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Art review: Hideaki Kawashima at Richard Heller Gallery

May 31, 2011 |  7:00 pm

Three years ago, Japanese painter Hideaki Kawashima referred to his wall-size paintings of ghostly heads on snow-white backgrounds as “something like self-portraits.” His phrase captured the curiously beautiful blend of ennui and sensitivity those works embodied. Kawashima Me

His new paintings of little girls and boys standing stiffly before flat, monotone backdrops are smaller, darker and more empathetic. At Richard Heller Gallery, the 41-year-old’s first solo show in the United States gives charged form to a type of alienated intimacy that defines a large part of his generation’s outlook. This perspective is not limited to Japan but is shared by all youth who don’t want to grow up in their parents’ world but don’t know what to do about it.

Powerlessness and defiance fuse in Kawashima’s pictures of calm — but hardly calming — kids. The same goes for the vulnerability of innocence and mysteriousness of hidden wisdom. Think of the expression Da Vinci painted on Mona Lisa’s face and the wide-eyed kids in saccharine-sweet cartoons and you’ll get a feel for what Kawashima is after in his weirdly endearing works.

Less personal and more intimate than his previous, “sort-of” portraits, his acrylics on canvas are a visual version of Haruki Murakami’s dreamy yet detailed stories: potent parables that vividly convey how it feels to be a misfit in a world that was supposedly made for you.

-- David Pagel

Richard Heller Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave., Bergamot Station, Santa Moncia, (310) 453-9191, through June 18. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

 Image: Hideaki Kawashima's "Me." Credit: From Richard Heller Gallery