Aya Onodera exhibition - Fragments / 世界のかけら

Solo exhibition at Turnaround gallery in Sendai, Japan
2019 February 12th - February 24th


Poesie und Transformation -
Zu den Bildern von Aya Onodera
Poetry and transformation – About the Paintings of Aya Onodera

Fragments and trace elements are the names of the two series of Aya Onodera, a Japanese painter residing in Berlin. Both titles are universal enough to admit different perspectives, but at the same time they provide some hints about what the artist is dealing with.

Onodera’s oeuvre treats topics of a very basic, almost existential nature, but the paintings do not disclose their secrets immediately. They rather wish to be experienced and read, by looking at them with empathy. Only through this immediate confrontation, the paintings will unravel their complex and mysterious beauty.

Writing and talking about paintings is totally different from experiencing them in a physical way. Thus, every explanation can only be a manual for experiencing them, an encouragement to deepen one’s perspective to what is lying beneath the surface. Paul Klee’s famous statement is somewhat true, when we deal with Onodera’s painting: “Art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible.”

Fragments and trace elements make aware that there is something very present, yet outside of the shown reality of the painting. A fragment is always a part of a larger entity and trace elements refer to a certain, mostly very low concentration of matter.

This notion of materiality, being only partially visible, is mirrored in the paintings, too: On the one hand, paint covers parts of the space of the canvas and the rest evokes light, on the other hand there is an invisible plane, an immaterial essence.

One could also talk about topics like loss and impermanence: The artist experienced closely the 2011 triple catastrophe, as her hometown Kesennuma was ravaged tragically by the tsunami.

Yet, the paintings evoke more positive emotions than grief or pain. While the memories keep the wounds open, one senses the energy of growth and transformation. Thus, the pearls applied to the works of Fragments may be abstract structural elements, but they also let us associate crystals or maybe even the canopy of stars, floating through the infinite cosmic space inbetween. The light that we now receive from them, may be the light of stars extinguished long ago, while their beauty still delights us.

There is a temporal aspect, inscribed into the paintings, but that time is not narrative in a direct way. Memory and projection into the future are elements of Aya Onodera's work and of her way of thinking about her work. They are spread below her artistic process like a thin layer of chalk ground onto which the different paints will be applied. So, a moment of duration lies beneath the paintings opening up a poetic space, which can be accessed then through viewing her works.

Finally, it is nature, which takes a special place in the paintings. When Onodera is talking about her works, one will hear stories of trees and plants, of special places, often of her hometown, her childhood and of places, whose strong presence granted inspiration. The form-giving power of nature has been fascinating and inspiring generations of artists. Of course, Onodera, the painter from Japan residing in Berlin, knows about these traditions and has internalized them in a twofold way: She knows about the romantic and likewise scientific images about nature from Europe and at the same time she keeps the Northeast Asian images of her home, where Shintoism and Buddhism demand a special respect for the nature, which felt to be inhabited by many souls.

This rootedness in an emotional topography makes her art human and touching at the same time. Also, nature is present in her selection of pictorial motives, as they elicit organic processes like growth or decay.

There is nothing esoteric about Onodera’s paintings, but they hold a secret that has something to do with the light. Light is evoked by her paintings, which make the canvases shine.

While her earlier works were characterized by intense, dark hues of blue, the two younger series turned brighter and feature a warmer, more colorful spectrum now. The
tonality of the paint became fainter, pastel-like, sometimes almost like aquarelles and there is a sense of flowing and surging in her paintings, which render a special quality of impermanence and of ephemeral occurrence.

For the series trace elements, Onodera passed on the usual oil paint and she drew it only with crayons onto the canvas. As the crayons playfully abrade on the rough surface of the canvas, a special structure emerges, that has much to do with tactility and touch. Moreover, this structure is the result of an aesthetic dialogue, as the talkative crayon makes the mute canvas talk. Inspired by memories of a special place in her childhood, these paintings came into being and they are telling about the evocation of shapes through touch.

Jan-Philipp Fruehsorge

A german curator, critic, art historian and writer /
König gallery, London / Berlin

Photo : Tsutomu Koiwa