Naomi Okubo’s works are like a visual feast for the eyes, exploring ideal and fantastical scenarios that comment on society and even expectations of women and race in Japan. The small, hyperrealist paintings scour through Okubo’s arsenal of memories, fantasies, and dreams to present a carefully orchestrated and arresting visual array for viewers. Typically, the works feature Okubo – always with her back turned to the viewer – as she stages scenes which she then paints; scenes are culled from fairytales (Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty); her own travels and memories (parasols at Rimini, lakeside idylls); and mashed with a strong visual sensibility with Romantic scenarios and patterns (a Versailles-worthy boudoir, Rococo lounges); re-staged masterworks (Manet’s ‘The Luncheon on the Grass’); and a loud, contemporary sensibility (acidic colours, unforgiving Polka-dots, a sort-of post-punk aesthetic). One of Okubo’s concerns is exactly how these polarizing elements combine – or conflict – in the painted picture. Their very contradiction is important to her, driving questions about The Ideal. Furthermore, Okubo uses the Rococo as an idea (and ideal), as a means to question how idealized elements are perpetuated in Western society, historicity, and an art-historical canon. Similarly, how pale-coloured skin is deemed desirable and consumerist culture is lust-worthy for Japanese women. As such, the work seems to probe stereotypes of all kinds, that pursuit for perfection. To illustrate this, the works often feature heavily patterned-borders, fantastical elements such as party-streamers, and an irreverent sense of humour: Okubo appears repeatedly in strappy rainbow-sandals, a multi-coloured bikini, and flowery dresses. She herself becomes an ‘archetype’ in the paintings, a motif, reduced to symbolic meaning but then laden with intent and contention as such. On one level, the works are a poignant, beautiful reminder of memory, nostalgia, and loss, but on the other hand, they ask critical questions about identity, purpose, and society. They are spectacular post-pop vignettes, bathed in candy-colours and countless references to capture – and keep – the viewer’s attention. Welcome to the wonderful, paradoxical, and even slightly uneasy fantasy world of Naomi Okubo, you won’t want to leave.
NAOMI OKUBO (b.1985, Tokyo) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She obtained a BFA and an MFA in Painting from the Musashino Art University in Japan in 2009 and 2011 respectively. Solo exhibitions include: ‘Piles of The Surface’, Elsa Art Gallery, Taipei (2018); ‘Naomi Okubo Solo Exhibition’, A.style Gallery, Hong Kong (2016); ‘This Is Not My Life’, The Popsy Room, Hong Kong (2016); ‘This Is Not My Life’, Gallery Momo Ryogoku, Tokyo (2016). Group exhibitions include: ‘Real Fairy Tale’, Gallery Momo Ryogoku, Tokyo (2019); ‘Real Fairy Tale’, Spring/Break Art Show 2019, New York (2019); ‘Inaugural Group Show’, Neumann Wolfson Art, New York (2017); ‘On Illusion’, Cuchifritos Gallery, New York (2017); ‘Emerging Artist Project 2017’, Japanese Embassy (2017). Awards and residencies include: Yoshino Gypsum Co., Ltd. Overseas Research Program for Artist (2019); Japanese Government Overseas Study Program For Artist, New York (2017-2019); Residency Unlimited, New York (2017).