Naoki Fuku and the Controversy of the Human Existence

Naoki Fuku, Japanese artist based in Germany and Switzerland. Photograph: Chris Wagner
Naoki Fuku
LOST (A wintry austere solitude) 2010
Oil and brush pen on canvas
110 x 110 cm
Naoki Fuku, Study of human mind @ the 6th Moscow Biennale, Moscow Tsaritsyno Museum, Moscow, Russia. Installation View.
Naoki Fuku
Great Expectation 2010
Oil, brush pen, and on canvas
110 x 110 cm
Naoki Fuku, Japanese artist based in Germany and Switzerland. Photograph: Chris Wagner
Naoki Fuku
Quantitative easing (2013)
toilet holder, toilet Role, emergency sign on white wooden board
40 x 55 x 20cm
Naoki Fuku
Ego oxygen-YOU think it will last forever (2012)
oxygen tank, oxygen mask, metal on white wooden board
80 x 60 x 15cm
Naoki Fuku
Ego fuel-fill up your life (2013)
fuel counter, fuel pump, black tube on white wooden board
80 x 60 x 20cm
Darling, what shall we eat tonight? (2010-2011) 150 x 120 cm oil on canvas
Naoki Fuku
I deserve to be healed (2012)
100 x 80cm oil on canvas
Naoki Fuku
Darling, I drank too much tonight (2014) 150 x 120 cm oil on canvas
Naoki Fuku
Mona Lisa (2011)
50 x 40 cm memory card, oil on canvas
Naoki Fuku
Democracy (2012)
100 x 80 cm oil on canvas
Naoki Fuku
My fragmented mind and the girl
Naoki Fuku
I wanna forgot what I have said
Naoki Fuku, Study of Human Mind series.
Naoki Fuku, Study of Human Mind series.
Naoki Fuku, Study of Human Mind series.
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Naoki Fuku is a Japanese artist who lives and works in Germany and Switzerland.  Since the start of his artistic career in London, he has stepped onto the international artistic scene with a very personal style. He appeals through his paintings and installations to the viewers’ most intimate self in the middle of today’s exhausting life. By mixing the traditional techniques of calligraphy with the direct approach of Western expressionism, Naoki Fuku’s portraits give voice to a new emotion, which is made of both fragility and strength alike.

When Cezanne and Derrida spoke about “the truth in painting”, I feel that they were referring to the portraits of Naoki Fuku.

 


TEXT: Alfredo Mateos Paramo
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist

 

LOST (A wintry austere solitude) 2010 Oil and brush pen on canvas 110 x 110 cm
Naoki Fuku
LOST (A wintry austere solitude) 2010
Oil and brush pen on canvas
110 x 110 cm

 

You belong to a group of Japanese artists, like Fujita in France and Matsu Miura in Spain, who have developed their career in Europe. Why did you decide to live in Europe, and how is your relationship with Japanese culture from afar?

 I stay in Europe because it is good for my creativity. Being an alien fighting with a fear of the future, has given me a better understanding of how to see the world.

We understand many things better when we see them from the outside. I relate with things in Japanese culture that I can be proud of. In fact, I feel Japan has lost some of its great culture. Personally, I would have loved Mishima’s idea of Japan – to feel Japanese and be proud of Japan.

 

You learned and practised calligraphy (shodo) in Japan. To what extent is this ancient art still present in your method of painting?

 I hated those lessons…[laughs] I was too young to understand that old, boring, outdated tradition. Once I had put the brush and ink on the paper, I could never correct it. The finished work shows my honesty, determination, hesitation and concentration, but those Zen-like approaches were just a pain for me. Ironically, the idea of discipline is now very much in my paintings, and now that I am aware of its importance, my artworks have my soul in them. If I had not done calligraphy, I would not have done it this way. In a way, I am doing calligraphy right now.

