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October 1 - 31, 2009 at LOOK Gallery, Downtown

by Roberta Carasso

“F Frame,” 2008, acrylic on
Chinese elm, 34 x 19 x 15”.

"Facing Flow," 2006, granite,
stainless steel, 46 x 18 x 11".

"Incurve Right," 2007,
oil on canvas, 34 x 46".

For Katsuhisa Sakai “Sculpture is closer to reality and more powerful.” His current exhibition “Four Dimensions” demonstrates how the artist brings each of his four most intimate media--oil on canvas drawings, stone, wood, and film--to their artistic limits, revealing a convincing pairing of form and soulfulness.

Despite his many back and forth journeys from Japan to America, and long experience with natural sculpted materials, electronic broadcasting, video and film, Sakai returns to ancient methods to create these distinctively contemporary sculptures. His stone work makes use of tension rods, also ancient studies in counter tension forces, as he builds open structures of rotund natural gray stones that seem to stay aloft of their own accord. Sakai cuts his stones meticulously in layers and sandwiches obdurate slices together, exposing layers as each stone presses against its neighbor for support and sheds its original identity in favor of a new and wholly aesthetic one. He threads these like giant beads, with stainless steel rods whose tensile strength allows the total form to soar over a broad open area as the sculpture becomes something akin to a huge, graceful and linear drawing in space.

This underscores that drawing is the essence of Sakai’s art and permeates all his forms. Every morning, drawing is his meditation. With black and white oil paint on canvas, he quietly draws, contemplating how much dimensionality can be rooted out with these minimal tools. Using no color, Sakai eliminates another visual element, stripping away the image to its bare essentials. Consequently, drawing is his “connecting point;” how he relates to the real world, and moves from abstract line to sculpture. Later, while manipulating hefty materials, such as stone or wood, his structures translate from paper to forms in space and a flowing choreography, built piece by piece evolves erected on the ground, or placed on a wall.

Born and trained in Japan in the use of traditional materials, Sakai found that when he came to America in the early 1970s he was blown away by the cultural contrast. Hailing from an old and homogenous society, his Japanese character found Americans to be confrontational, continually testing new issues. For Sakai, the American art scene then required an articulation of how each piece was distinct, how art “communicates” its unique qualities. Those involved in art did not then and still do not accept art carte blanche; they discuss, challenge, and even argue over art, discerning messages and meanings inherent in each work. Add to this that he attended Yale Graduate School and benefited from contact with many notable visiting artists, Richard Serra, Michael Snow, and Joseph Kosuth among them. If his Asian aesthetic foundation was shattered, it was to be pieced together in a new form by the liberating ideas he absorbed.

At Yale, Sakai experimented with installation. Realizing from installation’s impermanence that it is more memory than physical art, he began to bridge ideas of ephemera by experimenting with film. Translating the sculptural experience to film, he created, “Exposure,” a montage of cityscape images, and “Interbound,” based on a performance he created, intermixed with city images. Both are included in the exhibition.

At some point, working in TV and broadcasting in Japan and America, Sakai questioned electronics as a vehicle for art, contrasting it with traditional clay, wood or stone. In the struggle of his inner dialogue, he contemplated intricate electronic equipment and the visual magic it can create. But Sakai realized that its effects and messages can completely dissolve by a flick of an off switch. While magical in scope, the electronic art world was a dependent form. Wood, clay, stone—obdurate and natural in character--continue to transmit messages even while lying quietly on a gallery floor. There is no off switch.

Born under fire in a bomb shelter during World War II, with only a candle for light, Sakai’s art embodies years of living in contrasting realities, searching for meaning through various art media and experimenting to come up with answers to his multi-dimensional questions.  Using earthen materials, Sakai returns to natural sculptural forms that meld the rhythms of contemporary American society and the serenity of his Japanese heritage in a superbly integrated body of art.