The Birth of Illusion

Akira Tatehata

Akio Kawai has been working recently with tableaux of acrylic linen work on rawhemp canvas, but his first work in this medium dates back to the string of tableaux, he produced in the late 70's and early 80's. In the 10 odd years following, his works diverged from the tableau style to a wide variety of forms such as reliefs consisting of wooden boards and paper, large floor installations, and outdoor environmental works consisting of lawn raised in arch forms. However, it now appears he is making a gradual return to the world of stoicism.

In retrospect, however, it may be said that all these experiments essentially support his cosistent awareness of flat surfaces. Even a relief of boards laid at random and glued all over with paper aims to actualize the relationship between the subatrate of the painting and the surface that has been applied to it. The artist's eye, at the same time, turns to the meaning of the materials used, and to the structure of work.

The coarse texture of the hemp tableau is painted with lines of nearly the same colour as the canvas. These equal length lines are drawn at regular apacings, sometimes horizontally, sometimes diagonally, and sometimes in a hatchwork, all of which accentuate the systemic nature of the repetitive structure. Perhaps "accentuate" is not the correct word; because of the closeness of the colours, the lines somehow melt midstream into the texure of the coarse hempen canvas.

At his 1979 exhibition at the Ginza Kaigakan, Kawai wrote the following words. "(The even linework on the linen cloth) is of the barest amount neccessary to allow expression of both the substrate and the parts that have been drawn in at the same time. My present concern is to attain illusion for the surface in its own right, and to single out the spot where this illusion gains autonomy. Irrespective of the material that should be used, it is essential thate the expression should approach that material in such a way that it is dissolved and disappears."

In retrospect, it may be felt that the above atatement unexpectedly signals farewell to the minimalism of these seventies. What was born of minimalism was these called systemic painting, which promoted to an excessive degree the use of machine-like repetitive techniques. The object of this was to drive from the canvas any trace of illusion. To achieve this it was necessary to expose clearly the physical fact that the surface of the canvas was indeed convered with another surface, namely the paint. Kawai took the opposite point of view that "in order for the surface, of its own, to attain illusion", "expression itself must dissolve away." The idea that, when expression dissolves, illusion springs to life, turns the mainstream of painting thought on its head.

It would be a mistake to minimalise this idea as simply a trick achieved by the similarity of the colours. At this time, Kawai already held forth quite clearly that as long as a painting is a painting,the obvious physical nature of the surface and the literal nature of the surface could not possibly exist. However we look at it,a painting is defined. In fact, if we look back on thegreather works of minimalism now,what we cannot help but feel is not some repellant physical surface,but rather a profound sea that draws in our gaze.