Naoki Fuku, Study of human mind @ the 6th Moscow Biennale, Moscow Tsaritsyno Museum, Moscow, Russia. Installation View.
Naoki Fuku, Study of human mind @ the 6th Moscow Biennale, Moscow Tsaritsyno Museum, Moscow, Russia. Installation View.

 

You usually work with a mere bamboo stick, throwing punches and adding strokes at the same time. Why have you stopped using a brush?

Bamboo sticks make interesting moves. You need to be much more controlled than you do with brushes, although it is often unpredictable, like our life.

Using the stick makes more sense as it requires me to concentrate all the time. My fist is also important, as I punch the canvas to express my understanding of the current world, full of people who are good and bad, fortunate and unfortunate.

 

Tell us more about your beginnings as a visual artist in Europe. How did you start to paint?

I did not plan to be an artist. I came to Europe to start a new life with my then British partner. Sadly, we broke up soon after we settled in England. I was surviving by doing whatever job I could find. I was once a toilet cleaner and lived in a shared house. I was depressed and suicidal for 4 years. It was the lowest time of my life. I had to keep on lying to people, including my mother. I could not tell her the truth.

I started drawing objects in my room and began to forget the situation I was in. It was very hypnotic that I slowly forgot my own predicament. Then I met the artist, Tai-Shan Schirenberg, and was brave enough to show my paintings. I am sure they looked very primitive, but this was the moment I decided to keep on painting to express my life. I know what a hard life is like. I understand the feelings of forgotten people and this is my greatest asset as an artist, you could never learn about this from school.

 

You often mention that Van Gogh and Francis Bacon are among your biggest Western artistic influences. What have you taken from them?

I’m not influenced by their work, but I have been encouraged by their lives. Their paintings are very sincere and I can see their sorrow, struggles and desire of life in their work. They gave me hope, and hope is the only thing that keeps me alive in this world.

Naoki Fuku Great Expectation 2010 Oil, brush pen, and on canvas 110 x 110 cm
Naoki Fuku
Great Expectation 2010
Oil, brush pen, and on canvas
110 x 110 cm

 

You are working on a performance entitled, ‘Van Gogh / Naoki Fuku: Journey to Japan’, with the Spanish flutist Julián Elvira and film director Ana Solano. What do you expect the performance to show?

 I want to show people hope. All the positives and the negatives combine to generate a new energy, and I want people to know that everything is possible.

 

Your work is regularly exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide, but you continue to use alternative venues. What are you looking for in these outskirts of the art world?

If my work falls into so-called “art”, then it shouldn’t just be seen in formal art spaces, but wherever I can show it. They are a visual form of my experiences and of a hope, which I believe is always a good thing.

By doing these installations and performances, I would love to devalue modern art, which is highly illusionary and exaggerated these days. Art should be of service to normal people, not only to be consumed. I am trying to reach out to all people.

 

Your latest series, ‘Studies of the human mind’, focuses on alternative interpretations of the self. Is identity an illusion, as Buddhism claims, or are your paintings a way of affirming yourself in a confused world?

 I try to represent different issues currently overlooked in world affairs. Plato believed that most of us are dreaming in a sort of cave, believing that we perceive reality, when what we only see are the reflected images of what’s real. I am absolutely on the side of unfortunate people. My work is here for all people to use to identify themselves.

Our mind shapes the world and keeps changing, it never stays the same. I would like to catch some of the moments in order to understand and reveal the truth we can share. Some people are having a party, drinking champagne, and some are drowning in the ocean on the way to Europe. I want to reveal the distortion that exists between the rich and the poor.

 

Your artwork acts like a mirror, people react to these displays of intimate intensity with their own emotions, and in very different ways. Could you tell us more about this?

My work mirrors the current world situation and gives portraits of human minds that are invisible in our life, but are shaping the world. Therefore, the viewer’s emotions complete my work.

 

Conceptual works, which are very far from human emotions, dominate the contemporary art scene. In contrast, your artworks display deep feelings. How do you see your place in the art world?

