Hideaki Kawashima’s otherworldly portraits have many of the elements that typify Japan’s surging contemporary art scene, such as stylized feminine beauty and a nod to their creator’s manga and anime-strewn youth. But linger a moment and these acrylic canvases show depth that defies their fellow two-dimensional contemporaries.
Each delicate, floating face has eyes as dark and hard as polished granite, yet they are also wet and supple, quivering with a knowing warmth that engages viewers from any distance. Kawashima’s paintings are meant to stare back at you, each gaze so potent that stray locks of hair disappear in its path. Earlier paintings experimented with color and darker backgrounds, but his latest work is nearly monochrome, with faces hovering in a gossamer haze, eyes nearly jumping off the canvas.
The artist’s years studying the Tendai sect of esoteric Buddhism in Kyoto certainly influenced his work. He speaks of his paintings in spiritual terms, acknowledging them as self-portraits and as forces separate from him. One can imagine Kawashima sitting in front of a mirror as he paints and wonder: Are those eyes staring at the artist or are they the artist’s eyes staring at us?
Unlike many forms of Buddhism, Tendai incorporates the beauty of the world (including the arts) into the path to enlightenment. Perhaps wealth and fame should be included as well — this is Kawashima’s third show at the influential Tomio Koyama Gallery in east Tokyo’s Kiyosumi-Shirakawa, with all paintings sold long before the opening.