‘drawing (horse)’, 2011 this artwork erases a chronological gap between a warhorse and a motorcycle pencil and watercolor on paper, 31 x 38cm image © akira yamaguchi courtesy gallery HERMES, ginza, tokyo

japanese artist akira yamaguchi’s work explores the sensation of time disappearing, not only metaphorically but also psychologically and literally. he has made a name for himself with paintings that pay homage to classical japanese masters like hokusai and hiroshige while evoking the complexity of hieronymus bosch. over the last ten years yamaguchi has crafted strange, often complex paintings, which pay homage to masters whilst being modern and strikingly original.  yamaguchi also fuses different artistic styles in his drawings — we see the lack of perspective characteristic of early yamato-e paintings; and we also see treatments in the style of contemporary media such as manga, and the virtual imagery found in anime and video games.

‘for me, classical art was something for the elite and not to be meddled with by commoners like me.’ he says his work is meant to be humorous, but also aims to criticize the wholesale embracing of western ideas that took place during the meiji era, to the detriment of traditional japanese culture. during his college years, he began to obsessively copy and then re-create old-school japanese landscapes and portraits, which he then infused with a renegade parade of anachronistic robot-androids, motorbikes and steel buildings. at age of thirty-eight, yamaguchi is at a relatively early stage in a career which will, in all likelihood, span a lifetime. as he forges ahead, it would be a shame to see his unique talent and intelligence done further disservice by critical slackness or criticism as mere promotion – what we might call the ‘jaded machinery of fame’. akira yamaguchi has recently shown his work at fondation hermes in ginza tokyo.

akira yamaguchi explores the idea of time ‘tokiore(I)mix’, 2011 pencil and watercolor on paper, 33,3 x 21,2 cm image © akira yamaguchicourtesy gallery HERMES, ginza, tokyo

akira yamaguchi explores the idea of time ‘unforgettable electric poles’, 2012 mixed media, dimensions variable the installation is using existing columns of the gallery photo by atsushi nakamichi / nacasa & partners inc. image courtesy gallery HERMES, ginza, tokyo   visitors might not have noticed at first that five columns inside the gallery had been turned into a row of towering electric poles. the mock fixtures – transformer box, power lines, conductors – camouflage the upper half of each column so convincingly that the objects making up ‘unforgettable electric poles’ seem quite real. yet there was an estranging effect, as in a daydream: the tall glass wall surrounding the HERMES gallery emphasized that this was an interior space, underlining the displaced status of the poles.

akira yamaguchi explores the idea of time detail of the installation

akira yamaguchi explores the idea of time ‘tokyo landscapes’ (2012) detail of the artwork that is displayed on a pair of four panels, each 162 x 342 cm. japanese ink on canvas image © akira yamaguchicourtesy gallery HERMES, ginza, tokyo

‘time disappearing’ is most prominent in his latest work ‘tokyo landscape’, in which it seems a dense and detailed birds eye perspective of the modern city is captured, however, one will soon discover the it has multi-time axes (it refers to the artistic genre of rakuchu rakugai zu – scenes in and around kyoto). it becomes evident when one notices the subtle interweaving of old buildings that existed before world war II with current architecture. the mixing of the past and the present in this artwork is not the only manifestation of yamaguchi’s investigation into time, the piece is also not finished, deliberately, though yamaguchi says of the painting:

‘I come every morning and paint before the gallery opens, so hopefully I’ll finish it during the course of the exhibition…’ the work remained incomplete till the final days of the showing, expressing his elegant and palpable transcendence of his most investigated subject – time.‘

akira yamaguchi explores the idea of time time has been bleached away, a detail of the ‘tokyo landscapes’

yamaguchi can conjure entire worlds, half-imagined, half-remembered, but wholly convincing. the artist’s streamlining methods for weaving figures into complex architectural space are derived partly from older japanese scene painting, and partly from the dynamics of comic-book perspective.

‘one of the tasks of contemporary artists is to give new life to dead works,’ says yamaguchi in his self-titled debut book of paintings, published by the university of tokyo press. ‘I see myself as creating new paper charms to summon the latter-day gods.’

akihira yamaguchi was born in tokyo in 1969, the eldest of two brothers, grew up in kiryu, gunma prefecture. after graduating from the tokyo national university of fine arts and music with an MA in 1996, yamaguchi first found recognition in local art circles a year later when he participated in a small group exhibition dubbed ‘kotatsu school’ with former university buddy and artist makoto aida at mizuma art gallery.

akira yamaguchi explores the idea of time photo by atsushi nakamichi / nacasa & partners inc. image courtesy gallery HERMES, ginza, tokyo