Naoki Fuku: Reimagine the Existing

Naoki Fuku, Out of Date, 2017. 150x100cm oil on canvas.
Naoki Fuku, Made in Japan, 2017. 150x100cm oil on canvas.
Naoki Fuku, Do not Kill (2017) 140x120cm graphite and acrylic on canvas.
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Naoki Fuku’s works in two recent exhibitions at SinArts Gallery (in the Hague and Amsterdam) display the versatility, sophistication, and evolving concepts of an artist on the rise and on the move. The Olympics in South Korea had just concluded at the time and it had been an historic Winter Games. The pride that athletes feel when representing their nation is palpable. In the opening ceremonies, we see the entire world’s national flags paraded with dignity and honor. It is a symbol that unites difference. No wonder it is hoisted high in the air during each medal ceremony. To the athlete, spectators, and the nation that is represented, the flag is their national identity.

TEXT: Asad Dean
IMAGES: Courtesy of the SinArts Gallery

Naoki Fuku, Out of Date, 2017. 150x100cm oil on canvas.

 

With this in mind, we can take a closer look at two works in which Mr. Fuku depicts the flag. They not only stir the mind but also persuade the viewer to examine his/her own notions and perceptions of the flag with both detail and greater depth. Flags embody the spirit of a country and its citizens. They fly high overhead and serve as a beacon of strength, productivity, and pride. During the Olympics, all the positive attributes of the flag are embraced and appreciated. However, to many people, the flag can also represent tyranny, suppression, and despair.

In his examination of the American flag, Naoki’s fascination with the world and cultural affairs come full throttle. It is strongly reminiscent of a Jasper Johns painting and series in terms of the content and its distinct proportions. The stars and stripes have always invoked a feeling of solidarity for the principles that have guided the relatively young nation to world prominence and dominance. The United States represents freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These beliefs are ingrained in the mindset of the American. By adding the phrase, “Out of Date.” Fuku signals a departure from these core beliefs. It tarnishes the luster of what America is to its people, who have originated from all over the globe and tarnishes how America is viewed all around the world. In current political affairs, we are witnessing the unraveling of the ideals and timeless pursuits that have actually made America great. The language on the U.S. flag conveys the irrelevant nature of what we hold so dear to our hearts.

Simultaneously, the stars and stripes have represented a global hegemony that is resented by many. The dominance of American politics across the continents has left a sour taste in the mouth in large parts of the world. Who doesn’t remember the oppressed minorities turning to lighters, lighter fluids and American flags to express their disdain for the country’s perceived evil. If we consider the view of the current political situation in Washington DC from outside the US, the “Out of Date” phrase rings loud and clear to many.

There may also be references to generational shifts within the United States that are now out of date. For example, tremendous strides have taken place towards erasing racism. From a slave nation to the civil rights movement, there has been an evolution towards progress. While much remains to be done, the way things were done in the past were clearly out of date and out of touch with contemporary society. Mr. Fuku masterfully navigates controversial issues with finesse and I find his works confrontational as they immediately and readily stimulate dialogue.

 

Naoki Fuku, Made in Japan, 2017. 150x100cm oil on canvas.

 

The Chinese flag, part of Mr Fuku’s series “3 stars”, can clearly convey any one of the positive or negative elements that were previously associated with individual national flags, or all of them at the same time. However, the “Made in China” statement transforms this into a work that requires deeper contemplation if the meaning to the viewer is to be fully understood. Is “Made in China” a statement of pride or the economic essence of a behemoth nation that can mass produce virtually anything? It is certainly a phrase that has become globally ubiquitous. The work asks the viewer to confront his own views on China and, therefore, its people, culture, and place in the world. There is complexity in simplicity.

 

Naoki Fuku, Do not Kill (2017) 140x120cm graphite and acrylic on canvas.

 

The Butteflies painting is another key work in the shows. This features a myriad of butterflies of various sizes, but homogenous in appearance, moving in the same upward direction on the canvas. It is both provocative and beautiful at the same time. Butterflies being glorified in art is not new and we can look to Damien Hirst’s works that incorporate butterflies and colorful spin paintings. He infamously let over 20,000 butterflies die during his retrospective exhibition at Tate Modern.

Mr. Fuku’s painting first evokes the insect’s extraordinary transformation from a land roving caterpillar to a spectacular butterfly with paper thin wings that can glide in the air above. Their beauty and delicate nature is so ethereal, one is immediately drawn to them. However, one might also think of the department store Neiman Marcus whose symbol is the butterfly and the “Do not Kill” phrase is a comment on the suffocating encroachment of e-commerce on the retail landscape. The work also expresses the struggle and strife in our contemporary world, with the killing of both the body and mind equally prevalent. How does one’s voice rise up from the ground below into the air above so that it can reverberate and echo change?

 

 

About the artist

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.
His work consists of object works, paintings & installations 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 artist’s work has been exhibited at galleries, museums and alternative venues in Japan, USA, Switzerland, Germany, England, France, Austria, Brazil, the Netherlands, Spain and Russia.

 

 


 

Asad Dean is a member of the executive committee and past chairman of the Director’s Council of the Modern Art Museum in Ft Worth. He has been actively involved in identifying emerging artists, acquisition through the Director’s Council for the museum, and artistic philanthropic pursuits. He also has a strong interest in fashion and has been featured in numerous print and online publications.

 

 

 

 
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