Lot 1133
  • 1133

TOMOO GOKITA | Solid State Survivor

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 HKD
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  • Gokita Tomoo
  • Solid State Survivor
  • acrylic and gouache on linen
  • 194 by 162 cm.   76⅜ by 63¾ in.
signed in English on the stretcher; signed, titled and dated 09 on the reverse


ATM Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Europe
Acquired from the above by the present owner


New York, ATM Gallery, Champion Carnival, March - May 2009

Catalogue Note

The strangeness of the strangers
Second hand teenagers
Face to face they face
A chemical race
Minds blind
Empty eyes
Black tongues ablaze
No names
Breathe in dreams
Stand in line, cracked smiles
Life to life colliders
Solid state survivors

Yellow Magic Orchestra

Instantly striking with bizarre yet seductive imagery, Solid State Survivor materialises the futuristic beings delineated in the lyrics of the titular song in Yellow Magic Orchestra's award-winning 1979 album. Dominating the painting's composition are two helmet-clad ladies carrying the lower body of a third, the cold robotic anonymity of their exaggerated headgear constituting a surreal juxtaposition with their shapely legs. The vision is grotesque yet alluring, unsettling yet compelling – a superlative specimen from Tomoo Gokita's acclaimed oeuvre. Executed in the artist's distinctive greyscale palette, the abstract-figurative hybrid group portrait is darkly resplendent and cryptic in its heady concoction of Pop, Surrealism, Cubism, Neo-Expressionism, Sci-Fi and Japanese graphic design, whilst also nodding to the artist's early days as a graphic designer in the music industry. Created in 2009, a few years after Gokita made his decisive career shift from graphic designer to artist, Solid State Survivor displays mature chiaroscuro-esque techniques, showcasing Gokita's pristine technical precision across diverse painterly methods such as staggered lines, sharp gradients, spectacular sheens and tonal ranges and bold smears, erasures and gouges. The effect is luxurious, lavish and eerily disquieting – a singular aesthetic reminiscent of diverse visual languages spanning graphic design, calligraphy, and cutouts from vintage postcards and magazines. In Roberta Smith's words: "Mr. Gokita's vocabulary barrels across illustration, pornography, abstraction, children's drawing, calligraphy and sign-painting, with a perfect control, velvety surfaces and tonal range that makes black-and-white feel like living color makes black-and-white feel like living colour" (Roberta Smith, 'Stranger Town: Invading Genres Breach the Art World's Porous Borders', The New York Times, March 9, 2005).

Gokita first worked as a successful illustrator and graphic designer in the 1990s before turning to drawing and painting. During his early days as an artist, the choice of a limited palette was a solution to financial struggles. Gokita’s breakthrough came in 2000 when the Japanese publisher Little More released 3,000 copies of his artist book Lingerie Wrestling, which swiftly sold out and became a cult classic. In 2005, the New York-based artist Taylor McKimens discovered a copy of Lingerie Wrestling and invited Gokita to take part in a group show in Chelsea. Gokita’s works were extremely well received and initiated gallery interest, leading to a slew of solo shows and critical acclaim that launched him into the New York art world. Inspired by his former career as a graphic designer in the fashion and music industry, Gokita’s aesthetic culls found imagery from 1970s Playboy magazines, pin-up posters, vintage post cards, record sleeves, classic film stills and other reference points appropriated from Japanese and Western popular culture and marginal counterculture. Many of these early paintings found a foundation in his pencil and ink sketches, as the artist “still loves drawing, which he finds ‘relaxing’ […] But over time Gokita […] upended his art-making process by painting freely without the aid of any preliminary drawings” (Elaine Ng, ‘One Thousand Shades of Gray: Tomoo Gokita’, ArtAsiaPacific, July-August 2015).

An important compositional strategy employed by Gokita is the deliberate facial obscuration of his subjects or erasure of human forms, beginning with masks or headgear as exemplified in the present work, and later developing into varying degrees of smudges, scrawls and swirls. Such a tendency can be noted as early as 2008; by crossing, smearing or mutilating facial features, Gokita frustrates the viewer’s gaze and asserts a critical distance between the voyeuristic subject and object. While the luscious canvas surface and graphically seductive forms beckons the viewer’s gaze, Gokita’s masterful manipulation of pigment and shapes, shade and light denies entry and deeper engagement, keeping the viewer at bay; while at the same time electrifying the canvas surface with tension, violence and mystery. Such a phenomenon is reminiscent of Gerhard Richter’s late-1960s blurred photorealist works, as well as the psychologically charged defacements of Francis Bacon. In Bacon’s own words, his defacing of his popes enabled him to hit “the nervous system more violently and poignantly” and thus get to the reality behind the image; much in the same manner, Gokita’s grotesquely masked figures violate the brain’s ability of recognition, inducing a visual and cerebral shock. Executed with authoritative poise and confidence, Solid State Survivors confronts viewers in all its strange and fantastical eccentricity, enticing us into an alien realm of mystery and warning us of its beguiling perils.