Be Just Like Family

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  • Provenance

    Bill Brady Gallery, Miami
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Miami, Bill Brady Gallery, Tomoo Gokita: DAMAGE CONTROL, November 30 - December 28, 2015
    Birmingham Museum of Art, 2016-2019 (on extended loan)
    Birmingham Museum of Art, Third Space: Shifting Conversations about Contemporary Art, January 28, 2017 - January 6, 2019, pp. 93, 201 (illustrated, p. 182)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Upending traditional notions of portraiture with his signature stylized aesthetic, Tomoo Gokita’s Be Just Like Family from 2015 is a prime example of the artist’s hypnotic oeuvre. Created just a year after his first solo museum exhibition The Great Circus held at the Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art in 2014, the present work signifies a shift in Gokita’s painting practice towards group portraiture. In contrast to the artist’s earlier intimate portraits of one or two sitters inspired by pin-ups, Be Just Like Family features five standing figures: two men dressed in tuxedos stand behind three women in gowns. As suggested by the work’s title, a traditional family portrait takes on a new meaning with obscured faces and a monochrome palette of bright whites, soft greys and rich blacks – this palette being the single-most defining characteristic of Gokita’s oeuvre. On extended loan and exhibited for two years at the Birmingham Museum of Art shortly following its acquisition, Be Just Like Family demonstrates the painterly and compositional prowess that has catapulted Gokita to international prominence over the course of the past few years.

    After beginning his career as an illustrator in the late 1990s, Gokita first turned to painting in 2005, inspired by vernacular sources including vintage photography, black and white film stills, and Playboy magazines for which his father designed printed advertisements. His decision to exclusively use matte black and white gouache-based paints, and to conceive many of his paintings with photographic source imagery, undoubtedly arose from these specific influences. Similar to the way artists before him such as Gerhard Richter used photographs as a starting point for abstraction, Gokita combines visual references from found imagery with his stylized approach, creating portraits that are both rooted in memory and rich in painterly expression.

    In addition to his engagement with pop culture imagery, Gokita is also well-versed in the painting practices of 20th century modern masters. One year before the creation of Be Just Like Family, Gokita visited The Museum of Modern Art, New York to view paintings by Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso. Curator of Gokita’s 2014 exhibition, Takashi Suzuki explains how Gokita re-contextualized the tendencies of his Cubist predecessors in his portraits: “Perhaps what Gokita has been interested in may be some specific expressions, such as reconfigurations of various ideological elements fragmented in the pictorial space of…The Passage from Virgin to Bride, the transformation of forms and the close entanglement of the figures seen in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and their characteristic expressions in the direct of the models’ gaze…he has exposed various forms, which are like exteriorized human internal organs, and placed them on parts of the models’ faces and on other physical surfaces…through these expressions, Gokita’s work leaves its viewers with disquieting resonances along with a kind of feeling of repulsion” (Takashi Suzuki, Tomoo Gokita: The Great Circus, exh. cat., Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art, Sakura, 2014, n.p.). In Be Just Like Family, Gokita deconstructs the pictorial space by layering his subjects on top of each other, their limbs existing as separate, flat planes with no clear indication of a receding background. The female figures’ arms appear more as flipper-like appendages modeled with monochromatic tonalities than human limbs, and each of the subjects’ heads float like cut-outs atop a void background. These elements make the resulting image unsettling not only in its ambiguities, but also in its manipulation of the two-dimensional space bounding the five family members.

    Gokita’s effacement of his portrait subjects further contributes to the disquieting effects of the painting. By obscuring and distorting any individuality to the figures through his painterly process, Gokita renders their visages as blank tonal gradients, using small dots and streaks in place of their eyes and other features. The resulting mask-like forms, smoothly modeled in black and white, in combination with the geometric abstractions that make up the dress of the second female figure on the left, are at odds within the composition, creating a jarring incongruity. With an indication of gaze expressed only through body language, the family stares seemingly straight-ahead at the viewers, implicating us in the construction of a specific narrative. As Roberta Smith espoused of Gokita’s most successful paintings such as the present work, “With their outdated glamour, eerie glow, ambiguous emotions and descriptive quirks, these paintings are undeniably rich” (Roberta Smith, “What To See in New York Galleries This Week: Tomoo Gokita”, The New York Times, October 20, 2016, online).

20

Property from a Private Collection, Oslo

Be Just Like Family

signed, titled and dated "BE JUST LIKE FAMILY Tomoo Gokita 2015" on the reverse
acrylic gouache on canvas
76 1/4 x 101 7/8 in. (193.8 x 259 cm.)
Executed in 2015.

Estimate
$250,000 - 350,000 

sold for $1,076,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue