At first sight, Tenki Hiramatsu’s paintings, semi-abstract, colorful and vibrant, frequently streaked with hues of nocturnal brown or black, may appear to be somewhat reminiscent of Emil Nolde’s “Grotesken”, a cosmos full of sylvan spirits and therianthropes, which were a lifelong theme for Nolde. However, the fantastical creatures populating Hiramatsu’s paintings appear even more rudimentary and subtle: with delicate brush strokes they are often times drawn, rather than painted. They seem more comic book-like, even though Hiramatsu insists that he does not actually read many comic books. His creatures are more illustrative than their modernist counterparts, such as in Louder than everything else, faster than everything else (2020). Here, they slightly resemble the Moomins, the hippo-esque trolls created by the Swedish-Finnish author Tove Jansson in the late 1940s. The expressively folkloristic quality of Nolde’s works resurfaces in Hiramatsu’s paintings, but here it appears ruptured, distinctly un-heroic. Some of Hiramatsu’s characters simply dissolve in lines, streaks and knots, as if having lost all of their vigor, like Vavoom, the faceless Eskimo boy from Felix the Cat, drawn by Raymond Pettibon for decades — a greatly influential artist for Hiramatsu’s work. Underneath the fur hood of his snowsuit he blurts out heart-stopping, powerful cries, that echo “VAVOOM!” across vast arctic planes, and that — in Pettibon’s body of work — are directed towards the USA. In his later work the character doesn’t emit sound waves anymore, but wonky meth-like crystals, instead.
One can never be never sure whether Hiramatsu’s creatures are still in the process of becoming or whether they are already withering, fading, being brushed away. What exactly are they looking for in the surprisingly romantic landscapes that surround them, these landscapes that at times can become profound and monumental like William Turner’s North Sea paintings or the works of the Hudson River School painters that captivated the New World in the mid-19th century? Hiramatsu, too, is creating a visionary, new, outsider-like world in which nature, the history of painting and reflections of the human psyche merge. The artist, born in 1986 in Wakayama, Japan, works with oil paint on paper, which is mounted onto wooden boards. This setup makes even the smallest gesture stand out. After studying art in Tokyo and focusing on drawing, Hiramatsu attended the art academy of Karlsruhe to study with Marcel van Eeden from 2016 to 2019. In his artistic work, painting and drawing develop organically, they become mutually dependent. His semi- abstract paintings, from which protruding eyes and uncanny, comic or tragic creatures gaze back at the spectator, are “narrative” only at first glance. Actually, they reflect the process, the concrete, factual quality of a painting, that always presents itself as an object with sculptural qualities, too. Hiramatsu questions the notion that a painting is “only an image,” a fiction of sorts, at the mercy of the spectator’s imagination. Not unlike the oeuvre of the Belgian poet and painter Walter Swennen, whom Hiramatsu cites as an important influence, it is not about developing a storyline, a recognizable style or a painterly routine. Quite to the contrary: it is all about remaining sensitive to that which happens on the canvas, to continually respond to painterly challenges and to experimentally scrutinize the relations between signs, meanings, legibility, and the handling of issues of image and representation. Hiramatsu’s fragmented, unstable “creatures” are never planned beforehand, they materialize only in the process of painting. They formally react to the abstract base layer of each painting and spawn associative images and unconscious emotions alike, that paradoxically become “real” and true by being pure painting. Hiramatsu himself states: “I believe that paintings are a medium of trust, and it seems to me that in the act of viewing them, frequently a lie may little by little become a truth.”
Text: Oliver Koerner von Gustorf