My main group of conceptual works is from the ‘Hope is always a good thing’ series. I analyse the phenomena of ‘hope’ by connecting with the possibilities of imagination. My intention is to connect with people, as collecting individual hopes and dreams gives us a better understanding of one another and our experiences in this world. Hopes are a collection of goodwill, making a space for positive emotions that I hope will bring a sense of unity and peace to the community. In future, I’d like to realise this project in conflict areas, such as Israel, Palestine and Syria.

 

One last question, who is Naoki Fuku?

 I am an avenger from the forgotten people, from the minority who are, in fact, the majority.

 

Naoki Fuku, Japanese artist based in Germany and Switzerland
Naoki Fuku, Japanese artist based in Germany and Switzerland. Photograph: Chris Wagner

 

About Naoki Fuku

Naoki Fuku is a Japanese artist who was born in Tokyo. He moved to London where he started to focus on his artistic career. Nowadays he is residing and working in Germany & Switzerland.

He studied painting under the Japanese painter and art school teacher Naoko Yanase. Further he took courses in ‘Shodo’, Japanese Calligraphy. His work consists of installation works, object works & paintings and often takes a mixed view on social, political and cultural issues in both systematic as well as poetic ways, inviting the viewer to move into a space of speculation. The media coverage of world affairs is one of his main sources of inspiration, while the feeling of modernity is hidden in most of his works. His object works are placed in the canon of the western culture, attempting to make visible what might be overlooked in today’s modern life.

 


The Hope Series
“Naoki Fuku started his work on the Hope series in 2012. The series consists of different object works which contain a “canvas”, objects and the sentence Hope is always a good thing. In this matter they form a striking combination of text and image which recalls some of his former work. The phrase includes good and bad, positive and negative and sometimes even irony. The first works for the series were humble water and ego lamp. With these the artist wanted to express modernity with only using basic life facilities such as water and electricity. He tries to involve questions and themes that form and influence (post)modern society as well as social, political and even global issues. Thus Naoki Fuku’s allusions aim to make people aware of things happening outside their sacred glasshouses.”     —  Patricia Meyer, Art Historian

 

Naoki Fuku  Quantitative easing (2013) toilet holder, toilet Role, emergency sign on white wooden board 40 x 55 x 20cm
Naoki Fuku
Quantitative easing (2013)
toilet holder, toilet Role, emergency sign on white wooden board
40 x 55 x 20cm

 

Naoki Fuku  Ego oxygen-YOU think it will last forever (2012) oxygen tank, oxygen mask, metal on white wooden board 80 x 60 x 15cm
Naoki Fuku
Ego oxygen-YOU think it will last forever (2012)
oxygen tank, oxygen mask, metal on white wooden board
80 x 60 x 15cm

 

Naoki Fuku  Ego fuel-fill up your life (2013) fuel counter, fuel pump, black tube on white wooden board 80 x 60 x 20cm
Naoki Fuku
Ego fuel-fill up your life (2013)
fuel counter, fuel pump, black tube on white wooden board
80 x 60 x 20cm

 

”Before the 7th”
The idea behind is to express modern reality by using a similar format as in The Book of Revelation. Naoki Fuku’s arrangements are systematic as well as poetic, inviting the viewer to move into a space of speculation, while the feeling of modernity is hidden in these works. The subjects are placed in the canon of the western culture attempting to make visible what might be overlooked in today’s modern life. Therefore each painting has its own topic being fed by the current world which in return is aimed to be investigated. The fact that modern reality is often blurred by the good time people are having serves as an invitation for the artist to visualize the moments of people’s unconscious ego while showing their comfort time (Darling, I drank too much tonight). So this series means to express the differences between the capitalist western world and all the places where people are still suffering, starving and fighting for their lives.

