Kikuo Saito: Color Codes. Courtesy

“Repetition can be very important, but it has to mean something different every time.” – Kikuo Saito

New York City and its artistic past always speak to unusual excitement, one that is synonymous with the norms of everyday city life. Happy to say, we are experiencing that very renaissance again which made the downtown art scene unique from the 60’s onto the present. Kikuo Saito: Color Codes – on display at the newly inaugurated James Fuentes Gallery and presented by noted independent curator Christopher Y. Lew – brings forth one of the scene’s most prolific and endearing painters, and a pioneer in his own right.

Born in Tokyo and raised in New York City, which would serve as a lifelong inspiration, Saito’s art speaks of what Lew refers to as “a combination of Abstract Expressionism and Performance/Theater” – which spreads throughout the show’s six “monochromatic” paintings, all created during one of his most prolific periods, from 1990 thru 1993. 

Alba’s Circle, 1991, oil on canvas, 86 1/2 x 55 in.Courtesy.

Entering the main gallery Alba’s Circle, 1991, is a dark blue painting with various notations of Twombly-like scribbles, scratches and letters – at times incomprehensible yet intentional in its execution – all playing out within a colorful maze of blotches and movement, like a kind of calm intensity aligned with vast atmospheric presence.

Mock Orange, 1992, oil on canvas, 80 3/4 x 53 1/2 in.Courtesy.

The second painting, Mock Orange, 1992, has an impressive presence, with bright  orange gazing at the viewer, scribbles, letters and blotches widely spread out. The work caps off well with two Jasper Johns-like “sixes” floating about around the mid-right and upper left sections of the painting.

Taylor’s Hat, 1992, oil on canvas, 83 1/4 x 57 1/4 in. Courtesy

The third piece, Taylor’s Hat, 1992, is one I find most intriguing – a kind of dark green “blackboard” full of activity, like a marathon of unsolved mathematical equations trying to find a way out. The work is fascinating to look at, especially when considering the stark physicality behind it all.

Roofer’s Tomorrow, 1990, oil on canvas, 68 x 150 in.Courtesy.

The next work, Roofer’s Tomorrow, 1990, is one of the earliest works from the period and the most grandiose of this collection. Facing prominently within the rear of the gallery space, the work’s lush grey background is wide and long, with the similar scribbles, letters and blotches of the other works, yet accentuated further by strong, visible brushstrokes and washes that move about throughout the canvas.

As I approached each piece, I noticed that Saito was fascinated not only with language, but with space as well. Looking very closely at Monk’s Pocket, 1990, its grey sky-like image is quite spatial with a touch of sheer randomness, as if the painting was, at one point, in a state of calm and then immediately became frantic energy.

The final piece, entitled Moon Tree, 1993, is an expressive and powerful work – a strong purple background of washes and brushwork that comes off very beautifully, while a landscape of scribbles and arrows meshes well within the overall space – thus presenting the viewer a unique artist who was also a lasting voice and contributor to late 20th century contemporary art.

The exhibition will be on display this week till April 20th. James Fuentes Gallery is located on 52 White Street in Tribeca, New York City.

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