Since Sebastian Masuda made his New York art debut with Colorful Rebellion – Seventh Nightmare at KiangaEllis Projects in 2014, the 6%DOKIDOKI founder has garnered legions of fans in the area who are attracted to his use of pastels and his one-of-a-kind style. The Ambassador of Kawaii has returned to the Big Apple several times for a variety of events, including the installation of a giant Hello Kitty near Japan Society and the first Waku Waku in Brooklyn.
His work is back in the city with True Colors: Sebastian Masuda, which opened on October 27 and is on display at the Ronin Gallery until December 3. Held in conjunction with Asian Contemporary Art Week, the exhibition features works divided into three series: Colorful Rebellion, True Colors, and Emotion.
If you’re older than 30, some of the items may remind you of your long-discarded childhood toys. Legos, curling irons and brushes, pieces of your Barbie house, and the spatula from the pretend kitchen of a six-year-old child are tightly scattered across circular and rectangular works on Ronin Gallery’s walls. Although the items seem as if Masuda purchased them at yard sales in rural America, the artist says most of the toys were made in China and sold in Japan.
Still there is a familiar quality of the whimsical Cream Soda and Chocolate, works that evoke memories of birthday parties and ice cream float sessions at your local diner. Everywhere cute stuffed animals peer at the viewer, inviting them to enter Masuda’s playful world.
But not everything in the exhibition is pinks and pastels, flowers and butterflies, ribbons and bows. Interspersed with the cuteness in this exhibition are darker pieces, in both color and theme. Masuda’s Emotion series does not convey the same softness found in Colorful Rebellion and True Colors. In contrast with those series, the Emotion works are edgier, with metallic colors and broken guns and plastic hair dryers littered in a chaotic arrangement. Mice and one-eyed birds take the places of white unicorns and fluffy bunnies. Pieces named Anger, Jealousy, and Destroy give kawaii, which literally means cute in Japanese, a new twist.
“Kawaii is not necessarily cute . . . It’s a statement of resistance to the current social environment,” Masuda says.
True Colors: Sebastian Masuda is a departure for the Ronin Gallery, a family-run Japanese and East Asian art gallery that houses the largest private collection of prints from the 17th through 21st centuries. An artist like Masuda is not typically found among the Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Yoshitoshi ukiyo-e prints for which the gallery is best known. While Ronin is no stranger to contemporary Japanese art – it showed the works of Keisuke Yamaguchi (OZ) and other young artists this summer for their inaugural Ronin/Globus Artist-in-Residence Program – Masuda, who was born in Chiba in 1970, creates the type of art that is unlike anything seen at the gallery.
To see the works in person is the best way to experience and appreciate the details of Masuda’s colorful world. You’ll understand why Masuda says, “Color carries an emotional impact and frees the mind.”
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