Atsushi Kaga - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 7, 2024 | Phillips

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  • “[Atsushi Kaga’s] play on tradition alongside motifs of contemporary visual culture reflects the dynamics of his own experience and the cross-currents of cultural transfer that have permeated artistic expression for centuries but accelerated in recent times.”
    —Yvonne Scott


    Self-effacing and playful, combining Japanese pop aesthetic with folklore, Japanese artist Atushi Kaga confronts the realities of the everyday through his ‘alter-ego’ rabbit, ‘Usacchi’. Through his endearing protagonist, Kaga navigates his experience of adulthood, utilising dark humour and ‘cuteness’ to create surreal, pictorial narratives.


    Born in Tokyo in 1978, Atsushi Kaga spent his childhood in the city’s suburbs. In a routine split between attending school and visiting convenience stores to read manga comics, the repetition of the everyday motivated Kaga to relocate to Dublin and complete his BA in Fine Art Painting. It was during his fourth year at the National College of Art and Design that Kaga realised the motif central to his practice for nearly two decades, his rabbit named ‘Usacchi’. Roughly translating to ‘soft bunny’, in the sense of a plush, children’s toy, Kaga’s alter-ego is informed by the artist’s wide range of cultural experience within and beyond Japan. While reminiscent of Manga or Anime characters, Kaga’s rabbit is also like the ‘Pooka’, shapeshifting creatures in Celtic, English and Channel Island folklore that have anthropomorphic qualities. Simultaneously, the intermingling golden vines in the background of Nature came back while we ate gherkins reference the Kyoto Rinpa School, a city Kaga moved to in 2018. Initiated during the Edo period, artists associated with the Rinpa movement like ‘Ogata Kōrin’ and ‘Ito Jakuchu’ liberally applied of gold to illuminate natural subjects: maker’s that Kaga cites as key influences.i


    Much like the duality of Pooka that might represent good or bad fortune, in Nature Came Back While We Ate Gherkins both the light-hearted and more sombre operate side by side. The table in the foreground suggests vivacious domestic activity, with ingredients, plants and a tennis racket strewn across a wooden surface. Though the wilted flowers and Usacchi’s pensive expression signal quiet reflection and the melancholic, he is not quite alone, accompanied by a peering small black cat. Like Yoshitomo Nara’s ‘dog’ or Tanilla Otani’s ‘monster’, Kaga vicariously uses his animal characters to express more profound, deeply felt emotions. In Kaga’s modern fables, these familiar yet uncanny characters reflect the vicissitudes part of humanity, from companionship to solitude, comfort to upset.


    Ogata Kōrin, Irises at Yatsuhashi, after 1790, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Louisa Eldridge McBurney Gift, 1953

    Collector’s Digest


    • Living and working between Kyoto and Dublin, Atsushi Naga is known for his animated studies of animals engaged in quotidian activities, located in serene, otherworldly environments.


    • After graduating in 2005 with a BA in Fine Art Painting from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Kaga received his first solo museum exhibition at the Butler Gallery, Kilkenny in 2008.


    • Kaga has participated in a range of notable solo exhibitions worldwide including, amongst others, with the Jack Hanley Gallery, New York; Galerie Nicolas Krupp, Basel; Maho Kubota Gallery, Tokyo and Galeria Leme, São Paolo.


    • Having been awarded residencies in Miami, New York and Washington, Kaga is currently participating in a residency program with Temple Bar Gallery & Studios in Dublin.


    i Atsushi Kaga, quoted in Vicenzo Chetta, ‘Atsushi Kaga Usacchi, Kumacchi and other friends’, Biancoscuro Rivista D’Arte, no. 58, June / July 2023, p. 33

    • Provenance

      Mother's Tankstation, Dublin
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


Nature Came Back While We Ate Gherkins

acrylic on canvas
150 x 120 cm (59 x 47 1/4 in.)
Painted in 2020.

Full Cataloguing

£50,000 - 70,000 ‡♠

Sold for £165,100

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2024