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September 12 - October 12 , 2002 at L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice

by Marlena Donohue

Since novelty and critical rhetoric became potent gauges for success, young artists find themselves in the precarious and ironic position of working to a public thirsty for cycles of discovery and discard. The gaining of attention catapults newcomers into the category of “known artist,” then the stakes get higher. The form/idea you have claimed as yours--even if it includes the Barthesian position that there are no new ideas or new forms, just new functions for language--must get tighter, clearer, ever more honed. Who knows how 30-year old Gajin Fujita, who is on the cusp of making this leap, will fare. At present, the visually dazzling work projects a hip, exuberant, polyglot appeal right as critical rhetoric affirms that language and logos can again embrace beauty. With his gritty themes and sheer technical chops, lustrous execution, and celebration of the surface, Fujita may seize the moment.

“L.A. L.A. Land,” 2001, acrylic/spraypaint/
gold and silver leaf on wood panel, 18 x 41”.

“Gold State Warrior,” 2002, acrylic/spraypaint/gold and
white gold leaf on wood panel, 60 x 192” (16 panels).
This artist makes wildly disparate psychological, experiential and syntactical spaces that both collide and reside happily under an umbrella of technical mastery at once beautiful and banal. Going from a teen career bombing (spray painting) to grad school, he is able to resource everything from graffiti, stencils, gold leafing, Ben Day dotting, half comical, half masterful appropriations of shunga (classical Japanese erotic prints), Pop, even the intricate style unique to tattoo art. Colors are just this side of gaudy--vestiges of Vegas--and the spray paint and gold leaf produce a kind of flat, reflective light that is nothing less than seductive.

Colorful, gilded serpents, delicate acrylic cranes, explosive marks and florals from wood blocks intertwine with big tagger letters. The Asian love of pattern, the historical Asian view that extends the sphere of high art to such life stuff as clothing, home design, even tea service is here in the side-by-side street smarts and elegance of the work. Even when Fujita is scrawling furiously across gorgeous gilded surfaces, you still see and feel the dedication to detail of the illuminator or--just as easily (and that is the point)--the focus of the 17th-century Japanese court painter.

One work forms the word Libido from those super-stylized spiky letters linked to counterculture, gangs, and tags. The "b" and "d" of libido--a word utterly outmoded and transgressive at once--stand up like chubby, lampooned phalluses woven into a dizzying, gorgeous complex that includes a miniature scene of fornication borrowed from Classical Japanese erotica. It is not, of course, "miniature,” as these works can be quite large, but its intimacy and dedication to detail give parts of Fujita’s panels the feel of tiny ivory carvings or etched prints. As you look, these works expand to storefront size and then contract for close viewing. In L.A. L.A. Land the first “L” and “A” are huge and deliberate, like the opening letters of an illuminated manuscript, but here filled in with the intricate motifs of Japanese textiles. The rest of the “land” in the title trails off like a haphazard word sprayed on an urban wall by a hurried crew working on the fly.

“Rat Race,” 2001, acrylic/spraypaint/gold
and silver leaf on 6 wood panels, 48 x 96".

“Libido,” 2002, acrylic/spraypaint/gold
leaf on wood panel, 16 x 48 1/4".
This is the first solo show for Fujita, an Otis undergrad and University of Nevada MFA. Fujita’s parents came here from Japan after World War II. He grew up in the mostly Latino Boyle Heights, exposed to East L.A.’s gang culture with a mom and a dad well versed in art. There is enough in that sentence to fuel someone of his innate gifts and curiosity for a career. Fujita may be the ultimate double outsider: an Asian in the barrio, being a minority with its own weighty stereotypes in the broader American context, the butting up of high and low culture in his house, East vs West aesthetic identification, exposure to street art counterpointed with a Mom who is a conservator of classical Japanese prints, the pallor of the Marshall Plan designed to homogenize and export Americana. What came out of this mix is almost predictable, but not in a bad way. Fujita makes otherwise predictable dichotomies effectively syncretic.

Hiberno-Saxon illumination was strategically syncretic. It took the familiar visual culture of the migrating tribes--geometric, serpentine animal style designs borne on fibula, carved boat heads, purses--and wrapped this familiar visual bridge around pictures and words about Christianity. Mostly illiterate, the migrating tribes came to the sumptuous surfaces for their beauty and richness, for the sheer recognizability of pattern and design, and they were moved across that bridge into a radically altered way of viewing the world. This same sort of seamless, seductive yoking of radical opposites is here, but the artist is fully neutral, priviledging no idiom over another and communicating no agenda per se. We are taken in by the familiarity and beauty of what we see--each person can find their familiar bridge--into the stroboscopic syntax of the 21st century. The codes and cross references are almost too numerous to count, yet seem so obvious as to be automatically accessible to all. This parallels nicely our current ontological and epistemological experience. Something for the effete, something from the street--something for everyone.