Portland Center Stage Portland Oregon Theatre

Art Review: Christian Rogers & Shohei Takasaki at Nationale

The dual exhibition "Curly Hair/Hot Metal" juxtaposes Takasaki's bold, gestural abstractions with Rogers' figure-inclusive collages.

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Installation view of “Curly Hair/Hot Metal” at Nationale, Image © Mario Gallucci courtesy of Nationale

The first dual exhibition by the artists Christian Rogers and Shohei Takasaki—both of whom have had solo exhibitions at Nationale previously—represents a study in duality, with the work of each artist alternately complementing and contradicting his counterpart. The collaborative effect in Curly Hair/Hot Metal is jarring in the most appealing of ways. Walking through the show one inhabits two distinct worlds that become one when juxtaposed, with Takasaki’s painterly incisions engaging in a meaningful conversation with Rogers’ disparate assemblages of skin, tone and color.   

Disparate assemblages of skin, tone and color, sure, but “multitudinous fleshscapes” is what I initially jotted down while staring at Rogers’ work in the show. Equally interested in salaciousness and understated solemnity, “fleshscapes” does, on some level, encompass what Rogers achieves in “Curly Hair/Hot Metal.” Works like Gay Cruise Line and By Invitation Only do feature both naked and thinly clothed male bodies, and the untitled Rogers’ Polaroid photos in the show do luxuriate in the unadorned physical and natural worlds. (According to the catalog for the show Rogers sourced all the collage-based imagery from vintage erotic magazines.) At the same time, however, this prurient aspect of “Hair/Hot Metal” veers more towards sexual elegy rather than elation, especially when buttressed by the Day-Glo figurations that overhang the collaged aspects of each work. Although the shapes themselves—dense and expansive—exude a certain frivolity, the more I studied each painting the more poignant, even grave, it appeared. Humans are acolytes of light and the brighter something is the more we’re inclined to think of it as happy, filled with life. 

Christian Rogers, Gay Cruise Line (2022). Acrylic, paper pulk, and collage on panel. 36 x 30 inches. Image © Mario Gallucci courtesy of Nationale

As I stared intently at Rogers’ painting Heatwave, however, I inhabited conflicting states of mind. Fluorescent green in the main, certainly the painting’s coloration is one of openhanded agreement. It asks for attention and immediately receives it. That said, the collaged men that make up a portion of the composition of Heatwave seem to also float a certain “lust as grief” trope. Positioned near the center of the work, one of the men stares at the viewer pensively. He’s not bashful about his nakedness or sexuality so much as cognizant of his own mortality. Heavy handed or fatalistic as it might seem, to live is to love is to die, and Heatwave encompasses this notion completely. The fact that who we are now is not who (or where) we’ll be in one hundred years is not a cause for lamentation. Instead, it’s a reason to celebrate, to live in the moment knowing that tomorrow is never promised to anyone. The men in Rogers’ paintings and Polaroids in “Curly Hair/Hot Metal” know this; Rogers’ effusive colors and shapes know it too. The cumulative effect is one of vivacious passion, yes, but also fragility.

Christian Rogers, Heatwave (2022). Acrylic, paper pulp, and collage on canvas. 24 x 30 inches.
Image © Mario Gallucci courtesy of Nationale

Shohei Takasaki’s work in “Curly Hair/Hot Metal” dovetails directly with Rogers’ in certain ways and in other respects skirts it. Like Rogers, Takasaki is concerned with embracing the present moment. Every painting by the artist is identified as “Untitled” but each also contains a dated parenthetical: (June 17 2022) or  (Feb 28 2022), for example. Although it’s unclear if Takasaki actually completed each painting on the given day—it seems doubtful—surely the inclusion of each date is a significant one, speaking to the immediacy of inspiration and creation. No matter how much we might plan or prepare, time is forever now, just now, and accepting that certainty is the only way to fully live in the (mortal) present.

Shohei Takasaki, Untitled (May 23 2022) (2022). Oil pastel and charcoal on canvas. 36 x 32 inches. Image © Mario Gallucci courtesy of Nationale

Flesh and the body are also concerns of Takasaki’s in “Curly Hair/Hot Metal.” Written on the side of some of the paintings’ frames in thick black charcoal are various cryptic, koan-like incitements: “Broken Windows Skin,” “Skin Communication” and “TV Haze Numbes Skin”, among others. Vis-à-vis the actual artwork on the canvas, the viewer is left to decipher these messages for herself–there is no direct relationship between the two components–but what is clear is that, same as Rogers, Takasaki is invested in the daily intimacy of being alive in the world. And it’s a precarious intimacy.   

Shohei Takasaki, Untitled (June 22 2022) (2022). Oil pastel and charcoal on canvas. 52 x 48 inches. Image © Mario Gallucci courtesy of Nationale

Takasaki’s line in paintings like Untitled (May 23 2022) and Untitled (June 17 2022) is raw and tangible, a declaration rather than suggestion. It stymies rather than clarifies and is decidedly uninterested in didactic illumination. (2+2= time + vision. Anything but 4.) The visible eyes in the shadowy figurations displayed in Untitled (June 22 2022) and Untitled (May 23 2022), moreover, are not vessels of sight so much as presence. They see without seeing, and with their placement on each canvas the viewer will naturally try to form a face around them. This desire will be thwarted, however, or at least tempered by Takasaki’s refusal to engage in direct figuration. “Corrosive suggestibility” is what I wrote in my notebook while studying Takasaki’s paintings in the show and, having further reflected, I do think that phrase captures some of what the artist achieves in “Curly Hair/Hot Metal.” The word corrosion normally has a pejorative sense—something has been destroyed or distorted—but in this instance I use it positively. The schisms that comprise Takasaki paintings in the show are, in their idiosyncratic way, on the brink, teetering towards a rebirth of some kind but not there yet. They thus exist in a liminal space, in between and yet fully formed, present. For the viewer, then, this is a rich and fertile place to be.    

After doing an initial quick walkthrough of “Curly Hair/Hot Metal” I was hard-pressed to ascertain just what exactly connected the work of Christian Rogers and Shohei Takasaki. With continued viewings and reflection, however, it’s clear that the gestural energy of each artist hums at a similar frequency. The works themselves vary in scope and tone, but the underlying expressive ardor is the same. It’s an ardor worth experiencing firsthand at Nationale.  

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“Curly Hair/Hot Metal” is on view at Nationale through August 28, 2022. National is located at 15 SE 22nd Ave. The gallery is open for limited hours through August 18th: Friday – Sunday from 12 pm – 5 pm. Beginning August 19th, the gallery is open Monday 11 am – 6 pm, Thursday through Saturday 11 am – 6 pm, and Sunday from 12 pm – 5 pm.

Jeff Alessandrelli is a writer living in Portland, OR. His latest book is And Yet. He's at https://jeffalessandrelli.net/

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