Darling, what shall we eat tonight? (2010-2011)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    150 x 120 cm oil on canvas
Darling, what shall we eat tonight? (2010-2011) 150 x 120 cm oil on canvas

 

Naoki Fuku  I deserve to be healed (2012) 100 x 80cm oil on canvas
Naoki Fuku
I deserve to be healed (2012)
100 x 80cm oil on canvas

 

Naoki Fuku  Darling, I drank too much tonight (2014)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      150 x 120 cm oil on canvas
Naoki Fuku
Darling, I drank too much tonight (2014) 150 x 120 cm oil on canvas

“Darling, I drank too much tonight!: Kevin Carter became famous due to the photograph which is shown on the TV in the painting. There were many speculations about it; people were actually accusing Carter for taking the picture instead of helping the kid. He killed himself not much time after the photo was chosen for the Pulitzer Prize. Fuku’s scene takes place in a wealthy flat, the artist chose dark colors, but he points out that this does not mean the flat is a dark place it is much more to visualize his own mind. There is also a green plant, a bottle of champagne and a blue sofa with a couple engaging in a kiss not paying any attention to what is shown on TV. If Kevin Carter was accused for inhumanity, how is their ignorant behavior to be judged?  ”

 

Naoki Fuku Mona Lisa (2011)  50 x 40 cm memory card, oil  on canvas
Naoki Fuku
Mona Lisa (2011)
50 x 40 cm memory card, oil on canvas

 

Naoki Fuku  Democracy (2012) 100 x 80 cm oil on canvas
Naoki Fuku
Democracy (2012)
100 x 80 cm oil on canvas

 

 


Babel in my mind
“Fuku creates new identities and shows the inner life of the resulting characters while playing with the layers which are quasi wrapped around it to represent inner horrors and convulsions in a very expressionistic way.

The artist’s combination of texts and images lines up with a variety of well-known examples from contemporary art and art history. The way he fills his characters’ heads with texts, though, evokes the story of the Tower of Babel according to which God disapproved of the attitude of the people who tried to reach for the sky in order to make a name for themselves and even attempt to equal him. He punished them for their arrogance by confounding their speech and scattering them all over the world.

This so-called confusion of tongues also takes place in the minds of Fuku’s characters. Rudimentary pencil lines enclose a jumble of inked texts in different languages which reveal the deepest inner self of the artist. He thinks in Japanese, English, German and Russian. Those languages represent important stations in his very international career. At first glance the sketches seem to be simple and elementary, but when the viewer’s eyes embark on the combination of image and text he becomes aware of the profound content of the works.”    — Patricia Meyer, Art Historian

 

Naoki Fuku  My fragmented mind and the girl
Naoki Fuku
My fragmented mind and the girl
Naoki Fuku  I wanna forgot what I have said
Naoki Fuku
I wanna forgot what I have said

Naoki Fuku 19

Naoki Fuku 17

 


Study of Human Mind

Naoki Fuku, Study of Human Mind series.
Naoki Fuku, Study of Human Mind series.
Naoki Fuku, Study of Human Mind series.
Naoki Fuku, Study of Human Mind series.
Naoki Fuku, Study of Human Mind series.
Naoki Fuku, Study of Human Mind series.

 

Remarks:

Patricia Meyer is an art historian and art consultant. She studied with Gottfried Boehm and Ralph Ubl at the universities of Basel and Vienna and earned a master’s degree. She lives and works in Basel where she organizes different art shows and off spaces.

 

 


Alfredo Mateos Paramio
Alfredo Mateos Paramio (Spain, 1968) is an author and critic on contemporary art. He has curated exhibitions, among other places, in MoMA – New York, National Library (Madrid) and Instituto Cervantes (Tokyo). He has been Director of the Cultural Foundation of the City Hall of Valladolid (Spain) and Cultural Director of Instituto Cervantes in Athens (Greece), New York and Morocco. He is currently Director of Photosai (Madrid), art gallery specialized in contemporary art on paper.

 
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