Installation View, Shinichi Sawada, Messengers, James Cohan, New York, 52 Walker Street, March 4 – April 1, 2023. Courtesy of James Cohan, New York, and Jennifer Lauren Gallery, Manchester, UK. Photos by Phoebe d’Heurle.

“When silence is prolonged over a certain period of time, it takes on new meaning.”
― Yukio Mishima

Creativity does take on many different forms of expression and as such, go beyond the norm of anything we would commonly refer to as Art. At New York’s James Cohan Gallery, in conjunction with UK-based Jennifer Lauren Gallery, a space that supports and exhibits self-taught & disabled artists from around the globe, a quite titillating show entitled Shinichi Sawada: Messengers extends the notion of what is creativity in a most unusual yet refreshing way – spearheaded by an artist whose unique abilities serves as a catalyst for his otherworldly creations.

Born in Ostu City, Japan and self-taught, Sawada attended several special schools where his peers first noticed his creative ability. By the time he attended Nakayoshi Fukushikai, a social welfare institution in 2000, he started creating sashiko textile squares, a traditional style of stitching.  With time, his artistic development excelled to where he was recommended the institution’s art studio, thus his interest in ceramic production furthered. With Masaharu Iketani, studio facilitator who has been assisting Sawada since 2000, the artist took on a creatively regimented approach to art. Using the age-old process of Japanese Shigaraki pottery, each work would expand beyond the utilitarian form, evolving into a kind of ritualistic and meditative life of its own. As Iketani would comment, “The simple process of rolling the clay and making it pointy. He’s able to express his world, and his emotions through that.”

Sawada creates figures that are quite unique in their presentation: eerie bodily forms of a human-animal nature that speak as if they are spirit-gods spewing energy. Whether birds, frogs, lizards or dragons, the figurines become an exciting cross pollination of these beings, becoming chimerical and expressive in its various forms and shapes. Unable to speak yet laser focused in his non-stop creative approach, Sawada has a multi-faceted imagination, though he usually keeps an older or recent work near his workstation as a possible form of reference and inspiration. The process can be lengthy at times, taking up to several days to complete a figurine, yet each work is unique – with all its stark imagery and scope – thanks to his undaunting attention for work and a fearless eye for detail. 

The first piece that comes to mind, Untitled (166), sits quite tall and erect like a fierce totem pole, arms stretched out quite defiantly in a position of strength. The two faces gaze in a possessive manner while its pose is most defiant and frightful, all the while a myriad of horns and teeth seem to point in all directions as if sending a message or warning to the converted masses of its spirit.

The second piece, Untitled (163) is quite hypnotic and frightful:  a standing head with grimacing faces on each side, dragon-like in its similarity to Balinese dragon masks. Various horns and teeth protrude to every direction yet the patterns created by these are quite majestic and delightful to view from up close and afar. The glaze and sheen present on the work gives a radiant beige-like sparkle to its rough-like exterior.

The third piece, Untitled (181), can be seen as reference to prehistoric animals. Turtle-like in its appearance, the work seems to breed power and intensity in its stoic yet moving presence.  

Untitled 181. © Shinichi Sawada 2023. Image courtesy the artist, James Cohan, New York, and Jennifer Lauren Gallery, Manchester, UK.

The fourth piece, Untitled (3), is pretty fascinating – a combination of ancient church, haystack hut and outer space being. Tall and elongated, the line and pebble design are quite organized and evenly detailed in a way that would easily captivate the viewer’s eye within every direction of the artwork. 

Untitled 3. © Shinichi Sawada 2023. Image courtesy the artist, James Cohan, New York, and Jennifer Lauren Gallery, Manchester, UK.

Gazing through each work, I was amazed on the skill and expertise of this unusual genius– so finite and intricate was the creative process that these elaborate objects could easily be considered one of a kind. I was, in the end, elated to have found such a unique and special show. 

This exhibition will be on display till April 1st; James Cohan Gallery is located on 52 Walker Street in New York City.

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