baroque tradition.
The paintings constantly cross-reference and alternate Eastern and Western painting tradition; two very distant styles are merged by a single hand, in one artistic personality.
Italian Baroque and Japanese calligraphy are merged with thick, almost aggressive brushstrokes.
Nakagomi wants to represent a state of mind: or rather a “portrait” of the mind. His expressive choice becomes interesting if we consider the extent to which the artist’s identity is projected within a landscape.
In the final analysis, the landscape remains the greatest means of expression in terms of evoking the “I”.
It is a reflection of the complex personality of a human being, an “appurtenance” of the I, to use legal terms.
Landscape is everything that a human being can mirror, of his individuality, in an object or event. It is the very I reflected on a canvas, an installation, in a poem or a piece of music.
Landscape is everything the human mind can conceive, dream, evoke, imagine.
It is pure art.