Shogo Okada’s bright, geometric works invite viewers to play a guessing game. Referencing cartoons and everyday objects from his childhood, Okada uses his wit to evoke feelings of nostalgia alongside modern, direct visuals. This contrast of emotions and graphics aligns with Okada’s own diverse background growing up in 1980s Japan with a preference for classic American imagery such as Schulz characters and ice cream truck windows. This declaration of collaboration found in his work challenges the notion of art as a singular, untouchable genius on top of an ivory tower, inviting other mediums and histories to overlap and converse. The intersection of colourful, pixelated Japanese pop aesthetics and wholesome American Dream icons allow Okada’s work to be light-hearted and fun – a refreshing and necessary contrast to the heavy nature of art produced in today’s toxic and uncertain political climate.
Okada’s work aims to engage with collective memory, diverse artforms and the viewer themself. Familiarity is mixed with the surreal, asking viewers to unpack their unconscious personal archives of images to find out which references he is making. A circular canvas mirrors the installation work painted on the wall of the Wil Kucey Gallery using a simple blue and white wave, at first appearing to tribute vibrant 1960s California surf culture or an incisive view from a submarine window, but upon closer consideration viewers may notice the pattern is plucked from the collar of Lucy van Pelt’s dress. Drawing his audience in with the promise of recognition and the satisfaction felt from figuring out a clever puzzle, Okada keeps his work interesting and unexpected while retaining the same bold visual style throughout.
Urging us to have fun with and think deeper about the visual culture we encounter everyday, Okada revives pop art values for the 21st century. The blending of the usually divided “high” and “low” art questions the hierarchies of these distinctions. Okada declares the tie that Curious George’s friend The Man in the Yellow Hat wears has just as much validity as traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e, a radical idea that challenges alienating power structures that too often dominate the art world.
Text and photo: Alexis Moline
*Exhibition Information: March 10 – 25, 2017, Wil Kucey Gallery, 1183 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Wed – Sat, 11 am – 6 pm.