Five Years Later

Imaitoonz gets political in his comeback show.

poster for Imaitoonz “A&Q – The World is the Answer From the Beginning”

Imaitoonz “A&Q – The World is the Answer From the Beginning”

at Pater's Shop and Gallery
in the Omotesando, Aoyama area
This event has ended - (2016-03-04 - 2016-03-16)

In Reviews by Paul Heaton 2016-03-09

Imaitoonz, '2 Reds (The tiny world that man has created)' (2016)

As we reach the half-decade mark after the 3/11 earthquake, the response from the art world in the capital feels somewhat muted. With around 68,000 people still in temporary housing and a fourth nuclear reactor restarted last month, the way forward has become increasingly complicated. The message from the campaigners camped out near the National Diet, however, is a simple one: Don’t Forget Fukushima.

Imaitoonz, 'Namco Cake' (2013)

One of the few exhibitions opening this month to incorporate 3/11 in its theme is the Imaitoonz show “A&Q – The World is the Answer from the Beginning”. This Nagoya-born artist is best known for his futuristic commercial illustrations and work on the Production I.G anime Dead Leaves. His return comes after spending most of the last five years out of the spotlight, an absence attributed to the earthquake and its after-effects, which left him unable to draw for some time and eventually resulted in a change of artistic direction.

While not a fully political exhibition, “A&Q” touches on plenty of pressing social issues and shows the evolution of Imaitoonz into a more vocal, socially active artist.

The two floors of Pater’s Gallery in Harajuku neatly divide the exhibition, with the new, black and white pieces upstairs and the older works in colour on the ground floor. Amongst the colour illustrations are some of the artist’s weirdest and rarest comic spreads highlighting the kinetic and hyper-detailed style Imaitoonz has become known for.

Several of the new works are designed around the double-ended playing card format. It’s a pretty well-worn idea, but with some interesting results. The most striking example is Army/Navy/Air Force/Nucleus (2016), wherein a mushroom cloud-shaped club is contrasted with a ridiculously sexed up trio of Self-Defense Force officers.

Imaitoonz, 'Army/Navy/Air Force/Nucleus' (2016)

Another new work, 2 Reds, depicts an oversized abandoned dog in the Fukushima town of Futaba looking for his master. In front of him stands a sign declaring ‘Nuclear power: the energy for a bright future’. The piece is a potent reminder of the false promises made to the townspeople, and the fact that this real sign was removed recently makes its presence here even more relevant.

The scene in 2 Reds is subtly mirrored in the neighbouring 9 Reds, in which a lone girl sits patiently with another masterless dog (the famed statue of Hachiko), waiting for somebody who may or may not be coming. Here the desolation of Shibuya’s most popular meeting spot forms another powerful image; the blank billboards and the quiet streets will recall memories for many people who were there five years ago.

Imaitoonz, '9 Reds (The tiny world that man has created)' (2016)

Some of the pictures recently previewed online sadly didn’t make it into this show, but with talk of a full-fledged political exhibition in summer, it looks as if we won’t have to wait much longer to see them. “For now this exhibition is the next step forward for me,” Imaitoonz states on the opening night. “It’s enabling me to face the issues I’ve been wrestling with for the past five years.”

“With the current situation, I believe it’s necessary that people spend some time alone, isolated in a neutral space, like a gallery, to think and confront the artwork, so to speak.“

Imaitoonz, 'Going around in circles' (2016)

Later on that evening, when Imaitoonz’s family arrives, he takes a moment to explain the meaning behind 9 Reds to his eldest daughter. “I’m interacting more with society through my children,” he continues. “Problems in society affect them directly, so as a parent, an adult and a creator, it’s getting more difficult to separate them from my art.”

As far as the current artistic climate is concerned, he is less surprised by the way things stand.

“There is a gap between illustrators and artists in Japan,” he points out. “I think there are a lot of young, modern artists who are expressing their opinions and who want to make contact with society. Illustrators on the other hand; rather than being afraid of politics, they’re just not interested in putting it into their artwork. Clients prefer quiet illustrators who won’t cause problems later on. They might think that being passive and not saying anything is the best way,” he concludes.

As a re-introduction to Imaitoonz, “A&Q” shows us where he’s come from and his intended future direction. More than anything, though, this exhibition proves we need more artists to step up, engage with society and go beyond the simple ‘No more nukes’ message.

“A&Q – The World is the Answer from the Beginning” ends March 16.

Paul Heaton

Paul Heaton. Paul is a graphic designer and writer from Central England. Having cut his teeth at design studios in Birmingham he skipped the obvious career move to London, choosing the bright neon lights of Tokyo instead. These days he spends his time working on various creative projects, looking after his son and exploring the different art spaces around the capital. www.paulheatondesign.co.uk » See other writings

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